The restaurant business is an extremely competitive one.
And there is no shortage of them.
Recently, on a whim, I decided to do a count of restaurants close by my office. In a three-block radius I counted more than 50 of them, some of which have been in business than more three decades.
And yet the data tells us that few industries have a failure rate higher than the restaurant industry. In fact, fewer than one in five restaurants remain in business for five years with the original owners at the helm.
So why is it that some restaurants seem able to stay in business for many years, surviving in tough times and prospering in good, while the majority either change hands repeatedly or simply fade away?
Certainly competitive pricing, consistently good food quality and satisfactory portion sizes play a role in the ongoing success of a restaurant but, I believe there is one other factor that plays a critical role in bringing people back, particularly in a type of restaurant where the food quality differs little from that of their competitors.
For many years Friday night’s have served as date night for my wife Gimalle and me. With rare exceptions, we end the work week by having dinner at a restaurant and our weekly choice of restaurant is usually predicated our desire at the time – “I feel like Chinese//Vietnamese/Indian/Korean/Italian/Greek/sushi/steak/seafood/buffet.”
Once that decision is made the choice of restaurant comes next. In twenty-one years we have visited many restaurants and have never allowed one bad experience to prevent us from going back again. Consistency is the hallmark of success in the restaurant business and all businesses have “bad days” from time to time.
And yet there is one other factor that plays a strong role in whether you become repeat customers at a restaurant.
My palate is not discerning enough to allow me to clearly distinguish similar dishes in different restaurants. For that reason, I do not have a favourite Chinese, Vietnamese or sushi restaurant as they all seem to have my favourite items on the menu.
However, there is one thing that makes our decision each Friday much easier. Once we select the type of meal we would like to have we invariably return to the ones where we have received the best and friendliest service.
And it is the service we have experienced during past visits – the commitment to quality and engagement practices of the staff – that play the greatest role in determining whether there will be a future visit.
Last night we returned to one of our favourites. We both were in the mood for a simple meal and once we had decided on what we wanted to eat, there was no discussion needed as to where we would go.
Our experience was a delightful one as the staff were friendly, attentive but not intrusive, and did all they could to ensure our experience was a good one. However, you should know this was not always the case. In fact, we stopped going to this restaurant because of the unfriendly demeanour of the staff. While the service was efficient – order taken, food delivered to table, check plopped on table – the staff were all very unfriendly. Dining at this restaurant always felt like a business transaction, not an enjoyable experience.
But something changed, and the last three times we dined at this restaurant, the server was friendly and even remembered what we ordered on the last two visits (did I mention we are both creatures of habit!).
Lesson for business owners: it costs you nothing to train your staff to be friendly with customers. Which, if I may, includes removing the words, Not a problem”, when a customer say’s thank you for something. Never take for granted that high quality service translates into high-quality customer experience which, in turn, drives repeat business.
We have all experienced poor customer service in our visits to different businesses or in our telephone interactions with certain companies.
An old maxim tells us that when we receive exceptional service we may share our experience with up to 10 friends and colleagues but, when we receive terrible service that number grows to more than 250.
I am a huge believer in the practice of under-promising and over-delivering. The cost of doing this is zero whereas the costs of poor service is the risk of lost customers who have friends they will share their experiences with.
The restaurant we visited last night has been in business for 10 years and if they continue to offer great service, I believe they will be business for many more.
Another perfect example of how our habits – our culture – will always either make us or break us.
Till we read again.