Don't Be a Restaurant One-Night Stand

This is the first in a three-post series about troubleshooting user experience and design issues at restaurants.

“Oh my god, how can this guest be so stupid?!” 

As a former bartender and server, I’ve said it dozens of times. I’ve heard managers and other coworkers say it, and I’m sure you’ve said it at least once or twice. You can admit it, we’re all friends here. 

It happens often enough that we tend to ignore it. We often assume that guests are just dumb. But when it’s the same scenario repeating itself -- guests continuing to make the same mistakes -- you should take notice. 

A guest ordering something that isn’t on the menu, like a pizza at an Indian restaurant, is a jerk. But when someone orders a dish that contains something they’re allergic to, or orders a menu item expecting something completely different to arrive at their table? That’s on you. Here’s why. 

It’s you who’s stupid. 

If more than one guest is making the same error while ordering, or can’t find the host stand, or maybe can’t even find the bathroom, it’s a sign that you need some redesign. It’s not the guests’ fault; it’s your fault. 

Think about it. You’re familiar with the menu and the building layout. You know the ins and outs of your restaurant. But what about someone brand new to your establishment? Is everything crystal clear? 

Don’t become a serial one-night stand. 

Think about the last time you went to a new restaurant. Did you know what to order, or what to expect when your meal came? That’s what your new guests go through every night.

As a restaurant owner or manager, you have to make a great first impression. If you want growth, it means new guests need to return. To achieve this goal your new guests need to have a great experience. If their expectations aren’t met, they guests aren’t returning, and you’ve failed both the guest and your business. 


During my time at a casual full-service restaurant, we listed oysters as an appetizer. Nothing unusual about that, but there was almost always some confusion as to how to order them. I would hear other servers grumble under their breath by the POS, “Ugh, idiot! It’s three dollars each. Why are you so dumb?” 

The menu read, “Locally harvested oysters 3 each.”

Well duh! People were confused because the wording was ambiguous! How would a guest know the restaurant means the oysters are $3 each and not three oysters per order when it’s not clearly stated

Want to make sure a customer never returns? Treat them as if they’re stupid. It’ll guarantee they won’t come back. 

Here’s how to fix it. 

With the oyster example, it’s a no-brainer. Change the wording on the menu to make it clearer that it’s $3/oyster and not three oysters per order. If it’s too costly to reprint the menus, print cheaper menus. 

Just kidding… sort of. 

If you can’t replace the menus, management should have a conversation with front-of-house staff ensuring everyone knows to clearly communicate to guests to prevent mistakes while ordering. 

Not just your restaurant’s menus.  

Menu mistakes are pretty common, but inadequate signage is just as bad. Imagine finding yourself in a building unfamiliar to you, you really have to pee, but you can’t find the bathroom because there’s no sign! It’s incredibly frustrating. 

Moments like these leave a bad impression with guests. These small irritations, which may seem negligible to you and your staff, build and grow into a negative fog that colors the entire guest experience in your restaurant. 

As a business owner and leader, you can't take  understanding for granted. Every human being sees the world through their own lens of perception created by their life experiences. Thumbs up means, “Great job!” in this country, but is a terrible insult if you’re in Australia, Greece or the Middle East. 

When it comes to running any business, a little empathy goes a long way. Never assume a guest is stupid; instead learn from the mistakes being made, and make your business better. 

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