How to achieve great customer service in a Restaurant Environment

Today is not like yesterday, or even five years ago. Things have changed in the restaurant and hospitality business forever. What used to be perfectly acceptable for customer service is not even close to what customers demand today. And customer service and experience will make or break your business.

Over those same last five years or so there has been literally a revolution in technology that deals completely with customer service and customer flow all helping to give customers literally the best experience that is possible in a restaurant or other hospitality sector.

We have all seen and sometimes been on the receiving end of bad service when visiting a restaurant and there is absolutely no doubt that most customers become extremely frustrated. The problem is, that bad service is actually unintentionally widespread throughout the sector. Often, when customers receive bad service it's not by default - restaurants don't set out to annoy customers! Indeed, it’s never been intentional! but the fact still remains that these same customers will tell up to 50 other friends and associates that they 'had a bad time' at restaurant X. They will never return. And every one of those will have a negative effect on the business probably more so than you might imagine in these days of high focus on social networking.

As professionals, we could say that we all offer the greatest service to our customers and that our staff have gone to great pains to ensure that customers experience is second to none. But in reality, step back for one moment and think about that in a different perspective than what your real-life job is.

How EXACTLY are you going to offer the ultimate service to customers without the tools to do that?

Technology has become so developed that if you utilised all the technology available that you could in your restaurant, then it is extremely likely that customer service would be incredibly good. All of the time. But exactly which technology should you use? - it's a jungle out there and the choices of equipment that is available is mind boggling even to some experts. Every single seller will tell you that their solutions are 'best' and often they will tell you that you 'don't need anything else' to reign supreme. But how true is that?

So, let's take a look at some of the current technology that is available today and break things down in to areas that can easily be improved and monitored with different solutions in a restaurant. Below are some of the areas that should be considered:

 

Paging Systems but not as we know them

Customers that come in to any restaurant really don't like waiting around to be seated. Waiting customers that are not properly managed might become walk away. And worse, once the table is ready, not being taken immediately to the table could end up also being costly. Not really the sort of service commensurate with a great customer experience, right?

Having been in the technology business since 1981 and more specifically the paging sector since 2001 I have seen incredible change taking place over those years. Some might say that paging systems are less common these days, but simple paging systems that do just one job i.e. like the Coaster Call system for recalling customers when the table is ready remain a standard as does staff paging from a singular transmitter. All stand-alone of course.

Even reading that description above really does sound like something you might associate with the past! While it's not true to say that standard pager solutions are sold less (far from it), the control of those paging solutions has been steadily migrating from a simple transmitter to control by apps on either an iPad or Android tablet. And at that point, not only do we see the introduction of apps that can take control of wait lists (for example) but we also see the introduction of the internet which changes everything.

Magically, subsequent to those technology changes with apps, the mobile phone enters the arena. Why? well firstly that mobile phone can be used as a pager if the customer agrees its use in that way. Secondly the phone owner might actually be staff rather than a customer so there becomes other savings regarding pager costs. But whether you use SMS text messaging or not, the wait list applications look after the customer to table, the app looks after the table management. Whether the table is being used, bussed or ready for the customer, it’s all easy to see and track onscreen inside the app.

Of course, there are a thousand other things going on in the app and an ability to multi-screen the app and screen throughout the site is useful in many ways; but one very important aspect is the reporting that these types of solutions offer. No longer does the manager have to 'guess' how the business is operating - with a system like this he can prove how the system is operating and determine exactly what the customer service and experience is really like. Operating data matters and if you don't have it available in your business then it could be said that you are leading your company partially blindfolded. But what is worse, is that it will be very hard for you to know that the service quality has slipped - and that's critical.

LRS has a solution called On-Cue (more about On-Cue) that works on an iPad and is completely free to download and use. It's true that if you want to page customers or staff then other equipment is needed, but the core application remains completely free and can handle many aspects of customer and restaurant table management without the restaurant buying anything!

There are other applications out there of course, but when you investigate them often many of them carry a cost and can be highly complex to use effectively.

Table Location solutions that improve customer service

So far so good with apps, but in any fast-casual environment there has been a big move (McDonalds is just one example) of taking food to the table. As a pro you will know what I'm going to say next and it’s a massive headache with take to table food deliveries... where EXACTLY is the table?

I have been present in fast casual restaurant after restaurant and watched those poor colleagues taking food to customers and seen them continually walking around the tables trying as hard as they can (especially at busy times) to locate the customer but they simply cannot find the table for the food delivery. We have all seen those table tents, spoons and similar devices but they typically do nothing to help the situation and in reality, they never will.

But technology in this area has come on in leaps and bounds so that today a colleague can collect the food and walk immediately to the customers exact table. The difference that makes is incredible to the customer experience and level of service they receive. I have seen a delivery for a 'piece of toast' drop from 14 minutes to under 4 minutes! Hard to believe? Absolutely not if you have the right technology.

What's more, the benefits are incredible. Table turns increase dramatically in busy times so walkaways are reduced or banished forever, food is delivered piping hot, there may even be a requirement for less staff who can then be allocated to other work. In short, the business will improve its customers experience beyond anything otherwise obtainable.

But there is even more to this story. Typically, Table Tracker systems collect data and that data is a goldmine to determine so much information about how the restaurant is operating. One client commented that "Table tracker has really helped not only with speed of service but also by identifying where we can probe speed of service and make informed decisions with additional resource or cooking equipment. Before Table tracker this would have been purely anecdotal. Now we can make investment choices based on facts". Those data metrics are unobtainable any other way.

Without a solution like a table tracker there is really no way that any fast-casual operation could compete with others in the same sector that use tracker technology.

Customer tracking (as opposed to table tracking) is often achieved by 'geo-fencing' and by tracking mobile phones on the premises can produce other important metrics. However, there are new directions to be able to track customers with devices used for table tracking so there is a merging of technologies going on right now. These directions will (for some) be another technological advancement in the hospitality sector that will change everything once again. But think about this, that technology can be used in a much wider number of areas within the business or other sectors than you might imagine... and it's all coming very soon.

LRS developed a Table Tracker in some ways like other companies, but there is really one major difference from competitive products on the market that the LRS table tracker has. And that is in the operation of their solution. Tracker has the ability to guide colleagues to the exact table that the customer is seated at, whereas near enough all other systems are based on different technology that is far less accurate and only gets the colleague in to a 'zone'. And that's far less effective overall. Those type of systems don't offer what every restaurant needs, but the LRS solution delivers in a way that other solutions just cannot.

Table tracker technology is also improving all the time, with many new innovations just around the corner and while Tracker sound incredible from the above short introduction and simple examples, you would not believe what is coming over the next year or so as technology improves much further.

Conclusions

Remembering that efficiency in hospitality remains the number one thing to achieve, but also customer experience and all that brings with it is clearly almost on a similar level of very recent times. While there is no doubt that any of the above solutions would give your company a massive insight in to the customer experience and service levels being achieved in your premises (or even group wide), these technologies also improve profitability overall, and with short ROI times these sorts of new solutions offer not really a maybe but rather a must have for any restaurant that wants to stay at the top of their game.

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