How to be Systematic about Customer Feedback
Customer feedback has immense value in the restaurant industry. A management team needs to hear specifically from customers how their product and service is being received and make adjustments to the business model accordingly. Most managers and operators are familiar with basic methods for soliciting feedback, which include strategies such as:
- Comment cards
- Table visits
- Customer loyalty programs
- Employee feedback
- Reading online reviews
- Reading social media
At the same time, most managers have not implemented a coherent by which customer feedback is collected and implemented into the business model. The reasons for this vary. However, there are a few common dynamics at work in most restaurants that it make it difficult to be systematic about customer feedback.
There is usually not enough time in the day. Many managers feel as though they are collecting feedback, mostly by asking questions of customers or listening to them during table touches. But this does not always equate to valid feedback. Managers usually have a laundry list of other thoughts at any one time, and relying on only one resource can be misleading.
Avoiding Knee-jerk Reactions
One common result is over-relying on a thought that has been heard on three separate occasions, or which can be corroborated by another manager. This can lead to knee-jerk reactions that don’t reflect a cross-section of the opinions of diners. For example, a manager might mention hearing negative feedback about the salmon during a meeting, to which another manager might mention having heard the same thing. The constraints of time or the need to have an opinion one way or another can suddenly cultivate the sinking feeling that the salmon recipe must be adjusted right away.
Feedback needs to be more systematic and thorough than this. It is too valuable as a contributor to success, and it is too easy to receive in a logical manner. Most customers like being asked for feedback, and there are plenty of ways to retrieve it. Investing the time to make it more comprehensive is a critical strategy for creating value in any restaurant.
The Weekly Meeting
Incorporating feedback from all of the sources mentioned above is a great tool for making feedback systematic, and the best forum for this is in the weekly manager’s meeting. This process can be streamlined by delegating it to one manager, whose task is to seek out trends from each of these resources and present them for the management team. Each manager can then comment on trends that have been isolated, with some issues becoming red-flagged.
Going back to our previous example, if the salmon has been mentioned as subpar in comment cards, table touches, and in an online review, it should be red-flagged. This would indicate that it should be examined more closely, with managers seeking out feedback about this issue specifically. Employee issues and common gripes among guests are other examples of items that could be red-flagged.
Casual conversations among managers have to be considered as a valuable part of the process in most restaurants because of the demands of time and the need to act quickly in some instances. Once feedback has been red-flagged, managers should talk about additional feedback as it comes up.
Avoid the Backburner
It is very common for important customer feedback items to be put on the backburner, especially when there are a thousand other items on the agenda. Unfortunately, this is a critical element of allowing feedback to become random, and responses to feedback to become based on time management and not critical impact on the bottom line.
Backburnering important feedback items is going to happen. But making feedback a high priority means that this will happen less frequently, and that managerial responses to feedback – especially negative feedback – will be quick and decisive when they should be.