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A Customer’s Restaurant: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

For most of my life, I have been a frequent customer in restaurants. I have been treated like a king in a few, like a peon in some, and like a pure business contact in most of them. What I have noticed over time is that when I walk into a restaurant, I am on their turf and I play by their rules. They basically tell me what to do, where to sit, what to eat and how I am going to be served.

I don’t think that’s good enough anymore. In fact, I think the present operational system of the average restaurant is archaic and the rules provincial. It is time to drastically change how people are wined and dined in the twenty-first century eating establishment. I have listed a few of the needed changes. There may be more that come to mind as restaurateurs catch on.

  • When a customer comes in the door, he should be asked if he has a special purpose for eating there at this time. Does he need to talk to a client? Does he need an out of the way location in case it is a romantic getaway? (Don’t ask if it is romantic.) Does he need to get in and out in a hurry? If by himself, does he need extended time to do some paperwork, make phone calls or work on his laptop? How about a newspaper or a magazine? These questions will allow the management to show sensitivity to the customer’s specific needs and then respond to them.
  • If there is a wait, attend to the customer’s needs while waiting. Ask him if he has any questions about the restaurant, the menu or the service. If you have special services you offer, like a private dining room or a meeting room, you can inform him at that time. You can also talk about any unique features of the restaurant that may be of interest. Appetizers or beverages during the wait would also be appreciated. It might be a good time for the customer to sample something that he may not ordinarily choose to order for his dinner.
  • Don’t seat the customer where it is most convenient for the management. Let him sit anywhere he wants to sit according to availability. When the concierge takes him to the restaurant’s seating choice, why make the customer unhappy or why put him in the uncomfortable position of asking for a different location?
  • This may be a huge step, but tell the customer that the menu is only a suggested list of meals and entrées. Is there a special dish that he would like that does not appear on the menu? Are there any special needs he has for his food, like dietary restrictions or avoiding foods that cause allergic reactions? He should not have to make an uninformed server understand that he doesn’t want MSG or high sodium, or foods cooked in peanut oil. You should make every attempt to prepare the food to the customer’s specifications.
  • Tell the customer that you will bring out the courses whenever they become available. Otherwise, you will look for his signal to come and serve him (refills of beverages, condiments, additional service items, etc). Some restaurants have used little flags for the customer to raise at the table if he needs service. Of course, if the customer likes to banter with the server, that’s fine. He needs to know that you will not bug him every five minutes or you will not interrupt his conversation with crass questions. (How is everybody doing over here? Is the food good? Blah, blah, blah.) 
  • Work with the customer with regard to the bill. Separate billing for individuals or couples should not present a hassle for the customer, especially when the server shows obvious annoyance at splitting up the bill. Also, ordering an appetizer or a dessert should mean a percentage discount on the main entrée. Any complaint at all about the food or service should be compensated with a discount coupon for a future meal. Serious complaints should result in an entrée taken off the bill and/or a replacement entrée provided without charge. 
  • Arrange the dining room layout so that there are secure places for coats, hats and purses within eyesight of the customer. Inform the customer of the route to the restrooms without him having to ask.
  • Give the customer as much control over the ambience as possible. The type of music, the volume of music, lighting levels, direct sunlight shining in through a window, an air duct blowing on the customer, and any other comfort factor for the customer should be addressed at his request. If nothing can be done, at least offer to reseat him.
  • If the customer orders a special creation of the chef, have the chef come out and serve it himself. He could then answer any questions about the entrée and show his delight that it was ordered. This creates an exciting touch for the customer and the patrons seated around him.

Twenty-first century dining is all about the customer. These difficult economic times make the competition more fierce than it has ever been. Good food is good, but good food and outstanding service gets the edge every time.

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Reader Comments (1)

I think we must be chips off the same block. I think of things like that, but don't voice them. Perhaps you should put this article in the local paper and someone will use your dream to conjure up a new style of restaurant....or maybe just a new style of service. It is a very specialized idea, but apparently, or so it seems, our country is going backwards. NOW, we may count our blessings to be able to financially afford McDonalds (ocasionally. :( )

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Teets

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