Diners are not turning up for their bookings and for whatever reason guests think it is ok to 'no show'. It's becoming such a problem that it is having an enormous financial impact on restaurant businesses. Of course it is a lack of courtesy on the customers part to not 'phone and cancel a booking or inform a restaurant that they can't make it. But can restaurateurs help themsleves improve this situation?
Working with accommodation providers who faced similar problems here are some of the suggestions that I know worked, especially with the online bookers who were the worst offenders.
* Set out your booking and cancellation policy - an official policy can't be disputed.
* Include - how far in advance a cancellation is required, how long a table will be held for in the event of a no-show, whether you'll charge customers for not turning up if they haven't cancelled their booking.
* Consider taking a small deposit at the time of booking - perhaps the amount you would consider charging for a no show. Diners tend to be more likely to show if they have money at stake.
* Engage with customers as soon as a booking is made - send menu's, a wine list, double check dietary requirements. Send a text or email to confirm the booking, reminding your customers who may have forgotten where they've booked. Include a phone number and address as well as the time of the reservation.
* The day before, engage again, make a phone call, text or email to remind customers of their booking, providing the customer with a good impression of your customer service.
* Make it easy to cancel the booking - this will at least give you more time to fill an empty table.
Cafes and Restaurants don't just sell food and drink they provide a sense of belonging and recognition. Customer service is as equally important as the food. Friendly staff make happy staff. Well trained staff make customers happy. My top tips for excellent customer service are.
Online reputation matters so try to stay at the top of the rankings. Don't ignore TripAdvisor it has over 50 million monthly visitors worldwide!
It's not always about fine dining. It's really important to be able to assess "quality in context". Recently I have been working on the Motorway Services, assessing quality in service stations for VisitEngland. This includes the forecourts and service areas. It might mean buying more than my fair share of McDonalds, KFC, Harry Ramsdens or burgers like this. And always a newspaper from WHSmith and a yoghurt from M&S or Waitrose (to see if I get offered a spoon)
A glimpse of the blinding obvious
Understanding services from a customers point of view is so important. What is blindingly obvious to a customer isn't always so obvious to a business owner. So you need to step back and take a good look at yourself sometimes and listen to your customers! Or consider a mystery guest visit to get some really valuable feedback about your business.
I was delighted to be asked back this year to join the judging panel for the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards. It is always good to work with the Suffolk Magazine. The judges, who all work within the food industry had some difficult decisions to make. I was judging the Customer Service Award. My winner was Turners Fish. The father and son run a mobile fish van sell fresh fish from Lowestoft at various locations in the county. Runners up were The Lighthouse Restaurant in Aldeburgh and The Copper Kettle at Kersey Mill. All are well worth a visit.