When you first dreamed of owning a restaurant, you probably had a clear vision of what you wanted it to be like. You could probably picture the food, the customers, the staff, the environment. You likely knew exactly how you wanted your guests to feel from the moment they stepped through your door to the moment they left.
But even if the picture you had in your head yesterday matches the reality you see at your restaurant today — or at least comes pretty darn close — that doesn’t mean you’re done thinking about the kind of culture you want for your business. If you want your restaurant to thrive not just today, but well into the future, then building the ideal atmosphere for your business, your employees, and, above all, your customers should be a process that never ends.
Why Does Restaurant Culture Matter?
If your restaurant is already well-established and successful, then you’re probably wondering why you should invest the time, energy, effort, and, yes, money, in reassessing and revamping your restaurant’s culture. The answer is simple: your guests are always changing.
To keep up with your customers’ evolving needs and expectations, it’s vital that you stay on top of industry trends. That doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice your restaurant’s brand identity in service of every fad, of course. What it does mean, though, is that you are creating a profoundly customer-focused culture for your restaurant. You’re demonstrating to your clientele that you are listening, and you care about what they want. You’re proving that you value your relationship with them, and you want that relationship to continue for years to come.
Expand Your Restaurant’s Base
We live in an increasingly diverse culture, and, no matter your target demographic or service specialty, you will want your restaurant to reflect the community it serves. This will not only ensure your business stays current with the times, but it will also expand your customer base, supporting your growth across both the short and long term.
There are a number of steps you can take to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and diversity in your restaurant. If you like in an area where multiple languages are spoken, recruiting a bilingual staff is an excellent way to help you build loyalty with a diverse customer base. Diversifying your staff, in general, is another important way to create an inclusive culture for your restaurant. After all, when your customers choose your restaurant, you want them to feel welcome and at home.
Employees who speak the customers’ native languages or belong to the customers’ racial or ethnic community will help you to appeal to a larger customer demographic. Input from a more diverse staff can also help you better understand how to serve a multicultural client base, from identifying the traditional names of native dishes to incorporating cultural elements into your restaurant’s products, services, and, environment in a way that is authentic and respectful.
Taking Your Restaurant’s Culture Online
When you are looking to enhance or maintain your restaurant culture, your job doesn’t end at the front door. In fact, your restaurant’s online presence is nearly as important as its offline one. Studies show that over 90% of customers research local on-ground businesses, whether they are considering a first-time or a repeat visit. When you’re running a restaurant, though, online reviews are especially crucial to getting customers in the door.
But you don’t just have to sit passively by and let the reviews, both good and bad, come. Actually, that’s the very last thing you should do. Instead, to protect your brand, and to cultivate that all-important customer-focused culture we mentioned earlier, you need to get active online. Respond personally, promptly, and, most importantly, politely to every review, good, bad, or indifferent. Acknowledge customer praise with humility and appreciation. Be specific in your response to show your customers you actually did read and consider their feedback.
As difficult as it may be, it’s perhaps even more important to respond to negative reviews.
Again, acknowledge your customers’ experience, validate their perspectives, and express gratitude for their business and their feedback. But then, respectfully provide a counterpoint, such as offering some compensation — a free dessert, a discounted meal, etc. — to make it right with the customer. This is not only likely to save your relationship with that guest, but it will also help you highlight your restaurant’s customer-focused, service-driven culture for anyone who visits that review site.
No matter how successful your restaurant may be, building and maintaining a culture that keeps your customers coming back in an ongoing effort. Fortunately, there are things you can do to build an ideal environment for your customers, no matter how much or how rapidly industry trends or customer needs may evolve.
The key is to develop specific, strategic goals that you can implement one phase at a time, such as printing menus in diverse languages or setting aside time each day to respond to online reviews. This will ensure that no matter who your customers are or what they might want, your restaurant is ready, willing, and able to make them feel right at home for years to come!