How To Improve Customer Service in a Quick Serve Restaurant

Depending on which industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Less resources are required to keep an existing customer satisfied, than to attract net new customers. In the quick serve restaurants (QSRs), cost management is essential to offset slim profit margins. Strong customer service in the restaurant industry can be a significant driver of profits. In a customer experience report, researchers found that the #1 reason customers abandon a brand is due to poor quality and rude customer service. Another study shows 84% of companies who work to improve their customer experience see an increase in revenue. Additionally, repeat customers are expected to spend 67% more per order than new customers.

Evidence suggests further differentiation between “satisfied” and “highly satisfied” customers. The “highly satisfied” category is integral to business growth. These customers are not only loyal, but participate in word-of-mouth advertising on behalf of the business. A study on Starbucks quantifies this effect, suggesting that the satisfied customer visits 4.3 times per month, spends $4.06 per visit and is a customer for 4.4 years, yielding a lifetime value of $921.78. However, the highly satisfied customer visits 7.2 times per month, spends $4.42 per visit and is a customer for 8.3 years, yielding a lifetime value of $3,169.37. 

Effective customer service procedures are the key to quick serve restaurant longevity. Customer service can initiate the transition from new customers to satisfied customers, and satisfied customers into valuable “highly satisfied customers”. In this blog we offer tips for building customer satisfaction in restaurant services through positive customer interactions, consistency in experience, and effective conflict mitigation. 

Front of House: First Impressions Set the Tone

As soon as customers enter the restaurant, a small acknowledgement such as a casual greeting or smile, is an effective way to make customers feel welcome and as though their presence is valued. Maintaining politeness and attentiveness during the order-taking process can put customers at ease. Wayback Burgers recommends treating order-taking as an extension of the customer greeting. Pose the question, “Are you ready to order?” rather than “What would you like to order?” to provide the opportunity to ask about menu items and clear confusion before making a decision.

Convey attentive listening by asking follow up questions relevant to a customer’s order, such as asking how they would like it cooked, or if they desire any modifications to the set of toppings. These questions demonstrate that you value customer preferences, and that it is important to the QSR that the customer is able to enjoy their food prepared to their liking. 

The significance of non-verbal cues during customer interactions is often overlooked. It is important to be welcoming and project friendliness in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Eye contact and friendly body language, such as nodding while recording an order, are simple enhancements to friendly verbal language that can make or break a customer encounter. These cues show that you are listening intently, and that you find their input important. 

Consistency is Key: Ordering, Wait Time, Food Safety

When a customer chooses to return to a QSR, it signifies that they were satisfied with their previous experience. Mimicking this experience as closely as possible for each return visit helps build a long term customer satisfaction in restaurant services. Elements such as ordering procedure, wait time, portion size, and food safety all contribute to impressions of consistency. The goal of a QSR should be to deliver customers the same food and service quality at any given time, so that customer expectations are set, and always met.

In ordering procedures, ensure the customer has the same options for modifications or add-ons each time they enter the store. If one employee allows a customer to make a substitution that another employee refuses, the customer may feel disrespected during the latter encounter. For this reason it is critical to set clear guidelines for ordering, and ensure the staff is well versed in them. Similar guidelines should be established for food portioning. Whether ingredients are measured by gram, measuring cup size, or number of scoops, create clear instructions on how much of each ingredient should be in each dish. This builds brand reliability, as customers gain trust in their order coming out the same each time they place it. Additionally, wait time can be a difficult issue to tackle as customer waves can be unpredictable, and staffing or floor space may not be able to accommodate large crowds. Here, employees can ensure that the time taken to prepare each order is consistent, so that customers are able to observe the line ahead of them, and make an accurate prediction of when their food will be ready. Finally, QSRs can achieve consistent food safety through tools such as Squadle digital checklists, ensuring meals are safe to eat. If a customer eats in your establishment and becomes ill because of poor food safety practices, they may not return.

Managing QSR Customer Complaints

Despite efforts to provide great service, customer conflicts are an inevitable element of QSR customer interactions. The way such conflicts are handled can determine whether a customer will be lost or retained. Common situations that lead to customer complaints include employees who lack knowledge of menu items and restaurant procedures. Insureon recommends limiting the employees who interact directly with customers to those who have a thorough understanding of the products and services they are selling. 

When fielding customer complaints, ensure that the customer has your full attention, and maintain an understanding tone of voice and body language. Express sympathy for the customer’s unfortunate experience, and offer reasonable solutions such as a meal voucher for their next visit, or a partial refund. These actions show the customer that you value their business as well as maintaining food and service quality standards. Handling complaints with a high degree of respect can avoid escalating the situation.

Customer complaints are valuable learning opportunities for quick serve restaurants. In general, it is good practice to allow customers an area to provide feedback on their experience. Whether via comment card or online survey, giving customers additional opportunities to have their input heard solidifies your respect for the customer.. If a customer expresses dissatisfaction in person, jot down incident notes and the outcome to inform future situations. Explore section 3 of “How to Maintain Cleanliness and Service Standards in a QSR” for tips on conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys.

Fine-Tune Your QSR Customer Service Strategy

In order to achieve increased rates of “highly satisfied” customers, managers must consistently reinforce guidelines and training for top tier customer service in the restaurant industry. Staff training should include establishing clear customer service expectations such as: guidelines for greeting customers and accommodating customer preferences during ordering, thorough food preparation guidelines including portioning and allergy protocol, a clear action plan for handling common problems that arise, and options for conflict resolution. Customer service guidelines and policies should be documented somewhere easily accessible by staff. By following these tips, QSRs can build loyalty with customers and convert satisfied customers to brand advocates.