What Do Customers Want?
Sigmund Freud is often quoted as saying, "What do women want?" He never figured it out, but you may do better in figuring out what customers want.
As you created your restaurant, you probably thought a great deal about your customers -- what kind of food, what kind of atmosphere, what kind of lighting -- all sorts of things that would please your customers.
So, what do your customers want? Good food? Sure! The lowest price? Maybe.
It's easy to believe that all customers are interested in is a bargain, but your customers want more -- lots more. When you focus solely on cost, you will be missing the chance to address other concerns of your customers.
Customers want genuine greetings. Your customers want to hear, "How are you today?" or "Welcome to..." Note the word "genuine." Mumbled, sing-song welcomes don't count. Don't forget the importance of eye contact. If you or your hostess is studying the seating chart to determine where to seat the guests who have just arrived, you will make your guests feel more like a commodity to be handled than guests in your restaurant.
It's not difficult to make every person who enters your restaurant feel welcome -- to feel as if you are glad they are there, that they've been missed if some time has passed since their last visit and that their visit is going to be an enjoyable one. Providing your guests with a sincere greeting is the best way to set the tone for the dining experience to follow.
Customers want a smiling face. Personnel experts say that you have only eight seconds to make a good first impression. The person who greets customers as they enter the restaurant sets the pace for the entire experience. Select your hosts and hostesses as if they are representing the attitude of every person on your team -- in fact, they are.
Customers want available staff members. Few guests want servers who hover at the table, but a server should be available within a minute or two of a customer needing something. Experienced servers continually make the rounds of each table in their station to make sure that all is well.
When you listen to complaints of people about restaurants, one that is often voiced is that the staff congregated in a clump, chatting away, while the customer did everything but stand on his chair to get their attention. Being available doesn't have to mean instantaneous service -- in fact, all but the most demanding customer will be reasonable and voice their request in "When you have time, could you...?" or "We just need one more fork..."
Customers want choices. Show the customer that you are flexible and you can work around their diets and tastes. Don't get so tied into "efficiency" that you can't provide substitutions or other choices. Whether it's including a no- or low-fat salad dressing in your selection or allowing a customer to have the sauce on the side, it's good business sense to let your customers customize their order, if possible. While meal customization and flexibility can add to the expense of your service, if you need a stronger business rationalization to encourage your servers and kitchen staff to cater to specific tastes and dietary needs, take a longer view. Your efforts will be rewarded in repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising.
Customers want a smooth relationship. Cultivating a good relationship with your customers can be a process that develops over years. When a customer has a pleasant experience at your restaurant the first time, your relationship is not over. It has just begun. You've set the customer's expectations at a certain point, and that customer will expect as good -- or better -- experience the next time they come to your place. You accomplish this by providing high-quality service and food product while continuing to communicate and listen to your customers.
Customers want knowledgeable staff members. How big is the chef salad? How much is the lobster special? Are the pork chops fried or baked? Are the green beans fresh? If I order "medium rare," what will my steak look like? What vodkas do you carry?
Your servers can be bombarded with questions -- all of which seem reasonable to your customers. To them your server is an "expert" who is expected to have all the answers to their questions at their fingertips. Make sure your servers understand the components of your various dishes and how they are prepared. Post and review "frequently asked questions" at your lineups, so that customers' questions can be easily answered. Make sure your servers know it's OK to say, "I don't know." When a customer asks, "Is there cilantro in the sauce?" rather than guessing, train them to admit they don't know and go find the answer.
Customers want a clean restaurant. When it comes to a restaurant, good housekeeping may not be good enough. You need superior housekeeping to build and maintain your restaurant's image. Customers want to eat in a place that is well-kept and where linens are fresh and surfaces are dust-free. Just one mistake, such as water spots on a glass or food crumbs on the floor, can throw into question the cleanliness of your entire operation. The easiest way to keep your standards high is to establish routines and procedures for how every maintenance task within your restaurant is performed. Staff must be trained in how each task is to be completed.
Customers want useful suggestions. When a customer asks one of your servers, "What's good here?" the customer doesn't want to hear, "Oh, everything's good here." That might be a great endorsement of the chef's skills, but it doesn't help the customer decide what to order. How much more credible for the server to say, "Our chef is known for his spinach ravioli," or "If you like fish, you've got to try the sea bass." Your customers depend on you to help them make decisions about what's on the menu. This doesn't mean that your server hovers over the table as the customers discuss the menu, but a server should be nearby to help customers understand and confirm their needs and choices.
Customers want a visible restaurant manager. Customers like to know that somebody in authority is nearby to answer questions or settle a dispute. People feel better when they know that there is a next level of help available to them. Even if the customer doesn't call on you, he wants to see that a manager is available and on site. The presence of a manager making the rounds is reassuring to the customers that someone is "on call" if they need it.
One well-known restaurant chain feels so strongly about the importance of a visible manager that the manager's office has no chairs. That's right -- no sitting in the back room when there's a dining room full of guests. Customers want a pleasant experience. Isn't that what it's all about?
Customers want to come to an attractive setting and enjoy a good meal. They arrive at your restaurant wanting to have a good time. When you bear in mind the expectations that customers have, you will be able to do a better job at meeting -- or exceeding -- them.