Consistency is the X-factor that separates a successful restaurant from its counterparts. Elite restaurants aren’t defined by expensive décor, trendy ingredients, celebrity chefs, or even great food. Elite restaurants are defined by the perceptions of their customers. Great food and atmosphere certainly help shape a good brand, but the true performance metric is how accurately a restaurant lives up to the reputation it wants to create for itself. It’s up to you, the restaurateur, to clearly define the experience you want to create, then ensure that this experience rings true through every step of the meal.
To add color to this broad claim, let’s look at two proven brands: Joël Robuchon and McDonald’s. About as opposite as can be, these establishments share one thing in common: consistency. Joël Robuchon, a Michelin-starred legend of Las Vegas, built its reputation by serving the finest food made from the finest ingredients in one of the finest dining rooms with the finest servers. More importantly, however, is that Joël Robuchon’s customers fully support these selling points. Nowhere does this restaurant fall short of the illustrious experience it seeks to create.
McDonald’s has achieved its success in a very different way. Claiming to be ‘in the real estate business rather than the hamburger business,’ McDonald’s has made itself accessible to nearly every person in the country [and many across the world]. The key here is also consistency—that hamburger will taste the same whether you’re at a McDonald’s in California, New York or China. Few people will claim McDonald’s to be anywhere near the best burger they’ve eaten, but they go back because the restaurant stays true to its reputation for convenience and affordability.
Joël Robuchon and McDonald’s are extreme examples, but in each case both the restaurant and its customers agree on the balance of taste, value, atmosphere and service. There is clearly no right or wrong way to balance these attributes, but only successful restaurants will carry this same balance throughout the customer experience.
Take some time to think about every touch point your customer goes through while they are at your restaurant. Make adjustments as needed to ensure that your experience stays consistent throughout the customer journey. Start with the easiest items to change:
Your hostess is often the customer’s first point of contact. Whether speaking with prospective customers in person or over the phone, it is imperative that your hostess reflects your establishment’s ideals. In a high-volume setting, this means getting down to business with quick responses on wait times and a fluid handoff to servers. In a fine dining setting, however, a hostess should make guests feel at home before they even take their seat. If you have multiple hostesses at the front during a low-traffic time, they should speak with prospective customers as a group rather than ‘handing them off’ to one another.
Servers in more casual settings are responsible for serving food as efficiently as possible. As the price point rises, the need to develop rapport and create relationships grows proportionately. As an owner or manager you must make sure that these patterns ring true. Body language says it all—customers see right through fake smiles and notice if they’re not being tended to. Monitor your floor to keep customer service consistent with your brand.
If your restaurant prides itself in serving quality food, your bread [or its equivalent] should be on the same level, if not better. Just as the hostess is the customer’s first service contact, the bread is their first impression of your food and will set the tone for the rest of the meal. Skimping out on the bread will lead customers to question where else you’re cutting costs.
Different price points naturally attract different audiences, but successful restaurants will keep their menu mix within the same general price range. Pricing items too far apart will alienate your customers, making them think that the more expensive items are grossly overpriced while the cheaper items must lack quality.
The easiest way to know if you need to make changes: gathering feedback. Monitor online reviews, invite writers to visit periodically, and, of course, talk to your customers directly. You want their words to mirror the restaurant’s brand as you see it. The key is consistency, and making many small changes over time will refine your restaurant to reach its desired image.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.