Your decor and menu might look the same to every diner who walks through the door, but that doesn't mean that everyone has to have the same dining experience. Providing each guest with attentive, personal service can turn first-time or occasional diners into dedicated regulars. Your staff—especially in the front of the house—is the most important part of your dining experience tool kit. You'll need their buy-in and whole-hearted commitment to provide a superior level of service.
Inspire the Right Attitude
It's your job to inspire your staff to have a service-first attitude. You need to set the expectation that every guest will be treated to the best and most personalized service you can offer. Teach your servers and hosts to be alert for cues. For instance, is a table celebrating a birthday or an anniversary? Some guests want attention while others want privacy, and your servers should be able to recognize and respect those wishes.
Embrace the Special Requests
Any special request from a guest provides you with an opportunity to excel. Whether it's as simple as a table out of the sun or as complex as an allergen-free version of a signature dish, your staff should be trained to respond with enthusiasm. This is especially important for guests with food allergies or sensitivities. Eating out is a high-risk activity for those diners, so they're fiercely loyal to allergy-friendly restaurants and will actively share their experience with others.
One of the most compelling things you can do for your guests is to simply remember and acknowledge them. If your server recognizes that they're celebrating a birthday or anniversary with you, make a point of recording that information. Drop them a thank-you card in the mail and tell them how pleased you are that they opted to spend their evening with you. Remind yourself to invite them back next year when the same month rolls around again. If you keep a file for your repeat customers—and you should—make a note of any personal preferences they've mentioned to the server. If possible, try to seat them in the same server's section on each visit so they can build a comfortable relationship. Nothing is as welcoming as being recognized, greeted by name, and having your personal preferences remembered.
Take Advantage of Technology
Complementing your training efforts with the intelligent use of technology is a win-win, and it will minimize the impact of staff departures and empower everyone on the floor with the tools to give your guests a superior level of service. A good guest database can record every detail of a guest's history in your restaurant, from seating preference to special dates. When a repeat customer makes a new reservation, that information should go to the server who will work the table. It shows you're willing to invest extra effort in pleasing your diners, and that makes a powerful impact.
New technology also provides ways for your guests to interact with you—from online ordering and reservations to social media engagement. The beauty of these initiatives is that your guests can personalize their own experience, and you only need to follow through on what they've requested. Social media followers, and users of your own mobile app (or one that's branded for your restaurant) will often voluntarily provide you with much of the information you need to provide exceptional service. You'll just need to be respectful of their privacy, and be sure that the vendor of your product has adequate safeguards in place to protect customer data.
Building a guest-centric dining experience is an ongoing project because staff turnover and the corresponding training is an unfortunate reality of the business. By following these tips, you'll be well on your way toward providing a top-notch dining experience that will grow your customer base and make you stand out from your competitors.