One of the most important aspects of running a business is your customer service. With that said, the mentality that “the customer is always right” is usually the best mentality to have. As a restaurant owner, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your customers happy, so it’s important to deal with any customer’s request in a way that satisfies him or her as much as possible.
Feedback from customers through satisfaction surveys and suggestion boxes can be a valuable tool in growing your restaurant, but take that advice with a grain of salt.
But what if someone suggests something that’s out of line with your restaurant’s policy? Is there such a thing as an imaginary line that a customer’s request might cross? This begs the question, “Is the customer always right?”
When the Customer Is Always Right
Yes, we all know it can be a host’s nightmare when a party that is about to be seated at Table 11 decides to ask to sit at Table 16 instead (or worse yet, when a reservation for a party of four suddenly turns into a party of two). However, it’s important to let customers have their way on this one. After all, the host is the customers’ first impression of your restaurant. If he or she does not comply with the seating request, diners will immediately find the restaurant in bad taste. It can be hard to come back from that.
Yes, it’s more work for the server, but two tables at once are manageable. This does become an issue, though, when it’s three or more tables at once—read on to find out more about that.
Splitting the Check
Now that cash comes second to credit and debit cards in customers’ wallets, it’s important to accommodate a party that wants to split the check. Although certain apps make it easier to pay people back, customers do still want the option just to hand over several cards and have the restaurant do the rest. With POS systems today, splitting checks is easier than ever, no matter how many diners are in a party.
If your restaurant is small and does not have a POS system, splitting checks can be time-consuming. It might be necessary, in that case, to inform customers in advance that you can only split checks up to three or four ways.
Spoiler alert: This one ended up in both categories. On the one hand, substitutions are often simple, such as asking for the dressing on the side, or swapping out french-fries for onion rings. In those cases, the restaurant should be willing to make the switch. After all, simple swaps like that keep the customer happy without creating a lot of chaos in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s necessary to charge a little extra for certain swaps (some restaurants charge a dollar or two more for onion rings); most customers understand that and are okay with it.
When the Customer Is Not Always Right
On the other hand, there are sometimes good reasons why restaurants do not allow substitutions. A big reason is the quality of the dish. Certain ingredients are paired together to create specific flavors. When customers ask for substitutions or the removal of certain ingredients, those flavor pairings are affected, leaving an underwhelming dish and an unsatisfied customer.
Another reason is production time. Some food items, such as specials, soups, and desserts, are made in advance, saving time when an order is placed. Removing an ingredient is thus impossible without creating a whole new batch, and on a busy night, that simply isn’t an option. When this issue arises, the best solution is to explain the reason behind the “no substitution” rule, rather than just handing the customer a no.
Most restaurants have a policy of holding reservations for only 10-15 minutes before giving away a table. This is necessary in order to keep other customers satisfied. If a party does not arrive near its reservation time, the results are an unused table and a long waiting list. Plus, people begin to notice that there are empty tables and ask questions.
Prevent this situation from arising in the first place. When a reservation is made, inform the party that the restaurant has a strict rule on holding tables. It will then be easy to reiterate that rule if the party shows up 25 minutes late. Most customers will call if they’re running a little late; when that happens, it’s fine to hold the table, as long as the customer is only a few minutes away.
When the Employee Suffers
There’s a difference between an employee having to do extra work and an employee who is clearly in distress because of a customer request. Occasionally on a busy Saturday night, three or four parties in a row might all request a table near the window. If the host seats all those parties in the same section, there is no way the server will be able to give valued service when all parties want to order drinks, appetizers, dinner, and dessert at the exact same time.
The result? The server’s stress levels go through the roof, and he or she may start to feel a lack of appreciation.
The best solution to this situation is to simply let the party know why they’ll need to wait a little longer for one of the requested tables. Explain that they can have a seat near the door right away, or a seat near the window in five minutes. Let them make the final decision.
Customer service is paramount when running a successful restaurant. Although it’s important to comply with as many customer requests as possible, sometimes a line needs to be drawn. When you can’t comply with a request, be honest about why. Explain why a customer can’t order the soup without garlic, or why there’s a wait for a table with a view. Yes, some customers will be annoyed, but for the most part, people will appreciate the honesty and enjoy their dining experience anyway.