Reviews can make or break virtually any business, and nowhere is this more true than the service industry. If your Yelp page is riddled with scathing commentary, your restaurant will suffer. According to Moz, online reviews are one of the top six factors influencing where a business appears in local searches — so even if potential customers aren’t reading the bad reviews, they may not even be able to find your restaurant because of them.
Fortunately, you can learn a lot from bad reviews. Here’s how to use customer feedback to improve your restaurant operations.
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Where to Find Restaurant Feedback
Customer engagement happens across all social media channels. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it easy and straightforward for customers to post their opinion about your restaurant, but they also make it easy for you to track those opinions. You can set notifications to appear when you receive a review on Facebook or a mention on Twitter, which means you'll be able to see and respond to reviews immediately and act on anything that needs a change.
Yelp and Google encourage customers to rate, review, and post photos from your restaurant. These online reviews provide key insights into customer experience, and are an essential source for customer feedback.
Online reviews are usually more detailed than social media messages, and tend to show trends and patterns when viewed all together. These reviews can give you a clear picture of how customers think and feel about your company and establishment.
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A survey is a useful way to collect information about your customers. If your POS has a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that records customer email addresses, you can create these surveys and send them out to your patrons.
To create an effective survey, identify what you’re trying to accomplish or discover. Do you need to measure customer loyalty? Are you trying to understand what customers think of your service?
Keep the survey as short as possible, with direct questions targeted at getting the information you need. Consider offering a gift card or a giveaway for all participants in order to make sure you get a reasonable sample size.
Your staff talks to your customers all day, so they know what their biggest pain points are. Ask your staff what they get the most compliments and complaints about, and adjust accordingly. Including your staff in this process gives them a voice and likely will make their lives easier, as the result will hopefully be less complaints.
Use Negative Feedback to Improve Your Restaurant
After gathering information from social media, online reviews, and surveys, you can focus on where improvements need to be made. Look to each area of your restaurant as a separate entity so that you can acknowledge each individual problem, thus making them easier to solve.
Your hosts are the first people to come in contact with your guests, and that first impression is crucial. If customers are giving feedback that your host isn’t friendly, incorporate new training for your hosts and cashiers that outlines the importance of a welcoming demeanor.
Main dining room
It’s likely that your dining room is the stage of most stories in your customer reviews. When looking through these reviews, think about what you would want your experience to be like if you were dining out, and aim to improve your restaurant with that mindset.
If dozens of customers mention slow service, create training opportunities for servers and incentives for positive experiences with customers, such as a no-side-work card for any positive review that calls out a particular server.
Your servers know that their tips are affected when they don’t provide grade-A service, so it’s unlikely they are slacking on purpose. Consider whether you are staffing enough servers at busy times and ask for suggestions from your staff on how to improve the guest experience. It’s also a good idea to have a manager spend time touching base with your guests, especially those who seem visibly upset. This shows you care about their wellbeing and you’re keen to make the situation right.
If your reviews say the dining room is often filled with dirty tables, implement guidelines that will help your bussers get the job done quicker. Implement a rule that servers must have full hands coming into the kitchen (meaning full of dishes or cups), as well as when they’re coming out of the kitchen (carrying clean appetizer plates or rolled silverware). This will make the restaurant run more efficiently, and servers will know well before you’ve run out of dishes or silverware, so no one is scrambling to wash dishes at the last minute.
Your kitchen has a huge impact on every area of your restaurant. If food is coming out cold or dishes take an obscene amount of time to be delivered to a table, you’re bound to have angry diners followed by harsh reviews.
Similar to the dining room reviews, evaluate if you need more staff on hand, more training, or more precision with your standards. If there are complaints about certain dishes, it’s a good idea to evaluate your menu and see which items are selling and which could be removed.
Online ordering is part of the kitchen as well, so if customers are saying they are receiving soggy food, have your kitchen package food in a way that keeps it in prime condition — such as sauces on the side, breads in different boxes, and hot and cold items in separate bags.
Are reviews saying your bar is always running out of a specific drink? Is there mention of your bar being untidy or your bartenders not greeting customers within an appropriate time frame? It’s crucial to address these points to your staff and update your inventory requirements. Cleaning checklists should be completed every morning and evening, and all bar staff should be aware of tending requirements.
It’s important to pay attention to the details, and that includes the bathroom. Restrooms should be clean, above all else, and should always be stocked. If you do receive negative feedback, take immediate action and create a way to make the bathrooms more suitable for the customer. Have someone responsible for intermittently checking the bathrooms throughout the night so there’s less room for error.
Customer feedback gives your restaurant an opportunity to identify issues and improve operations to create a more engaging dining experience. It’s not always possible to please every guest, but the effort you put into correcting negative habits or responding to unfavorable reviews will be noticed.