Operations – Customer Expectations

By Peter Thor, President, Bellissimo Foods

Consistently meeting customer expectations is a critical component +to achieve growth and profitability in today’s challenging environment. Therefore, creating and managing customer expectations is important to your success. This has become even more timely given the omnipresent internet and various easy methods for customers to comment and review every aspect of your operation.

This phenomenon raises the stakes considerably to both reward good performing operations and punish those who do not deliver on perceived expectations. The dictionary defines “expectations” as “… something you are looking forward to”. Perhaps the reason why so many restaurateurs do not tackle this directly is the number of pieces to address. But if you “work the problem” by breaking it into its component parts, it suddenly isn’t so daunting. You have to consider both sides, namely (1) what expectations are you creating via marketing efforts, and (2) how to consistently satisfy those expectations.

One of the great aspects of dining out in America is the many choices consumers have. This reflects the fact that many different levels of price, quality, and format can compete successfully for customers. Advertising by whatever means is simply a way of communicating your message to your target customers. Expectations are driven primarily by the menu offered, food quality, pricing, ambiance, and service. A consistent message “meeting expectations” is required day in and day-out amongst these different components. I recently read an inspiring article which stated “consistency is truly the mark of success” and establishes the customer’s benchmark of value. Ask yourself honestly whether you are creating expectations you can consistently achieve? If not, missed expectations will generate negative feedback, often now in the form of online reviews which can kill a business.

So start your process of improvement by evaluating the expectations you create via your message, comparing it with an honest evaluation of the dining experience you offer. Read recent reviews and seek other ways to hear from customers. Remind the wait staff to ask customers for reviews, and put review requests on printed handouts or receipts. Winning prizes for reviews is a sure way to generate interest and encourages positive reviews. If you have an online menu, add a widget or image to enable reviews. Pay particular attention to comments from repeat customers about inconsistent performance or any aspect of their experience not meeting expectations. Follow up with them if you can and find a way to bring them back.

The word “value” in the restaurant business is a relative term. There are many examples of relatively low priced foodservice operations which are phenomenally successful in terms of growth and profitability. They achieve it by creating systems that work for them. Whether formal or informal, consistency of performance requires establishing procedures and recipes. Food preparation is obviously the hub around which all restaurants are created, but the personality and longevity are often determined by the people working there. Excellence in service (with a smile) can be partnered with delicious food and a pleasant environment; and will usually go a long way to overcome inconsistencies in other areas. But it cannot be stressed enough the importance of having all aspects of the operation conveying the same message. This means, for example, that service levels, ambiance, and even cleanliness of the bathrooms should be consistent with menu selection and pricing

Creating policies and procedures is really the only way to achieve consistency. Direct, simple, and measured is the first part. The second is to have clearly identified persons responsible and accountable. Every person on the team needs to understand their function and how their contribution is important to the overall effort. Independent entrepreneur restaurants heavily depend on developing repeat customers, that is loyal customers who will return and also who will tell their friends about you. At

Delco Foods, they strongly believe that creating and communicating your uniqueness is critical to being successful in today’s challenging environment. They have both the products and experience to help! Developing a consistent message to create expectations, and then delivering on those expectations is what makes a great restaurant.

Good luck!

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