Five Ways Restaurants Can Score a Solid First Impression

Fifteen years of designing and implementing mystery shopping programs for restaurants (and other hospitality providers) have given Coyle Hospitality keen insights into the standards and practices that elevate the guest experience. We all know first impressions are important, be they in the professional or personal world.  What kind of first impression is your restaurant giving to guests, and how can you make sure these are enhancing, and not detracting from, the overall view of your establishment? Coyle-referred professional restaurant secret shoppers share their top five ways to register a positive first impression before guests even lift a fork.

Improve Your Website: A restaurant’s website doesn’t have to have fancy graphics, music and tons of information. In fact, these are often detractors. First, and foremost, the site must be easily navigable, have your address and phone on every page, and have an easily accessible menu (downloads take longer and are unnecessary).  Photos of the interior and of menu items help. Set the tone of your establishment, whether it is formal, casual, quirky or hip.

Who’s Answering the Phone?: Coyle-referred professional mystery shoppers often start the evaluation process with a reservation call. And it’s at this point – which is often the first impression that a guest has of your restaurant – that the secret shoppers find need for improvement. Are reservationists answering the call within a minimum number of rings? Are they answering it with a consistent, friendly message that thanks the guest for calling? Are guests put on hold – and for how long? Do they repeat reservation information and close the call with a sincere greeting? Coyle-referred professional restaurant secret shoppers say reservationists often speak in a clipped, hurried or annoyed tone without using full sentences – not a great first impression. Telesales training that incorporates a specific set of standards will ensure that this first exposure to your restaurant is a positive one.

Clean Up Your Act: Coyle-referred mystery shoppers often find room for improvement in a facility’s cleanliness. Even if these issues are minor – streaks on windows, a burned-out bulb, a bit of debris on the ground of the restaurant’s exterior entrance, for example – they can create a subtle negative impression in the diner’s mind. Guests are evaluating your restaurant, even if subconsciously, from the moment they arrive. Restaurant operators, who see their facility on a daily basis, can often become oblivious to minor (or major) defects. Coyle-referred experienced restaurant secret shoppers, working with a specific set of standards, however, uncover a whole lot of room for improvement.

Welcome Those Arrivals: Most keys to a great first impression are obvious – but fulfilling them consistently is the tough part. Every guest who enters the restaurant could have chosen to go elsewhere. They chose your establishment, and they should be greeted and thanked for doing so in the most genuine way possible (even if your host is having a bad day). If guests must wait, they need to be acknowledged by a staff member within a certain established, short period of time, with eye contact, a smile and in a pleasant tone. Yes, the trendy restaurants often require a wait, but handling it with finesse is the difference between a perfectly content guest and a disgruntled one. Our network of professional mystery shoppers report instances of going unacknowledged for lengthy periods at the reception desk, being forgotten while waiting for a table even with a reservation, and being spoken to without eye contact or a smile.

Follow Me: The final first impression before guests begin the meal at the table is the walk over to it. Does your host make polite conversation or does he or she just say “Follow me” in a neutral tone of voice? A simple question or comment can fill the few seconds it takes to seat guests and create a welcoming, friendly, pleasant impression.

For more information on how Coyle Hospitality Group’s restaurant mystery shopping programs can help take your restaurant’s guest experience to the next level, click here.

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