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For me, going out to eat has always been an experience.
When I was a kid, my family and I would go to our local pizzeria or mom-and-pop diner and sit for hours — talking, eating, and catching up with the servers and staff who had grown to feel like family.
And while many people have similar stories of full-service restaurants that felt like home, these experiences aren’t only possible with a table-service restaurant. There are many opportunities for restaurants with a quick service or counter service model to create memorable experiences, too.
In fact, it’s often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.
If you’re looking for ideas to amp up the customer service at your quick service restaurant (QSR), you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive into why customer service is a vital part of the guest experience and how you can improve your restaurant’s offerings without breaking the bank.
The importance of good restaurant customer service
While the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to restaurant sales, recent Toast data shows that sales for quick service restaurants are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, with same-store sales up 17% in Q2 2022 compared to Q1 2022. Now that folks are venturing back out to your restaurant, it’s important to deliver a good experience to keep them coming back time and time again.
They don’t call it the service industry for nothing. Guests who frequent restaurants are looking for more than just good food — they’re expecting a great customer service experience. The restaurant customer retention rate sits at about 30%, which means that around 70% of customers don't come back to the same restaurant after visiting it once. Plus, insights from ServiceBell state that 89% of businesses claim that customer service is a leading factor in their company’s retention rates.
In short, the customer service that a guest receives at your restaurant can make or break whether they are going to come back or tell others about your establishment.
How to deliver good customer service at your quick service or fast casual restaurant
Your unique food offerings and quality meals will grab the attention of diners. But your customer service will determine whether or not they come back. Here are some tips for how to deliver good restaurant customer service, even without the table service.
1. Make sure your staff is well-trained and happy
This one may feel like a no-brainer, but happier staff will lead to happier guests.
During a time of great labor shortage, finding — and keeping — restaurant employees can be a challenge. Even before the pandemic, the average turnover rate for the restaurant industry was 75% — and that number jumped up to 85% in 2021.
The key is to make sure that your new employees feel confident and well-equipped from the start. This can be achieved by ensuring a thorough onboarding and training process. Using resources, such as a restaurant training manual template, can help you provide employees with the tools, information, and support they need to be successful at your restaurant.
Another key driver of staff happiness is the restaurant culture and benefits. While you may not be able to provide a retirement plan or benefits as a small business owner, you’re responsible for creating a safe, healthy environment for your employees.
“Retaining staff in the restaurant business is challenging, but it also costs a lot of money not to retain staff,” shares Cary Mosier, COO at Cafe Gratitude. “I’ve had the best experience of retaining people, growing them and growing with them as a company, by practicing acknowledgment. The largest impact I’ve had on retaining staff is having a positive culture that makes people like coming to work. They feel appreciated, acknowledged, and seen.”
Overall, your counter service restaurant will drive a better guest experience if the server behind the counter is having a good experience, too.
2. Deliver a personalized experience
Just because a server doesn’t have the same opportunity to chat with the guest at a table as a full-service restaurant, that doesn’t mean your QSR can’t provide a personalized experience.
One great way to do this is with handwritten notes on to-go bags or receipts. Not only will a note like this put a smile on the guest’s face, but it’ll also likely leave an impression — one your guests will talk about.
For example, I once learned about a restaurant because a coworker of mine told me, “You have to check out Town Market, the food is delicious and they write cute notes on your lunch order.” Lo and behold, I went to Town Market and loved the food — then went and told everyone about the wonderful note I got on my to-go bag. I even posted a picture of it online! Something that took the staff less than two minutes of time spurred several instances of positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
I’m also a regular at a boutique cafe called Salt & Light. So much so, that when the owner Linda saw my order come through their POS recently, she sent over this little note on my tray.
It doesn’t have to be anything big. Small, subtle ways of personalizing your guest’s experience and acknowledging your loyal customers will leave a lasting impression and increase customer satisfaction.
3. Create a comfortable atmosphere
This one is a bit more indirect, as it doesn’t actually involve a one-on-one interaction between your restaurant and the customer. While a good portion of your guests likely walk in, order, and then eat their food off-premise, there are folks who are probably looking to stay a while.
Designing a welcoming, comfortable environment for your restaurant guests makes it more likely that they’ll stick around — and come back again in the future. When choosing furniture for your quick service restaurant, be sure to go with something that has utility, not just aesthetic. After all, you don’t want to buy a chair that looks good but feels miserable to sit on.
New City Microcreamery, a quick-service ice cream shop with three locations in Massachusetts, uses picture-perfect yet still comfortable and enticing decor in their shop. The Hudson, MA location features a long glass divider between the kitchen and the dining area with bartop stools so guests can see how the ice cream gets made — literally. Plus, the neon signs and white hexagonal tiles bring their fresh, modern brand to life.
Photo-worthy food spots continue to take off, especially in the age of TikTok. But make sure to keep your restaurant decor comfy and welcoming, too. Creating a space full of ambiance will lead to a better dining experience for your guests overall.
Get inspired for your restaurant design project with these 13 fresh ideas.
4. Engage with your guests online
Delivering a good customer experience doesn’t only exist within the four walls of your restaurant.
A great way to create a good relationship with your customers is to engage with them on social media. Whether it’s replying to a comment on your Facebook Page, sharing a tagged post to your restaurant’s Instagram Story, or responding to a review on Google, the work you do online to build customer loyalty will pay dividends.
But remember — only replying to positive customer feedback online will make potential diners skeptical of your customer service. A whopping 94% of American diners report that online reviews influence their dining decisions, so be sure to take customer complaints seriously.
Great restaurant customer service is within reach for your quick service restaurant
As a restaurant owner, you have a lot on your plate. But implementing these tweaks will help create happy customers and show that you are willing to go the extra mile. If you’re looking to get personalized feedback on your restaurant's customer service, consider running a guest survey to see if there are any additional customer needs you may be missing and adjust accordingly.