As a restaurateur, it is your job to exceed guests’ expectations. Simply, this is achieved by creating an unrivaled guest experience through your ambiance, your service, and your food. Your specific value proposition also plays into this experience. However, let’s focus on that first element, which is also coincidentally the first thing your guests notice about your restaurant: its ambiance.
Webster’s defines ambiance as: a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing. Restaurant ambiance involves everything from lighting and sound to décor and color. But it also involves the mood and, of course, cleanliness.
Lighting, sound, décor and color should be dealt with very seriously. Professionals can help you create the atmosphere that reflects your brand. You can also listen to your customers and servers and review criticisms to make sure you are pleasing guests. However, the focus of this article will be on cleanliness and the mood created by your work environment.
Cleanliness is critical in the restaurant industry for both sanitation and appeal purposes. We all know this. But how often do you put yourself in your customers’ shoes and take a look at what they see in terms of cleanliness at your restaurant?
Cleanliness begins as customers approach the restaurant. Is the outside clean? Are the windows and lights sparkling? Is there dust or dirt on the window casings? If there is landscaping or flowers, are they healthy-looking and free of debris? Is the curb clean and free of litter or discarded butts? Is the sidewalk power-washed and clean?
Next, customers enter the restaurant. The entryway makes or breaks their first impression of your restaurant. Are there fingerprints all over the glass? Is there any dirt in the corners? How does the entryway look? Sparkling? Well-painted? Is there a mirror, and if so, is it clean?
As they approach the host stand, what do they see, hear, and smell? Is the stand clean or cluttered with menus, pieces of paper, or cups with junk in them? Is the host stand lighted properly? Looking across the restaurant, what do you see? Are the lights and lamp shades free of dust? Is there any dirt or debris on the floor? Does the carpet or floor look clean? All of these impressions, whether deliberate or in the subconscious, are registering with the guest.
When they are seated, the observations continue. Is the chair stained or does it have dirt on it? Is the floor clean all around the table? What do they see when they look up or around? Are the windows clean? The lights? Can they see into the kitchen or does it have a door, and if it does, is the glass window clean and free of prints? Is the menu clean? If there are condiments on the table, how do they look? These are aspects of your restaurant that your guest immediately notices. Can they see the wait stand and is it neat and clean, or is it disorganized?
Finally, the restrooms are critical. When I was growing up, I would demand to use the restroom in every restaurant I visited, and would come back with an intensive full review of its creativity, ambiance, and cleanliness, then giving it a rating out of 10. Restaurant bathrooms should sparkle and smell pleasant. They need to be well lit, the toilets need to be clean, the mirrors should be sparkling, and the floor should be clean in all corners. Trash should be piled neatly into containers, and not on the floor. Toilet paper and hand soap containers have to be full. How do you ensure all this? Like every other room, the restrooms need to be marked on a cleaning schedule that is regularly checked throughout the day and night.
Yes, cleanliness is part of ambiance and it makes a big statement about your restaurant. Your guests will notice all of these things. You need to make sure that you are noticing them too. Make a list, do an inspection, sit in the dining room and put yourself in your guests’ shoes.
The mood of your restaurant is also important. Is the music appropriate for your brand, or did some employee leave the music tuned to a station or tape that they enjoyed earlier in the day when the restaurant may not have even been open? Did the lights go down at the appropriate time because they are on timers, or did someone forget? Is the music at the level that you have approved? These things need to be checked.
But there are other aspects of your restaurant, such as service and training, that affect restaurant ambiance. Are the bussers focused on the guests or are they banging dishes because they haven’t been trained? Are the hosts running around excited, or are they acting cool and calm and showing complete control? Are the servers showing their frustration? Are they complaining and rushing to and from the POS system, or are they in control and supporting the mood you want?
How about the noise level from the kitchen? Regardless of the concept, this is important as it shows that the restaurant is focused on the customer’s experience. Are they raising their voices, banging pots and pans, ringing bells, and calling out orders, or are they acting professional? Do they let their frustrations show or do they keep them in check?
Your guests have come to relax and enjoy your offerings. You need to create the ambiance that will support your service and your food. Yes, lighting, sound, décor and color are all very important. However, cleanliness is non-negotiable as it is critical to a good mood. It is also hard for customers to relax if the staff all around them are not contributing to a relaxing environment and culture.
There is a lot of truth to the old adage that “you need to leave the forest to see the trees.” Operators should all put themselves in the place of the customer and observe. Without cleanliness and a comfortable mood, your customers will never be happy and their expectations will not be met.