Restaurateurs, catering companies and fast-food franchise owners will all have one thing in common - the desire to deliver great customer service. More often than not, this will come down to what is served on the plate, which could well speak for itself.
However, a lot will also be dependent on the members of staff that take orders, wait on tables and be of assistance to winers and diners. But this is where the food industry comes up against a number of challenges, as motivating and training employees to provide superior customer service can be quite tricky.
First and foremost, you could have a workforce made up of temporary staff that are only interested in making a bit of extra cash and don’t care much for the company’s customer orientated values. Then there is the time, effort and resources required to implement training that actually works and improves your food service.
Even so, these obstacles can be overcome if you stress the importance of customer service to your staff, demonstrate the enjoyment that comes from seeing satisfied patrons and implement the right teaching methods, which are both cost-effective but also meet business-based objectives.
Despite the fact every business owner or senior manager in the food industry will have different objectives, these pale into insignificance when compared to the wants and needs of customers. After all, these are the people that keep the company in business.
Without loyal customers coming back for more or new clientele finding out about your food from previously satisfied patrons, you will struggle to stay afloat. Therefore, every aspect of the organisation should be focused on going above and beyond customer expectations.
Think of good customer service as a future investment. You may only be making relative pocket money with one individual sale, but this could well turn into significant turnover if positive word-of-mouth reviews spread far and wide.
However, providing excellent customer service in the food industry should not just be in the interest of your cash flow, it also has the potential to create good vibes and positive attitudes among your workforce. This is perhaps the best way you can convince and win over your staff to do everything in their power to serve the customer.
Although the makeup of food industry workforces will be dependent on the business in question, a lot of young people typically work as waiting or bar staff. Unfortunately, they often see these roles as a simple stopgap during higher education or before finding permanent employment.
But this doesn’t mean to say their attitude towards the customer should be fleeting or inconsistent. Your customers will want to have a memorable and enjoyable experience, which won’t come about from uninterested or disengaged staff.
So, what is the solution? Well, to prove that satisfied patrons provide enough motivation to deliver excellent customer service, you will need to lead by example. Treat employees in the same way as customers and demonstrate passion for the position.
Ask what your employees would want if they were in your customers’ shoes. If your staff pay attention to patrons and engage with guests in a friendly way, this infectious attitude is sure to extend to the rest of the workforce too.
In addition to employing young workers, several businesses in the food industry will also have a high turnover of staff. This means that the expense of training can often seem like a waste, which means employees often go without essential teaching of customer service principles.
On top of that, traditional training techniques such as classroom-based courses struggle to inspire employees or bring about a change in behaviour. Members of staff won’t be able to retain and apply new principles and practices if they find training a boring and tedious affair.
So, it is imperative to implement the right teaching methods, which will ensure your workforce can remember, retain and relish training. One option is spaced repetition, which teaches new subjects in intervals according to the student’s comprehension of a subject.
This often takes the form of short quizzes or fun games, which can be answered and played on smartphones and tablets. Along with increasing the expertise and ability of young people, spaced repetition can also fit in with their daily routines and doesn’t feel like a monotonous experience.
To learn more about spaced repetition and how it can play a part in your staff's learning & development, download our guide.
Essential aspects to remember when providing superior customer service
Now that we have established the importance of customer service in the food industry, the enjoyment that comes from seeing satisfied patrons and the need to implement the right teaching methods, what should training consist of?
Well, here are some essential aspects to remember when providing superior customer service:
- Friendly greetings - First impressions are crucial and could well dictate the customer’s entire experience. This greeting should be tailored to the brand and business but also take the buyer’s persona into account as well. Although you can teach employees about the company’s culture and core values, you should also allow for individual expression, as certain members of staff will feel uncomfortable carrying out regimented guidelines.
- Educating customers - When serving customers, employees will need to inform them about the range of delicious dishes you have available as well as any special offers. Customers will also have questions about certain menu options or need to let your employees know about allergies and food preferences. This is all part of the dining out process that your workforce needs to recognise, respect, and pay regards to.
- Employee attentiveness - Customer service isn’t limited to taking orders and serving food, it envelops the entire eating experience. From the moment customers come through the door to the time when they pay the bill and leave, your members of staff will need to be alert and attentive. Your workforce should try and build a rapport with customers, striking up conversations and making the odd joke.
- The power of smiling - It is quite remarkable just how much difference a smile can make. Not only could it result in a bigger tip for waiting and bar staff, but also give the customer a reason to return in future. Smiling doesn’t require any addition effort from employees but will undoubtedly enhance the customer’s experience.
- Being grateful - Although diners will be thankful for an enjoyable meal, your staff should also be grateful for their custom. Just like the initial greeting, this should be open to interpretation by employees. Maybe they can recall a previous interaction or personalise their thank you in another way. Try and make sure your employees’ gratitude is honest and heartfelt too.
While providing customer service will throw up different obstacles and challenges for the various food industry organisations currently in operation, the above principles should stand any entrepreneur or enterprise in good stead.