A happy customer is a customer for life. In the restaurant industry, customer service is everything. Provide great service, and customers will come back again and again. Provide a bad experience, and you may find yourself out of a job.

Harvard Business School conducted a study on Starbucks and found that customer satisfaction played an integral role in revenue. Satisfied customers visited the coffee chain 4.3 times per month and spent $4.06 per visit, and were customers for 4.4 years. Highly satisfied customers visited 7.2 times per month, spent $4.42 per visit, and were customers for 8.3 years.

That’s the difference between good and excellent service.

For most restaurant owners, finding ideas to improve customer service is the biggest challenge.

how to improve customer service

How to Improve Customer Service at Your Restaurant

How can you improve customer service? Good restaurant customer service is both an art and a science. Staff needs to be able to meet a customer’s need while maintaining efficiency.

Taking steps to improve customer service will help you maintain loyal customers and improve your bottom line.

Use these five tips to improve customer service at your restaurant.

1. Set Clear Standards for Staff

Good restaurant customer service starts and ends with your staff. Excellent service will keep customers coming back – even if they find the food to be mediocre – merely because they have a good experience each time they visit.

But if your staff doesn’t know how to provide excellent service, it could be bad for business. According to a Customer Experience Report, the top reason customers abandoned a brand was due to rude customer service and poor quality.

Customer satisfaction should be ingrained in your restaurant culture, but achieving this goal takes consistent effort. Expectations must be communicated clearly with your staff. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and everyone must know what is expected of them.

It's impossible to improve customer service skills if your staff doesn’t know how you want them to behave or how to interact with customers.

How should your team handle a problem when it arises? Have you created an action plan for your team to follow?

To set clear standards, document your customer service guidelines and policies in training manuals. These restaurant customer service standards should be as comprehensive as possible and include, among many other things:

  • How to greet customers at the door

  • How to interact with customers

  • How to handle customer complaints

  • How to handle long wait times

Remember that restaurant customer service training is an ongoing process and one that will require you to update your guidelines and policies periodically. As you find new and more efficient ways to improve customer service or meet customer needs, you’ll need to alter your customer service policies.

2. Be Quick to Respond to Complaints

It's impossible to please everyone, especially in the restaurant business. But that doesn’t mean that you should shrug off customer complaints.

Be quick to respond to problems and complaints. Do everything in your power to find a reasonable solution to the problem.

  • Listen to the customer’s complaint – without interruption – and empathize with him or her.

  • Make sure that you fully understand the problem.

  • Stay calm.

  • Apologize.

  • Find a resolution. Ask your customers what they want. Negotiate a solution that works for everyone.

  • Log and report the incident.

  • Examine your customer service policies to see if you need to update your guidelines.

There may be cases where you can't find a solution or a way to satisfy the customer. It’s still important to ensure that all communication with the said customer is professional, positive and courteous.

improve customer service

3. Do Table Touches

One great strategy to improve customer service is to do table touches. You’ve probably been on the other end of this strategy when dining at a major chain restaurant. A manager comes around and asks everyone at the table how their experience has been.

Have your managers do table touches on a regular basis, particularly on busy or difficult evenings. Questions should be as specific as possible to ensure that you get quality responses you can work with.

Table touches make customers feel valued and solidify a positive experience. And if there is a problem, guests will feel as if they’re reporting it directly to management.

In a way, table touches are like surveys. They help management and you – the owner – keep a pulse on customer satisfaction.

4. Don’t Make Customers Wait

One of the best ways to improve customer service is to focus on timely service. Guests are more likely to overlook or forgive long wait times for their meals if they have drinks and appetizers to hold them over.

But making customers wait 10-15 minutes just to order drinks is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter how great your food is; if customers have to wait too long, they will become irritated.

An irritated and disappointed customer is hard to win back.

Make sure that you have enough staff to handle higher volumes of customers. Make sure that drink and appetizer orders are taken as quickly as possible, within minutes of the customer sitting down.

If diners order meals that will take longer to cook, let them know in advance. Be transparent about longer wait times, and you’ll find that customers will be understanding.

Incorporate speed of service goals into your staff training program to improve customer service. Your customers will have expectations about how long they’ll have to wait for their food. Salads, for example, should come out quicker than a steak dinner.

5. Incorporate Technology

Use technology to improve customer service experience. Many big-chain restaurants are incorporating new technologies into their customer service strategies, and it’s paying off in a big way.

The technologies you incorporate will depend on the type of restaurant you run, but most business models can benefit from implementing at least one of the following:

Online Ordering

Here's a suggestion to improve customer service: offer online ordering. Customers have come to expect this option from restaurants.

Online ordering allows customers to browse your menu, take their time and place their order at their leisure. Customers who order online are more likely to spend more, as they'll be tempted to try new items. Calls to action can also encourage customers to order more.

If you plan to offer online ordering, make sure that your website and order form are mobile-friendly.

tips to improve customer service

Offer Free Wi-Fi

Customers want and expect to stay connected wherever they go. 65% of customers expect easy internet access when dining out, according to a study from analysis firm Technomic.

Chances are, you already have Wi-Fi in your restaurant. Making it accessible to customers is just one more perk and the reason for them to come back.

Games and Table Ordering

One idea to improve customer service is to offer games and table ordering. Exhausted parents will appreciate your restaurant’s effort to keep their children occupied while everyone waits for their food.

Some restaurants offer tablets at the table, which allow you to order food and play games. Games may be free, paid or a combination of the two. Paid games may provide additional revenue for your restaurant.

Other restaurants are taking a traditional approach by offering board games to diners. Board games allow guests to enjoy a meal, interact with one another, have some fun and create memories.

Improving your restaurant’s customer service is an active, ongoing process, but it’s worth every minute of effort. After all, your goal is to create a place where people feel welcome, enjoy a great meal and leave with a positive experience. Use these restaurant customer service tips to improve the customer experience and ensure that your staff knows how to handle customer issues.