With limited budgets, consumers are eating out less but expecting more from each experience. So if an evening is not so great they won’t be coming back to your restaurant again.
Restaurant Management looks at 10 simple ways to give diners an evening they’ll always remember (in a good way):
- Use lighting that makes women look and feel pretty. Other than at breakfast, when the room should be bright for reading the newspaper, keep the lighting dim and at face level, advise the experts. “Lighting done well for restaurants is layered by providing ambient illumination, accent lighting, and decorative lighting elements,” says Gregg Hackett, Rmgt's resident design expert and columnist. Just make sure it’s not too dark to read the menu. Small table lamps and candles are best.
- Keep people at the bar with comfortable stools. Pat Risner, a restaurant consultant in Pittsburgh, has a favorite neighborhood tavern, “but I don’t stay long because the old wooden bar stools cut into my thighs. One drink and I’ve had enough pain.” The seats on bar stools should be wide and deep enough that people enjoy sitting in them. Foot rests are handy, and people appreciate stools with back support.
- Keep a clean bathroom. If a restaurant can’t keep bathrooms clean, customers are apt to wonder, what happens in the kitchen? A sparkling-clean bathroom sends an important message about food safety as well.
- Serve coffee! An otherwise wonderful wine bar in Cleveland doesn’t serve coffee because the owner isn’t a coffee drinker. News flash: Your former customers have defected to other wine bars so they can have a cup of java with their dessert. And for many people who don’t drink alcohol, coffee is the beverage of choice with dinner. The menu should offer customers—not the owner—what they want, or patrons will disappear.
- Where’s the food from? How did it get here—is the fish local, farm-raised, or wild? Diners are more food-informed than ever, and they know that farm-raised and wild salmon are different. Green issues such as food miles are increasingly important as well. Include such details on the menu if possible.
- Change the menu often, but keep what works. If diners come in with your bison chili or Brie salad on their minds, let it be available year-round or they might not think of you when the seasons change again.
- Wait help should be genuine and friendly, but not intrusive. Is it really necessary to ask diners questions when they’re in the middle of a sentence, or wiping away a tear? When customers are deeply engaged in one way or another, come back in five minutes. If they need you sooner, they’ll get your attention.
- Let people customize their meals when possible. If someone would rather have a salad than a potato, why not provide it? Or why not give them a small dish of steamed veggies instead of bread, so they can fill up on something besides carbs? Such individual attention will cost you pennies and win you a longtime customer.
- Educate the wait help. How are meals prepared—Is there cilantro in the salad? Is the blue cheese dressing bottled or homemade? What are the brands of your house wines? These are details to some, but to others they can change the entire meal.
- Arrange the seating with thought. It used to be that a door near the kitchen was the worst seat in the house; now restaurants build counters facing the open kitchen so diners can watch the action. Still, some people would rather sit where they can have a quiet talk. Likewise, if you have a fireplace, some customers will request a table near to it, but others would rather sit away from such direct heat. Try to offer several seating options for different preferences.
By Mary Mihaly