Three Lessons Large Restaurant Groups Can Learn from the Smaller Guys

While new technologies and the latest fad may get most of the headlines, customer care has also evolved in a variety of industries, especially in the restaurant game. Many independent restaurants and restaurant groups have elected to provide the best overall guest experience as a key differentiator, thus putting them at the head of the pack in terms of customer engagement. The larger restaurants’ focus, while generating reliable revenue, provides a standard approach for serving customers. This includes a top down formula that provides consistency from location to location.

In a Harvard Business Review report titled Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of, research shows that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating regularly leads to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. This phenomenon is primarily seen with independent restaurants and not so much with larger chain restaurants.

A highly enjoyable customer experience is the holy grail of restaurants. When customers relish their overall experience at an eating establishment, whether it be independent of part of a chain, they will return. But a pleasurable customer experience comes in many forms, including food quality, atmosphere and how staff engages customers. With that in mind, there are three lessons large restaurant groups can learn from smaller players when it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience.


Smaller restaurant groups often demonstrate expertise in providing memorable experiences for their guests. A diner can tell when authenticity saturates the atmosphere. They literally get the sense that they are involved in a sweet, flavorful story; from the ambience of the lighting to the slick, emotion-evoking décor arrangement that screams thoughtfulness, to the warm personal touch at every turn.  Understanding this, smaller restaurant groups have simply elevated the experience of eating from a functional routine to more of an experience.  If they are able to woo and draw their customers into a unique experience, then that patron will place that restaurant at the top of their list.

Customer Interaction

Excellent customer service is a great way to build customer relationships and loyalty. Smaller restaurant groups tend to personalize their guest experience. Staff in these environments take pride in being closer to their customers. They make a point to discover important details about their guests and it’s not uncommon for diners to be greeted by name, and with a smile, when they arrive.

All customers want and expect superior service and it’s important that eating establishments give it to them. Otherwise, the competition will fill that void. Restaurant guests don’t want to be treated like a statistic or as another widget along an assembly line. They want to be treated with respect. It is very important that your customer realize just how important their business is to you.

Highly Trained, Flexible Staff

The number one goal is to leave the customer with an experience they will remember long after they’ve departed. Smaller restaurant groups are experts at this, as they often equip their staff to offer on-the-spot solutions to their customers without the assistance from management.  Independent restaurant operators understand that the process of creating an unforgettable dining experience for their customers starts with the kind of people they employ. Hence, they are meticulous in hiring only people with the service DNA; individuals with the aptitude and desire know all the ends and outs of the operation in order to provide the most enjoyable experience to the customer.

The process doesn’t end with the hiring process. Providing the training that effectively equips the staff to deliver on the restaurant group’s brand promise is like hitting a grand slam or a hole-in-one. When properly trained, staff members become more like brand ambassadors – missionaries positioned to carry the brand message directly to the people. When this occurs and guests get the sense that staff only want them to have the best possible experience, that emotional connection is just as meaningful as the quality of the food.

As evidenced by flat or declining sales over the last several years, in addition to Millennials eating out less than their generational predecessors, large restaurant groups have a lot to learn from smaller restaurant groups if they want to continue competing effectively. Highly trained staff, authenticity and flexibility should not be considered costs. They should be understood as investments for future growth.

© 2023 Coyle Hospitality Group. Reproduction of any material without written authorization is strictly prohibited.

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