Customer Service at Restaurants

Restaurants are usually graded with two main criteria in mind – food and service. I am no where near qualified, experienced, or motivated enough to talk about the first, but I do have at least some qualifications, experience, and motivation to talk about the second. One would think for a company that is usually graded on one of two things – they’d really concentrate on the service as much (if not more) than the food. However, that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

For example, there is a restaurant near where I live that has some of the best food around. Their service, however, is nothing to admire. The staff is usually rude (they have the “I’m doing you a favor.” attitude), the place is normally quite slow, and to get in, depending on what time you go there, can take hours. I normally avoid this place, but sometimes I’m with friends or family who want some truly good food, and subsequently, have to put up with the frustrations caused from the lack of customer service.

If you own a restaurant (or more than one), please remember to value your service. Chances are customers will not continue to put up with bad service (despite how good the food is) unless your restaurant is one of those very few that can get away with that.

Here are some ideas:

Value service when hiring.
A very popular and very successful New York restaurant is the Union Square Café. I was looking at their web site earlier this evening and stumbled upon a job application form for someone interested in joining their wait staff. Judging from their application, they obviously care about customer service. Some questions related to customer service were:

  • Which one of the above restaurants taught you the most about Fine Service? Why?
  • How do you define “Great Service?”
  • A few other questions related to customer service and personality.

For a short job application with not too many questions, that’s probably two – three more questions than most restaurants ask. How hard is to ask potential candidates about what they think of customer service and its importance in the restaurant business? Not too hard – it doesn’t cost much (if anything) extra and customer service skills and values should certainly be considered when selecting applicants.
Move the phones.
Some companies just can’t seem to figure this out and I have absolutely no idea why. If your business has both a lot of foot and a lot of phone traffic (or just some and some), move the phones into a separate room. There is nothing more annoying than being a patron standing in a restaurant and the snotty hostess hears the phone ring and makes you wait while you are standing there, ready to sit down.

Have the phones be in a back office, a central reservation office (may save some money), or somewhere that customers who are there don’t have to be hassled by them. Let the front staff concentrate on the people who are there and the phone staff concentrate on the people who are calling. It works out best for both people. If your restaurant is a bit small to have a separate reservation center, put a phone in the office where you do purchasing, accounting, etc., and deal with reservations and other phones calls from there.

The front desk (hostess table, whatever it is called) should have a phone, but it should only ring in the management needs something, if the central reservation office has to check something, etc.

Have examples.
The same company that owns the Union Square Café owns several other very successful restaurants. A lot of New York restaurants (and those located elsewhere) can use this group of restaurants as a positive example and try and mimic what they do right and avoid doing what they do wrong.

Follow other customer service principles.
Follow some other principles of customer service like making a big difference through little things, making customer service part of the company’s culture, valuing frequent customers, hiring the right way, dealing with angry or upset customers correctly, and making the customer service experience a great one.

Don’t put up with the restaurants that don’t care about service.
Even if the food is really good, don’t put up with the restaurants that don’t care about service. There are likely plenty of other great places to eat that provide better service.

If anyone is interested in seeing more posts about restaurant customer service, feel free to say so in the comments section. I think it’s a very interesting topic, but if the readers aren’t really interested in it, there are plenty of other interesting topics to talk about.

6 Responses to “Customer Service at Restaurants”

  1. Starbucker said:

    Jul 15, 06 at 10:55 am

    Love the correlation between the job application and customer service – it would be very interesting to test that one more widely. This is an interesting topic, because we all experience it nearly every day, plus it’s not a lot different from any other service related business, so the principles can be easily “exported”. Have at it! All the best.

  2. Tom Vander Well said:

    Jul 20, 06 at 4:21 pm

    Great points, Doug. You are so right about moving the phones. I’ve never understood why a potential customer interrupting on the phone gets preferential service to the real customer standing right there.

  3. Service Untitled » Fire Your Customers! - Part 1 of 3 - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Jul 10, 07 at 10:26 am

    […] Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group (talked about here) believes in something he calls Enlightened Hospitality. It is quite similar to Homestead’s Creed, but prioritizes slightly differently: […]

  4. Service Untitled » Engaging Customers In Action: Recognizing Them - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Apr 26, 08 at 6:46 am

    […] For more on restaurants and customer service, check out this post that I wrote back in July of 2006 (though it’s still quite relevant). I apologize for not posting yesterday – I did not get home until pretty late and didn’t have a chance to write up a post for the day. […]

  5. corey said:

    Nov 11, 11 at 4:59 am

    Lets play Find The Typo…lol

    The front desk (hostess table, whatever it is called) should have a phone, but it should only ring in the management needs something, if the central reservation office has to check something, etc.

  6. Benjamin said:

    Nov 26, 11 at 2:41 am

    I know that your customer is always right, but why do some people take that to be a joke