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<p>Watch for body language and other clues that something&#39;s not right.</p>

3 steps toward honest guest feedback

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How many tables do you touch per night in your restaurant? Do you believe the feedback you’re receiving from guests is honest and useful for your servers and kitchen staff? Consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce Sanders suggests, “If restaurant operators truly want the most useful feedback, they should ask guests for their advice instead of for their opinions.”

Read on to find out how you can dig deeper and unearth the honest feedback that until now has been just beyond your reach.

1. Be observant and watch for hints. “You have to be observant and watch your guests,” says Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse with eight locations in the northeast and Atlanta. “When I see plates are not empty or when they don’t want to take the food home with them, I know that the guest is unhappy. There are some keywords that you do not want to hear like, ‘OK’ and ‘alright.’ People give you hints and then you follow up and dig down deep.” 

2. Build an honest, ongoing relationship. “I approach new guests the same way I would a close friend or family member,” says Ben Fileccia, director of operations at Philadelphia-based Sbraga Dining. “When a guest believes they are actually helping, they are more forthcoming. You gain trust by being genuine with the guest; ask sincerely and they will deliver 100 percent of the time. I also make notes on their guest information and follow up with them on future visits. It's not just a one-time exchange; it’s a way to build an ongoing relationship."

3. Ask leading questions. “I vary my table touches with questions such as, ‘What can you tell me about your experience, server and food tonight?’ and my favorite, ‘Moment of truth folks—awesome, amazing or awe-inspiring—which explains your visit tonight?’” says Montgomery Beyer, an assistant general manager with Big Boy International in Greenville, MI. “Each if these questions requires more than a simple yes or no answer; one is almost presumptuous to think it’s perfect. This allows the guest a chance to explain why it was not perfect and for you to ask what you could have done differently.”

Digital Feedback

While one-on-one feedback should be your number one priority, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a few of the ways you can obtain online and digital feedback. co-owner Rafi Cohen says that a feedback feature is built right into its online ordering system, sending out a 5-question online survey 30 minutes after the order asking guests to rate food and service on a 5-star scale. Similarly, OfferCraft uses games and rewards to coax guests into filling out surveys online, making the survey process fun.

Marsha Middleton, president of the food-centric Atlanta-based M-Squared Public Relations, reminds her clients to constantly monitor online review sites such as Yelp and sign up to receive notifications when new reviews are posted. “Guests will take out their phones before they even depart the restaurant to share the 411—good and bad,” says Middleton. “It’s important that restaurants monitor those review sites. They need to reach out to the diners and let them know their comments and feedback are important to the success of the restaurant and that the time they took to share it is appreciated.”

Pay-at-the-Table technologies, such as RAIL surveys from TableSafe, now allow guests to fill out satisfaction surveys before ever leaving the restaurant. “The RAIL surveys give us feedback on the overall dining experience, combined with feedback on our food, service, and how guests discovered our restaurants,” shares Derek L. Nettles, I.T. director at Dickie Brennan & Co. in New Orleans.  

TAGS: Management
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