Opinion: Part II – Customer Feedback in the Restaurant Industry

Part II is an overview on the types and costs of methods restaurants use to solicit customer feedback, Part III will look at the challenges facing each method. To review the classifications used below, please click here for Part I. This Part II will cover two common methods, and another set of methods will be covered next time. 

1. "On the spot" restaurant solicited feedback

Description: This is when a restaurant worker (manager, waitstaff) asks the customer during or right after the meal about their dining experience.

Example: Restaurant employee asking about the dining experience: "How was everything?" 
 
Classifications: Instant, Pro-Active, Restaurant, Expense [Restaurant-Low/Customer-Hi]

Challenges: There are many challenges facing this method of soliciting customer feedback. More often than not, customers are not comfortable complaining about their dining experience to restaurant workers because they feel that complaining will not do any good, or that it is not worth the trouble or personal stress. As a result, customers will often say "everything is fine", leave a tip, and never return. Also, even if a customers does complain, it is possible that the feedback is not passed on and there may be no documentation of the complaint.

While the expense for the restaurant in using this method is low and easy to implement, the expense for the customer is very high as they are put "on the spot" if they are going to express criticism. The return on investment for the restaurant is high if a customer does complain, however the customer may feel that the ROI on complaining is not worth the expense when they are put "on the spot" for whatever reasons (e.g. dining companions).

This method is employee powered, meaning that its implementation is dependent on the restaurant workers. If someone forgets to ask or not pass on feedback, then it significantly impacts the usefulness of this method. Random sampling is not adequate for ensuring customer satisfaction, because each dissatisfied customer is an opportunity for recovery, retention, and relationship that will often be beneficial in the long run. Every opportunity missed negatively impacts your restaurant's future business.

Remember, it may not be in a waitstaff's best interest to relay negative feedback. It is also possible that restaurants employ this method with no intention of processing the responses, but use it provide the impression that they are concerned about customer feedback.

These challenges indicate that this traditional method of soliciting feedback is a questionable measure of the dining experience at a restaurant.

2. "offline" restaurant solicited feedback

Description: This is when the restaurant provides the customer an explicit opportunity to provide feedback at their convenience.  

Example: Suggestion box, toll-free hotline, comment cards with contact information. 

Classifications: Delayed, Proactive, Restaurant, Expense [Restaurant-Low/Customer-Medium]

Challenges: The advantage of this method is that the customers are not put "on the spot" which allows them to feel safe in providing criticism. However, this method requires more effort from the customer since the feedback is often in written form.Since there is no deadline or incentive, restaurant customers have little motivation for providing feedback. Dissatisfied customers have even less incentive to further invest any time or effort for a restaurant where they had a bad dining experience.

In fact, their distaste for the experience may motivate them to punish the restaurant with negative word of mouth (e.g. talking with friends, posting comments online). Again, as stated above, the customer may believe that their feedback will be ignored by the restaurant or that their comments will not do any good. However the act of criticizing a restaurant to others, whether online or offline (in conversation), feels much more substantial.

This method costs little for the restaurant, unless they are providing stamps on their comment cards (which they should), however even then it is not that expensive because not every customer will take a comment card. Unless actively provided by the customer, it is difficult for restaurants to contact customers after their meal because restaurants do not actively collect contact information. Also, this method provides very sporadic feedback that may lack important details about the meal (date, time) and is customer powered.

For the customer, this method reduces the trouble or personal stress of being put "on the spot", however it requires more cost, effort-wise, on the part of the customer. This is exactly the reason why this method may not be effective, because the restaurant is completely dependent on a customer with little motivation to help them. The more time that passes after the meal, the less likely the customer will remember or want to "help out" the restaurant.

This method relies too much on a unmotivated customer to provide crucial criticism. Too many recover-opportunities are lost, and it may be too passive an approach by a restaurant. If the feedback process is incentivized, this may improve response rate. Also if customers are made aware that their comments are taken seriously, this may also improve the quality and quantity of the feedback.

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