Six Ways You're Ruining the Guest Experience

The subject of the improving the guest experience has been much discussed these past few months in restaurant news. Recently, CEOs for Darden and Outback Steakhouse have pointed specifically to a new focus on the guest experience as they realize the waning influence and value of traditional discounting.

In chains line Buffalo Wild Wings that rely heavily on the experience of their restaurants for differentiation, they have even designated a position dedicated to enhancing the guest experience.

These nationally recognized brands have it right, but they also are setting their focus without identifying the real culprits in ruining the guest experience.

It’s the little things that kill in our industry. You have the power to not only salvage the guest experience, but enhance it by addressing these six common fails.

“It’s too hot or cold in here.”

HVAC systems are quirky things. Each one has its own eccentricities for which experience and maintenance can’t always effectively account. There are cold spots, hot spots and dead spots all over your restaurant. Then there are the human factors that can cause wild variations in the ambient temp in any space.

Nothing can mark a bad restaurant experience better than the relative temperature of the dining room or bar. Managing this can be a significant challenge, especially when you are busy. The good news is there are new technologies that can fix this. Smart thermostats are available that will learn the rhythm of your temp needs and stay ahead. They can also be managed from a smartphone app, ensuring you don’t have to cross the room, search for a key or generally interrupt your flow to address them. Problem solved.

“No one acknowledged me at the bar.”

When a guest arrives at the bar, they are ready for a cocktail. Cliché alert! You never get a second chance to make first impression. It’s cliché for a reason. You can’t know what their world has been like before they present themselves for service, but you can ruin it by not simply acknowledging them.

This can come in many forms -- dropping a cocktail napkin, a head nod indicating you see them, a quick hello and I’ll be right there. Any of these is better than what we see so often in our business, which is avoidance.

This is a training issue and falls squarely on your shoulders as the operator. Worse, this is particularly bad when you are slow, therefore you’ve got to be diligent in the direction you give. Get a drink into someone’s hand and they will give you wide latitude with the remaining service you deliver. Don’t and you do so at your own peril.

“It took forever to get and pay my check.”

Time and time again, guests tell us this is among their most sensitive moments in the service cycle. They are done and presumably have enjoyed their experience in your joint. Now it’s time to go. So what are you waiting for? Get them their check and process it quickly. They get to move on efficiently with their day and you get to reseat the table, a win for both guest and operator.

So why does this transaction often go horribly wrong? Waiting for the check, waiting for the CC slip to sign or to give the cash payment… waiting for change… arrgghh! Here, new technology can fundamentally improve this situation. Whether it’s a tableside tablet or mobile payments, you improve the guest’s sense of security and eliminate the wait from check delivery to cash out.

“The game I wanted to watch isn’t on.”

Ok, so this one is a bit of shill for our SportsTV Guide service, but it doesn’t make it any less important. Every restaurant that has a TV becomes a sports bar when a big game or national event is televised. The reason our SportsTV Guide subscribers rely so heavily on our guides is to ensure they are prepared to respond to a guest game request. It pays to know in advance.

Sporting events are appointment watching and a guest that wants to see a game wants it now. If you don’t quickly and efficiently tune their game on, you are truly ruining their experience. The foam finger is a sure giveaway that they are a loyal supporter of their team. So make sure they use it to indicate they’re number one and not to give you the finger!

“You don’t deliver items to accompany my meal in a timely manner.”

Food is personal and any operator that doesn’t completely comprehend this will likely fail. So little things, such as seasoning, condiments, steak knives and extra napkins can be a pivotal aspect of the dining experience. If those things aren’t delivered quickly or in advance, you can completely spoil the entire dining experience.

If a guest digs hot sauce for their pasta and asks you for it, delaying its delivery delays the guest actually enjoying their meal. Why not ask your guest after order completion, “Is there anything else you need to go with your meal? Sauces, condiments, seasoning?” Then deliver them in advance.

First and foremost, you confirm to the guest they are getting their order. Secondly, you eliminate any chance of holding their food hostage to their special request. It’s simple service, but will completely eliminate this potentially disastrous mistake.

“The bathrooms are gross.”

This may be the most obvious, but it doesn’t make it less relevant. If you really don’t want families or single women to visit your place, then let your bathrooms turn into a festering swamp of toilet paper, dirty vanities and pee sprayed walls.

However, if your goal is to create the most comfortable environment possible, then a focus on your bathrooms will only further you in attaining that goal. Bathroom upkeep is invariably about systems of accountability. Use a timer to remind you of regular interval checks, assign the job to a person that is capable of doing it regularly and for heaven’s sake follow-up. Behave like your mom is coming to dinner and get the bathroom just right -- she’ll be very proud.

Getting these typical fails under control falls squarely on our shoulders as managers and operators. The stakes are high as competition intensifies and guests are making decisions where they dine based on the experience. Dedicating your attention to eliminating the ways you fail will ensure the work you do to improve your business isn’t undermined. As with so many things, it’s up to you to focus on it and your staff will follow if you lead.