There are lots of dumb things that a restaurant owner might do that we, the patrons, will never see. For example, drawing out your own design for a kitchen, or any other parts of a restaurant, without knowledge of local building codes or even the dimensions of the equipment to be used, could be a huge and expensive mistake. Failing to plan for food costs with a good inventory control system would be another. But, today, what so many restaurateurs fail to realize is just how savvy the restaurant going public has become. When you mess things up, we know it! And we will reward you by never coming back to your restaurant.
So, these items are my opinion only, of course, but I’ll bet a lot of people will agree with most of this list. I’ll start with one of my number one pet peeves, and it has to do with treating your customers like they are NOT the savvy and experienced diners they know themselves to be.
Waiter Says “So, have you ever been here before? Do you know how it works?
I don’t know about you, but I really love to take a quiz before I start a nice sit-down restaurant dining experience. Let me see. Have I been here before? Does it matter? Will you give me better service if I’ve been here dozens of times?
You need to win me as a repeat customer, and the way to do it is not to ask me irrelevant questions. Do I know how it works? Let’s see, you give me a list of what you have to offer. I think it’s called a menu. Then, I pick what I’d like to eat and drink from the menu. I tell you. Then you bring it to me. Is that how it works?
I get it. Your restaurant is special and hip and you do things a bit different. It’s like an exclusive club that only the initiated can understand. Well, if the process for ordering food at your restaurant is so different and complex that you need to give me a special crash course, then you’re an idiot, when it comes to running a successful restaurant. There is a right way to do things, and the right way is not to create a new way that nobody will understand. Keep it simple. If you are having your waitstaff give your customers silly pop quizzes before they can order, I can guarantee that I’m not the only one who thinks you’re being asinine!
We Don’t Use Tickets to Write Down Your Order. We’re Too Awesome for That.
So, you’re going to remember the entire order for 4 to 6 people, accurately, without writing any of it down? And not only do you have to remember everything in your head, but then the kitchen staff has to know what the heck to fire and when, without a ticket? Or, do you pretend to memorize it and then write it down when we’re not looking? Or put it into a point of sale system? We’re not impressed. We don’t care about your waitstaff’s supposedly eidetic memory. We want our order to be right.
Write it down; we’ll wait! Because, I guarantee you’re not going to remember that I want slightly less ketchup on my hamburger, and to hold the pickles. And, I’ll bet you’ll bring me the unsweetened ice tea. You’re not doing your front-of-house any favors by forcing them not to use tickets. After all, they are the ones that have to deal with dissatisfied customers when the orders are wrong. It’s not like you have a prix fixe menu, right? Maybe some people are impressed, initially, by this non-ticket writing magic trick. But they will stop being impressed as soon as even one thing is wrong, or you have to auction off the food, and they will be thinking that all of this could have been avoided had you wrote it all down.
You Have a 50 Page Menu?
What can I say about this? You have Italian and Greek? You also have American, but as well, you have Mexican? And, on the back page, you have lobster? You have 500 items? Wow! So, what’s good? It’s all good? Really? You do 500 diverse menu items and it’s all good? And you have a lobster tank in back?
I don’t know what’s more irritating about the huge multi-page menus that we see so often these days (especially prevalent in Mexican restaurants and a fixture, of course, in diners). For one, you expect me to choose among 500 menu items, using the most complicated menu ever devised. Two, you expect me to do this in five minutes. Am I ready to order? No, I’m barely through page three!
A couple of things are going to happen. I, the patron, am going to be irritated, initially, because the menu is overwhelming. Then, since there is no way you can execute such a huge menu well, and control the inventory, the food is going to suck. So I am doubly irritated. Your ginormous menu does NOT impress me. What impresses me is well prepared food. I’d rather have one simple page of food that I know is all going to be good. Two pages is more than enough. OK, I will be happy to look at your five page beer menu, though. Now, you’ve got me impressed (because I love to try new beers).
The huge Moby Dick size menu is a feature of many (bad) roadside Diners, which always tend to have, of all things, lobster on the back page. If anybody ever orders the lobster, he or she is one brave soul. Although these huge menus at some diners are a source of amusement, the bad food is not. This kind of menu is also sometimes seen at (again, bad) Mexican restaurants, whether chains or individually owned. But anywhere you go, an over-long menu is almost always a sign of low quality (although exceptions exist).
Waiter Hands me Five Different Menus
This is related to the ginormous menu, above. But this is a trend we see in corporate chain restaurants. Ruby Tuesday (I shudder), Red Lobster…where else? I get one big menu. Then I get two, three, or even four other small menus. All for different promotions. So, which menu would you like me to order from? Oh, I see, many of the items on these smaller menus are also on the main menu. But, it took me five minutes of wasted time to figure that out.
Why, why, oh why would you think that multiple menus is a good idea? It’s a stupid idea. If you have specials, then fine. Print out a small slip that lists the specials ALONE. Slip it into the main menu or whatever. Done. I don’t even get separate dessert menus, but I can live with it.
They Put the Attitude Problems Up Front
Your waitstaff has to be good with people. Service is everything. If our waiter is rude, or incompetent, we’re going to be all over Yelp. You can bet on it. Professional restaurant critics are nothing compared to the crap-storm we’ll create if you piss us off on our special night. You better get it right.
The way to get it right is NOT to put the non-people persons up front as greeters! If a waiter has to be friendly but professional, maintaining that perfect balance between warmth and “I am not a part of the party” perfection, the greeters, who will be showing us to our seats, must be even more friendly. We want to feel welcome, appreciated. First impressions are everything. Don’t make the waiters make up for the detached hosts that clearly don’t want to be there. Remember, indifference can be just as bad as outright rudeness for many customers.
I have a friend who doesn’t see the dishes offered on a restaurant menu. Instead, she sees the ingredients. Instead of ordering from the menu, she orders exactly what she wants based on the ingredients that the kitchen clearly has on hand, based on the menu items. Now, I feel sorry for the waiter that has to figure out how to price that all up. I would never do that, myself, even though I know good and well, that, within reason, you should be able to pull it off. But, if you tell me I can’t substitute onion rings for French fries? Even though you clearly do have onion rings?
Dirty Stinky Restroom with No Toilet Paper, Paper Towels, or Soap
I don’t even have to explain this one, do I? This is how it works. We judge your entire establishment by the cleanliness of your restroom. When we walk into a malodorous, filthy restaurant restroom, we say to ourselves “I wonder what the kitchen looks like.” We also imagine the millions of bacteria multiplying on our table. The little checklist on front of the door that tells the last time the restroom was cleaned and stocked means nothing to us. We know a disgusting restroom when we see/smell one.
Seven dumb things? Not even a good beginning, I know. These are some of my particular favorites. I mean non-favorites, if that it is a word. What about you? What are some of the dumb things you think restaurants do that could drive customers away? By the way, you’ll notice I stuck with the word waiter throughout this article, instead of the now politically-correct server. I have my reasons for choosing the word waiter instead of server, whether male or female!