Having Their Say
Providing feedback is one of the most important things customers can do for restaurant operators. Yelp reviews, comment cards and scrawled notes on the bottom of checks are just a few of the ways patrons have their say. Smart operators pay close attention.
It was a discreet little exchange, a potential powder keg of dissatisfaction seething and smoldering during the early morning crunch. A customer, cranky about the time it took for his Frappuccino to arrive, expressed pique when it was finally handed over. Without making excuses or missing a beat, the barista apologized. Seemingly from thin air, she also produced a coupon for a free drink. Scowl turned into smile, proof that listening and quickly responding to a complaint can often rewrite the script in the best possible way.
More so than ever before, restaurant customers have a voice and powerful inclination to use it. Whether it’s exercised within the four walls or in the broader universe of the Internet, consumers have strong inclination to express their feelings, whether good or bad or absolutely scathing. Social media sites such as Yelp, Travelocity and Foursquare give instant recourse to have their say whether it’s praise or a litany of complaints.
Leela Srinivasan, vice president of marketing for Open Table, says that, thanks to increasingly sophisticated POS systems, there are nearly endless big data points to which operators can access, all of them meaningful business indicators. But she minds that so-called small data, such as guest feedback, is also vitally important. “Guest comments tell you so much. You should watch them like a hawk,” she says.
Open Table allows users to post about their dining experiences and millions have done so; in fact, about 450,000 peer reviews are added to the online reservations site each month. “Every operator pays attention to their reviews,” says Srinivasan. “Tom Colicchio wrote a blog for us talking about how often he reads them and how important they are. And they really are. They help operators deliver time and again.”
Even up to this eyeballs in the rigors of running his own restaurant, Darnell Reed, chef/owner of Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Chicago, admits to reading Yelp postings almost every day, something he has done since opening in February. “I’m glad to have that type of input, the immediate feedback of guests and to know what’s on their minds,” he says. “I try to respond directly to them or take the appropriate corrective action if that’s what’s called for.”
As he continues to find his way with the restaurant, Reed appreciates that, hidden within online reviews, is a trove of valuable information. “Early on, we saw comments about our portion sizes. When it becomes a pattern, you pay close attention and figure out what to do. We made a few changes in response to what we learned, increased some servings so they are in line with expectations. People also noted that they would like to have unlimited refills on iced tea. Why wouldn’t we change that if it’s what our customers want? I want this restaurant to be here a long time and it only will be if we give guests a reason to keep coming back,” he notes.
Ajay Walia, owner of Rasa and Saffron, two contemporary Indian restaurants outside of San Francisco, says guests are quick to log on to crowd-sourced sites, leaving a full range of opinions about their dining experiences. “Taken as raw data, it’s not always very meaningful. The question then becomes, ‘how do I quantify it?’ You run the risk of getting lost in it,” Walia says. He does, concede, however, that there is value in the awareness that comes from reading such postings.