Providing patrons with a fantastic dining experience truly sets great restaurants apart. Any opportunity to offer a distinctive and memorable meal will help you stand out and succeed in the competitive food and hospitality industry. From fine dining to themed restaurants with a special niche, it’s ultimately the customer’s dining experience and satisfaction that matter most.
The restaurant dining experience begins as soon as your customers walk in the door. From the way guests are greeted to the type of music playing, every aspect of your establishment influences and shapes their impression. Much like everything else in life, you only get one chance for a first impression, so make it memorable!
It’s tempting to fall back on your favorite dishes or the one-of-a-kind specials you offer every Friday and rely on the menu to drive customer satisfaction. While food is the number one focus of your establishment, you can’t rely on your chef alone to shoulder the responsibility. Customers expect a complete experience when they walk in the door. Be sure you’re meeting those expectations.
1. Customer Service
The waitstaff directly interacts with your customers, and they’re a reflection of your ownership and management style. Set clear expectations upfront, and ensure servers, hosts, and kitchen staff understand their role in the customer’s dining experience.
First off, greet ALL customers with a smile. A friendly host to welcome and seat patrons when they enter is a must. A guest’s first interaction with your restaurant should always be happy and friendly.
Another way to foster a positive dining experience is to train knowledgeable, patient servers. On a customer’s first visit, they’re unfamiliar with your menu and may ask questions. Servers should know every dish on the menu to answer questions about ingredients used, dietary accommodations, and substitutions. They should also be prepared with a recommendation or two. The best waitstaff anticipates customers’ needs, filling water glasses, offering other drink refills, clearing plates promptly, and checking in periodically. It sounds obvious, but customer service often makes or breaks a diner’s experience.
2. Inviting Atmosphere and Decor
A clean, welcoming and inviting environment is crucial to a positive dining experience. Ensure all decor, from furniture to art to table linens, reflect your restaurant’s personality.
Artwork, lighting, music, and even the spacing of tables all work together to produce your restaurant’s unique atmosphere. It’s your job to successfully “set the stage” for your customers and give them a positive dining experience. Patrons may visit your establishment for the delicious food but always remember, they’re also seeking the ambiance. Above all, every restaurant should be clean, which goes without saying, but your restaurant should also be inviting.
If you’re running a holistic or clean eating restaurant, consider incorporating green elements and minimalistic décor to mimic the aesthetic of your menu. Offer extra seating for customers upstairs near the rooftop garden where your food is grown. Establish an atmosphere that compliments your menu and creates a unique, memorable event rather than just another meal.
3. Special Events and Live Entertainment
Every diner loves their own “place” where they feel at home. While you may not memorize the name and face of everyone who walks in the door, you can offer them fun opportunities for guests to feel like “regulars” at your restaurant. Hosting special events like live music, memorable pop-up dining experiences, and beer and wine tastings effectively provides a unique dining experience and sets your establishment apart!
Booking live entertainment at your restaurant is an extra expense, but the traffic you attract often offsets costs. It may even result in a nice profit and boost food and drink sales. Entertainment is a great draw if you have room for a stage or even a small performance area. It’s important to ensure that any act or performance you hire fits well within your restaurant’s ambiance. For example, a strolling mariachi band might be an odd fit at an Italian restaurant but hosting football Sunday specials at a bar? Well, that’s a perfect match!
Hosting special events is a great draw, provided you have space. Before officially booking a live music performance or hiring a cool act, prepare all your staff for the occasion and work out traffic flow, so your restaurant can operate efficiently. Events should enhance, not negatively impact customers’ dining experience. Keep in mind; there are rules. Special licenses, crowd limits, and permits may be required to host some live events. You may also need audio equipment and speakers, so always do a test run before dinnertime.
4. Offer Menu Options for Everyone
These days it seems every diner is on a specific diet—vegan, gluten-free, paleo, keto, or other special dietary accommodations. So, while you can’t always provide a full menu of dishes to please everyone, it’s a good rule of thumb to offer at least a few menu options catered to special diets.
As a restaurant owner, you never want to turn a customer away hungry because the menu didn’t offer any dishes to fit their needs. A positive dining experience is impossible if no selections on the menu fit a guest’s dietary restrictions! Include gluten-free choices to your menu, offer smaller portions for smaller appetites and kids, and have a few outstanding vegan meals. Offering something for everyone helps bring in large groups and repeat business.
Consider offering different menus with various nut-free, dairy-free, and vegan or vegetarian options if it fits your concept. Make sure your waitstaff can answer questions about food preparation with respect to common food allergies and encourage your kitchen staff to accommodate substitutions whenever possible. A patron’s dining experience will be AMAZING once they feel their needs are considered.
For any successful restaurant, customer experience is key. From the ambiance to special events and, of course, the food, many factors shape how a patron defines their dining experience with you. Whether you’re already running a restaurant, updating your menu, or just considering opening a food business, remember it’s all about customers’ dining experience.