Why Not Collecting Diner Feedback Is Like Leaving Money On The Table.

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This is a guest post from our friends Responster. Brandon Landis writes and markets for Responster, the super-simple survey maker (and wants to give huge thanks to Bluecart for this guest writing opportunity!.

Food service and hospitality are not easy industries. In fact, if you’ve opened a restaurant you’re probably aware of the alarmingly high rate - over 50% - who find themselves shuttering up within just a few years of opening.

While this actually isn’t exceptional when compared to the failure rate of businesses on average, it should definitely serve as a kick in the butt to make sure your venue is exceptional, consistent, and well-reviewed as quickly as possible.

While largescale review sites (Trip Advisor, Google Reviews, etc.) are helpful to an extent, they are usually frequented only by those with experiences on an extreme of the spectrum; people who either had really positive or really negative experiences are the ones who take the time to leave reviews online.

But finding out exactly what your customers think about your restaurant, and how they would improve it, can be one of the most important tools in your arsenal for creating an exceptional experience. In this post, we’re going to go through how and why you should be surveying and collecting feedback from your diners at every possible opportunity. We’ll also discuss how you can turn the feedback and ideas you get into concrete strategies for getting and retaining more business.

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Part 1: Why Feedback?

Plain and simple, people form relationships with businesses they care about, one of the best ways to start building that relationship is to show that you care about them first. Simply asking for someone’s opinion, and respecting/acting on it can be an excellent first step. People like to feel that their opinion is valued.

Plus, businesses who bother asking for feedback are going to naturally be able to figure out any potential issues their customers are facing and correct them quicker than a company who waits until things become a big problem.

In a world where those stuck in the ‘old-way’ of doing business are still making assumptions about their customers instead of finding out directly, you have a chance to out-maneuver them and open up a dialogue with the customers who will ultimately decide your restaurant’s fate.

Part 2: How and Where to Ask for Feedback

While you’ll be able to get as creative as you like for this phase, here are a few solid places to start when asking for feedback from your customers:

A) During the meal

Good service and subtle feedback collection can be facilitated by something as simple as your waiter asking how guests meals are after they have a few minutes to start eating. Yes, it’s never ideal if a guest wants to send a dish back or has special requirements, but the fact that you bother asking and accommodating any feedback so proactively can earn you a lifelong customer (and one who recommends your restaurant to all of their friends!).

B) As guests are about to leave

Using an iPad or another tablet at a stand near the door can be a great way to collect feedback right as guests are leaving and their experience is still fresh in their mind. Plenty of apps (like ours, Responster) exist for this purpose, and restaurants can quickly gather useful feedback this way.

Consider an incentive as well, such as a coupon for their next visit or a small gift card, in exchange for filling out the survey. Plus, you can use this kind of survey to collect emails so that you can automatically send out special offers or newsletters later on.

C) As an email follow-up

If you’re a restaurant that takes online reservations, it’s a simple task to send a survey out to diners a day after their reservation time as a follow-up on their meal. Again, you can offer a completion incentive here for repeat business.

A note on incentives: Incentives, while effective in driving repeat business, can sometimes bias your responses toward those with positive experiences, because someone who didn’t enjoy your restaurant won’t bother responding (why would they want to earn a gift card for a restaurant they didn’t like, right?). I recommend implementing your feedback system initially without any incentive in place to try and get all kinds of feedback and suggestions, then introduce an incentive, later on, to help your feedback process help to supplement your marketing process as well.

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Part 3: Tips for Structuring Restaurant Feedback Surveys

Convinced that collecting feedback might just be a smart move for your restaurant? I hope so! Even so, there are a lot of rookie mistakes that businesses make when they first start asking for customer opinions that can undermine the results your take in and make them less helpful to you.

Let’s break down a few tips for making sure that the feedback you collect is worth your time.

Keep it short: Remember that one time you completed a 20-minute survey and had the time of your life? No? That’s OK, nobody has had that experience. You should keep your questions short and the number of them even shorter. Five to ten questions max is a good rule of thumb. Rather than trying to grab out every detail in your survey, get big picture insights, then follow-up with customers on individual pieces of feedback that need more investigation.

Don’t ask anything you won’t act on: Asking for someone’s feedback and then completely ignoring it is worse than not asking for it in the first place; at that point, you’d be practicing willful ignorance.

When you ask a question, always have in mind what you’ll be able to glean from it. For example, while overall ratings are nice to have, letting someone evaluate their experience on a scale of 1-10 is pretty useless without other information. Why did they have a good/bad experience? What suggestions do they have for doing it differently next time? Which aspects of the experience were good ones (and therefore things your should highlight)? Give people some space to customize their responses and say what’s on their mind not just tell you that their overall experience was “big green smiley face.”

In short: If someone answers a question, will you be able to take action as a result? Thinking in this way can help you ask better questions.

Reach out when possible: People who have a problem with a business who then goes on to address the issue and right a wrong have been shown to become extremely loyal customers. In the same line of thinking, anyone who loves your restaurant and feels that love is mutual has the potential to become a big word-of-mouth promoter for you.

If you already have contact info, or can ask for an email address in your feedback survey, you should be working to follow-up with people who express reviews and opinions near one extreme or the other (very good or very bad).

See what you can do for these people - additional thanks and offers for people who love you, reparations and better service to those who aren’t big fans yet - and then execute on it as quickly as possible.

Let people know you appreciate their feedback: If it’s in person, say thanks. If it’s online, make sure your survey’s end screen lets people know how much you appreciate and value their time.

Simple stuff here, people. ;)

All things considered, feedback is one area most restaurants are neglecting, despite it having an extremely high ROI for most businesses who take it to heart.

Think about how you can put feedback to work in your own establishment, and you might just be surprised at the strides you can make.

Plus, when you’re ready, we do have pretty sweet survey making tool you can try out.

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