A restaurant manager walks into the dining room to schmooze with the customers, and the diners at the first table compliment him on his son’s performance in the basketball tournament. The next table rises and actually applauds because the evening’s gumbo was transcendent. At one table, a competitor tries to hire the manager to work in another restaurant. On returning to the kitchen, the employees surprise the manager with some cheesy singing and a birthday cake if his favorite flavors: chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, ganache, cherries soaked in Kirsch and whipped cream. The manager’s feeling pretty good and would probably be foolish to entertain the job offer that he received when he gets to work with employees and customers like these people.

Your restaurant’s customers react in similar ways when you provide personalized service based on their preferences, biographical details and dining history. That’s why business intelligence is so important in the hospitality industry. If you’re not gathering information about your customers, you can be sure that your competitors are doing so and that they’ll soon romance your regular customers away from their loyal support.

Creating a Personal Experience for Each Customer

Little details like recognition, attentiveness and personalization make customers have more memorable dining experiences. These details often eclipse food and service, so guest intelligence becomes increasingly important. Restaurateurs can personalize customer experiences in many ways that include offering a diner-created experience, creating an extraordinary meal by enlisting their chefs and sommeliers to create custom meals for diners and customizing daily specials based on reservation lists.

The Basic Principles of Guest Management

Your customers don’t always need a big production number to feel welcome and appreciated. You might recall the television show “Cheers” where everybody always chimed “Norm” when Norm entered the bar. People really do want to go where people know their names, or at least the staff does. Recognition is important, so greet customers by name when possible. Other key principles include:

  • Be attentive.
    If you know what customers like, recommend relevant suggestions at the right time. Some customers want lots of attention while others prefer a more professional approach. Match your level of attentiveness to each table’s preferences so that you don’t neglect or smother customers.
  • Provide assistance when needed.
    Some customers might need help with mobility or getting to their cars in certain weather. Make sure that there are comfortable chairs with arms for support in waiting areas for older customers who might have trouble sitting and standing.
  • Show interest.
    You can make your guests feel welcome by discussing their jobs, hobbies or children. During these talks, you have an ideal opportunity to work in suggestive selling about catering for graduation, your new wine selections or special events.
  • Offer something exclusive.
    People love special treatment, and you can cement a customer’s loyalty by offering special recognition, inviting them to a menu tasting or providing a VIP perk.
  • Know regular customers’ preferences.
    Customers are delighted when hosts remember where they prefer to sit, their favorite beverages and dining favorites. Of course, you can never assume they’ll order the same thing, but you can ask if they want their usual scotch and soda or something different today.

Deliver a Custom Experience

Delivering a custom experience beyond the usual courtesies can guarantee that you’ll have a customer for life. For example, a restaurant that serves a local celebrity might ask whether he or she always appreciates the attention. Most do, but sometimes people want privacy to enjoy their meals. You might set up a romantic table in the freight elevator as a special treat.

Creating a custom experience might involve a birthday celebration, helping a customer create the ideal atmosphere for a wedding proposal or creating just the right ambiance for celebrating a promotion. The more you know about your customers, the more personalized you can make their dining experiences. If you know that a certain family once lived in Argentina, you can target them when you have Argentine food or create a special Argentinean entrée for the family on a special occasion.

Getting Business Intelligence

Digital services, social networking, POS systems and personal information provide restaurateurs with a wealth of information. You can use your loyalty program, website analytics, ordering history and personal observations to create a database of valuable intelligence on your customers’ habits, preferences and personal milestones.

Building a restaurant database is critical in the information age. An effective restaurant database has information about birthdays, anniversaries, food and seating preferences, addresses and email addresses. You can add notes to the database every time you or a staff member learns something important. Savvy restaurant managers have an build relationships with their guests so that they can recognize important dates, inform customers about everything that’s happening at the restaurant and always know everybody’s names.