Ken Burgin

Customer service problem

Using Restaurant Negatives to Create Positive Improvement

A little negativity can sometimes be useful – tapping into the very human tendency to complain can yield a whole range of useful material when teaching customer service. A recent workshop I ran on ‘quality service’ was going nowhere fast: a group of strangers, a cold room and first topic in the morning. So I decided to pop the cork and ask each table to come up with their 10 pet hates when visiting a restaurant or café. Specific – not vague. Real crimes – not made up.

Suddenly the room came to life – nothing like a little rage to stoke the conversation. The trainer’s skill is to use this raw material to look at what participants are doing in their own business and ensure these horrors aren’t being inflicted on their own customers. Here are the best (or worst) on the list – some will be familiar, and a great way to kick off the discussion when you next sit down for a review.

Disappointing food and beverage…

Bad coffee. Period. Why has this one item become such a religion? Whatever the reason, the passions are intense and some places are forgiven bad service and scruffy staff if the black gold is made perfectly. When you have great coffee, good service, clean and comfortable surroundings, the combination is unbeatable.

I can’t read the menu! Yep, I wear reading glasses but if I’m dressed to impress I will leave them at home. And if I can’t read a description of the $90 bottle of wine, I’m not likely to order it – use 12 or 14-point type on the menu so everyone’s happy.

No vegetables with the main course. A puddle of sauce and a wisp of dill don’t make the meal ‘complete’. Call it a hangover from a suburban childhood, but satisfying vegetables add to the contentment of diners – why leave them out if it annoys people?

Vegans and vegetarians treated as a problem – best ignored. A mixed salad or mushroom risotto don’t cut it anymore, with 10% of customers wanting no-meat options. There’s a positive boost in sales when you take these customers seriously and boost the variety.

No information about the food. When a tourist restaurant lists ‘vitello tonnato’ on the menu with no further description, you know the ‘sales prevention officers’ have been at work. This classic Italian dish of poached veal with a tuna mayonnaise is always popular when described with enthusiasm. It’s likely that only one in a hundred of your customers speak the language, so the dish won’t sell itself without descriptive words.\

Nothing local on the menu. This is often missing in areas with great produce and food. but they dish up the same old, same old from the freezer. Supply can be a challenge in rural areas, but the opportunities are huge if you get it right.

OMG the service! 🥲

No hello, goodbye or sign of recognition. Have you ordered? Yes, I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes! Sorry…we’ve just been so busy. When staff can’t look up from their phone call and nod hello, they may only be capable of doing one thing at a time. If their choice is between talking and working, they usually choose to chat. This one was closely linked to another gripe from thirty-plus customers – if you’re not young, thin and gorgeous, customers may become ‘invisible’ for many staff.

Single people treated as a problem. Cafés love them, restaurants don’t know what to do with them. Are they really blocking up a table that’s needed by a group of four? Singles often spend more, and even small signs of care and attention create loyalty and enthusiasm. We need more customers like that, not fewer.

Broken communication system. A phone number that goes to an answering machine, or no number at all. Social media messages go unanswered – so frustrating.

Unhelpful website. It’s either crazy-modern and minimalist, or out of date with a PDF menu that can’t be read on a phone. Plus a Google search gives me out-of-date opening hours – nothing worse than turning up and a place is closed!

Problems with the physical layout…

Scary bathrooms without a mirror, shelf or hook. Demanding? Not really. The toilet is more than just a convenience. It should be a sanctuary, and if you can’t keep it clean and fresh, why should I trust your kitchen hygiene?

Unisex bathrooms. It’s hard enough sharing them at home, why would I want to do this with strangers? How many of these would be designed by female architects? Not very many – a special note for trendy new bars.

Cold drafts! There’s a solid six months of the year when it’s too cold to leave the door open, or sit comfortably outside. Worse is when the front or side doors won’t close properly and cold breezes hit those in the way – brrrr!

Rock ‘n roll tables and hard chairs. If I’m comfortable, chances are I’ll stick around and keep ordering. Don’t make it deliberately uncomfortable to make my stay short. The chair is a subtle but powerful signal about comfort and quality.

Music only a teenager could love. At the workshop, there was plenty of animated discussion about what type of music should be played, and who makes the call on the selection – the manager, the staff or the customers? But everyone agreed it should add to the experience not upset it. And of course the general problem of excessive noise!

🤓 Recognise anything on this list? Remember them when trying to improve the quality and service in your restaurant – could these be the reason you’re not as busy as last year?

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

Customer service

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.