Getting amazing insight from your restaurant customers

Recently I ran an amazing event for CHIK’N called ChikFest, which was just as good as it sounds. We got some of our favourite customers and tried out new dishes on them. Not only it was a great event that everyone loved, but also we got awesome feedback on the food and on the restaurant.

ChickFest just got me thinking: “what could restaurant owners do better to get customer feedback?”. I know that for a lot of you the process of getting customer feedback is either non-existent or, at best, pretty scrappy. It really should be a continual process where you are constantly getting feedback and making improvements, and, personally speaking, it really is how you take your hospitality to the next level. So, here are just a few thoughts I am going to share with you. Some things that I have learned, and I have tried a lot of different ways of getting hospitality feedback, is:

#1 Don’t underestimate your customers

As a restaurant owner, you are normally going to be too close to the business in terms of seeing what needs to be fixed. There are some things that are so obvious, but it takes a customer -quite often your regulars- who will point something out and make you think “Wow, that is a great insight!”. Never underestimate your customers, because they have some amazing insights. I’ve had some customers who have told me things that are just brilliant, really helpful and useful. So don’t forget: if you are like any restaurant owner, you probably don’t have that much time to go out. But bear in mind that a lot of your customers eat out all the time, so they do know what they are talking about. It is like a free knowledge, and you’d be crazy not to get it.

Nevertheless, this is really my opinion and how I like to work, other people might think differently, but I really like to build a community. I find the more you build a community the better your social media is, and more people are going to come back to your restaurant. So the more you get people involved in your journey and in your process, and the more you break down that barrier between the customer and the restaurant, the more people are going to develop an emotional attachment to it, which is the most important thing. Customers are not coming to eat your food, they are coming for an emotional experience. If you show that you listen to them and that you are going to improve according to their input, they are really going to get much more involved in the restaurant.

#2 Don’t be boring to get your customer feedback

Another thing that I’ve learned is -and I personally have been guilty of this as well- never be boring when you are trying to get customer feedback, or actually, don’t be boring in anything that you do with the restaurant. When you are talking on Instagram, or doing a customer survey, suddenly you get to this boring corporate marketing speak.

Let’s face it: It’s boring, it’s jarring, and it doesn’t fit in with your brand. It is almost like suddenly it hasn’t got anything to do with marketing or putting yourself out there. It just suddenly goes like “serious face, okay”.

#3 Always give incentives

Now we’re going to talk about market research. Simply. Make. It. Fun.

Be who you are and bring that into any of your touch points, and any other way that you talk to your customers. Always give incentives. If you are going to  ask people to give feedback, give an incentive. And don’t make it a crap one, because assuming that your restaurant isn’t an art project, it’s a business, and you’re asking people for feedback, it means that you want to make more money, and you should respect that. I find it can be quite jarring as well if your sitting in a restaurant, and suddenly, from nowhere, you start getting hit with all these marketing research type questions. Or even at the end of the meal, when you pull that card “if you’d like to fill out a few questions”. I just find it is jarring, but if you are given an incentive, it shows a lot more respect, and people will be a lot more open to doing that.

#4 Check your reviews regularly on Google

So, you might be wondering ‘how do I actually get customer feedback?’ Some of the obvious ones are regularly checking your reviews. It is better rather than just to do a monthly summary, especially on Google, which is important to get you up in the Google ranking. It’s very dependent on the Google reviews you’re getting, so try it and chart it every week. If you can’t do it weekly, just do it every month instead. A lot of details can get lost, or maybe you had a few bad weeks, so you really should be trying to check it every week.

#5 Use social media to make it fun

The other of getting feedback is social media. Again, of course, I am sure that you are checking social media to see what people are saying. But one thing is that if you ask questions on social media for feedback or about improvements, you will get it back, but this is another prime example of trying to make it fun. Don’t be too corporate and boring. I have mentioned the end of the meal scenario, where you can ask questions, but I think again it can be really jarring if done wrong. It needs to be done unobtrusively. It is up to the team member to gauge the level of interaction, but if it feels right, then go ahead and ask questions.

However, try to have a bit of structure, so think of some good questions to ask them and make sure that your team is asking those questions. Then, make sure that you regularly review with your team as well, because quite often these are some amazing insights that your team have, but you are not collecting them, consequently it gets lost as well.

#6 Send out an email survey to your list

Another way are surveys, and these can take various forms. As I mentioned, you can just give a card at the end of the meal saying “we’d love if you answered a few questions”, but make sure you give an incentive, otherwise, it is going to  be a crappy experience.

The other is you can send out an email survey to your list, and again, make it sound fun, give a good incentive for filling out the survey and be transparent. Always be transparent. Let people know why you are doing that. And also, kind of tied to the email list, if you have wifi registration, once people have registered for the wifi, quite often I will just send an automatic email afterwards asking them to leave a review of the restaurant. But you can just stop that for a bit, and replace it with one of the surveys.

All you do is to send an email, and two very easy ways for doing online surveys is Google Forms, and Typeform, which is my favourite, as you can make beautiful looking forms for free. For a bit more money, you can make them look even better, so you can try either of those.

#6 Exit interviews work!

Another one that I have done is exit interviews, and this tends to work better with fast casual restaurants. This is where I have done this for a month, and it was painful, and honestly boring. The insight, however, was amazing. I was standing at the door, and whenever someone would come out, I would say “sorry, but would you mind if I just asked you a few questions”, and actually that time I didn’t offer an incentive, and looking back on it, maybe I should have done. I think that would have been a better, more on brand experience, but what was amazing was that so many people were willing to share their feedback with me, and it was great feedback, and these were people who come in on their lunch break, so, you know, they were busy and they had to run off, but they still were willing to take the time.

The insight I got from that was brilliant. That was when we got the feedback on Instagram. It was quite early on in that restaurant’s time, and there were only maybe two or three thousand followers, but what happens is that everyone had heard about through Instagram, and they remember posts from months ago, which I thought was amazing. What it really showed was the power of Instagram, because the reach was way beyond what we could measure on followers, likes, and comments.

So things like that, you will likely find out if you can actually talk to people face to face, and, as I said, that’s a bit harder if you got a sit-down restaurant. You can have a think of ways around that, but then that brings me on to my next thing, and this is my favourite way to get feedback.

#7 Do an event!

I’m not a big fan of influencer events, but you can get a mix of ideal, favourite customers, and maybe a few people with a bit of an audience. And if you feed them, you get brilliant feedback, it ticks so many other boxes, so many, that I’m going to talk about in another post.

#7 Tell the world all about it!

So you’ve collected all that feedback, great. Not only you have to do something with it, but prove to people. To show them that you are doing something with it is really the key. That is what gets people, that is what makes you stand out, and that is what gets people onto your journey. Whether you are making that chilli sauce that little bit hotter, or you are going to update a menu, as taking something off, or adding something on, or getting people to vote on a dish. It is almost like you occasionally have to make a show that you listen to people. That is how you’re going to build a community.

So, I hope you found that useful, and just to conclude. Try and work out how you can get a regular process for customer feedback. Don’t be cheesy. Just be yourself. Make it fun. Turn things on their head. Make people want to give you feedback, and you’ll be on your way to creating a great community.

Something food for thought: think about an awesome event you can do that really is like you feeding people, because people love to be food critics, that’s what I learned as well. People love to give feedback, but if they can see that you are sitting there listening to them, they will be more willing to do that than on an online form. Anyway, until the next time, bye!