Top Business Killers

By David Scott Peters

You can’t afford to not make a great first impression. There are too many other options for your customers in today’s marketplace. And with fewer dining out experiences per week, the amount of chances you have is also down.

Here are five points of contact I often find get ignored in independent restaurants. If you ignore these five points of contact, you reduce your opportunity to build your business. You actually drive business away.

Increase your chances of winning and keeping business.

  1. First contact – make it count. Your guests encounter you the first time in many ways and all must be stellar.

–          In print: whether it’s an ad, a direct mail piece or a flyer going out to surrounding businesses, it must reflect your business. When they show up, they should have a reasonably good idea about what they’re going to experience in style, service, menu and price. For example, don’t have 10-cent-wings night with white tablecloths. Don’t woo them in with low-priced menu items or specials when your average ticket price is much higher. Be who you are target the right audience with that message.

–          Word of mouth: Provide a WOW experience to every customer every time so that the word-of-mouth message that precedes that visit is lived up to. In other words, if a customer has a great experience and tells their friends about it, their friends should be able to count on a WOW experience as well. Remember, people are more protective of their positive comments and very open with their negative ones. One terrible experience will travel much faster than five WOW experiences. If one person’s word-of-mouth recommendation is rebuked by your lousy service, you’ve lost the original customer as well. Nobody likes to be made the fool.

–          Drive/walk bys: Make sure your facility looks good. Are the lights all working and turned on? Is it inviting? Is the paint cracked and peeling, or clean and fresh? Does the outside match your style, does it speak to who you are as a restaurant? When someone pulls up to your restaurant, do they want to get out and go inside?

–          Phone: People don’t think about this and it drove me crazy as a manager. You can’t take one phone call for granted. Does it take more than two rings for phone calls into your restaurant to get answered? If it takes too long, you could be giving the caller the impression that their time and effort isn’t important to you.

o   Answer with a smile: You can literally hear it on the other end.

o   Use a tagline, your USP: It’s designed to sum up your business, use it.

o   Those who answer must be trained: Whoever answers the phone must know about the business, such as hours of operation, directions, specials, games on the flatscreens that night, all the basic questions.

You have one chance to make a first impression; there are no second chances.

  1. Facilities – a little spit and polish can only help.

–          Entrance: When people walk up to your front door, is there trash? It doesn’t matter if you share a strip mall with 20 other tenants who never pick up trash. If it’s in front of your door or around it, pick it up. Make your employees aware and make sure they’re cleaning it up when they see it. Do you let your employees smoke out front and leave their cigarette butts? Are your windows clean?

–          Dining room/tables: Your customer has come this far; they’re in the dining room. What will their impression be? Are the tables clean, the chairs free of crumbs, condiments clean and organized on the tables? Are your tables balanced? Your team can see it, make sure they’re eyeing it and keeping it all clean.

In Phoenix, when Sue and I go out, there are so many restaurant choices, you can literally drive down a two mile stretch of road and see about a hundred restaurants. We can be picky, make judgments on the appearance. When it comes to restaurants, we can definitely judge a book by its cover.

  1. Greeting: If you’ve been to my workshop, you know about my GUEST philosophy. The G stands for greet and it must be done within 30 seconds. Make it a rule that someone is near the door at all times. Never fall down on this job because a guest should never have to approach you. And train your employees to all be aware of it. If they’re not sure if someone has been greeted and helped, they should ask. Even if we THINK someone has been helped, don’t ASSUME. You know what they say about what happens when you assume? It makes an ASS out of U and ME.
  2. Bussers: Try to be seen and not heard. And this doesn’t just apply to bussers. It applies to anyone who busses a table, from a server walking by to managers. My mom taught me this rule: No one comes in or out of the kitchen empty handed. If you see dishes on a table, pick them up, and do so without disturbing guests. How do you train your servers to see it as their duty? Yes, this customer isn’t in your section today, but they may be in your section tomorrow. But they won’t come back to be in anyone’s section if they don’t have a WOW experience.
  3. Servers: Your servers spend the most amount of time with your guests. You must train them to think like a salesperson, not an order taker. In so many restaurants I see human vending machines. Fred Langley, Elite member and coach, trains his servers to change their attitude. It’s not about upselling and increasing ticket averages, but improving the guest’s experience. If the server thinks the experience will be better if the customer has a premium vodka, then the server has the attitude necessary to make the suggestion. It’s not pushy. It’s about improving the guest’s experience. They need to guide the guest, show off what they know, be the expert, what they like.

To do this, your servers must be trained in everything menu-related. They have to know ingredients, allergens, portions, prices, extras that are available, etc. Servers need to use the right words, such as “featured item” and “special.” The right words will influence the purchase.

One side note related to clean dining room: have clean and fresh menus. It must be reflective of your business, just as your entrance, your advertising and your phone greeting. Your menu is your sales tool and it costs you more to operate with sub-par sales tools than it does just to purchase new ones.

You have few opportunities to keep business, but many to lose business. Every point of contact counts.

David Scott Peters TheRestaurantExpert (1)David Scott Peters is a restaurant expert, speaker, coach and trainer for independent restaurant owners. He is the developer of SMART Systems Pro, an online restaurant management software program helping the independent restaurant owner remain competitive and profitable in an industry boxed in by the big chain restaurants. He is best known as the SMART Systems guy who can walk into any restaurant and find $10,000 in undiscovered cash before he hits the back door… Guaranteed! Learn more at


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