December 16, 2021

Restaurant Dreams vs. Reality: How to Set Expectations for Your Guests and Improve Reviews

Restaurant Dreams vs. Reality: How to Set Expectations for Your Guests and Improve Reviews

How satisfied are your restaurant guests? One way you might gauge this is by analyzing your online reviews, which are more important to restaurants than ever as more consumers trust in peer evaluation to drive their decision-making. But how do you make sure you get the reviews you crave? One key area to focus on is ensuring the reality of your guests’ experience lines up with their expectations.

The good news is that you can impact your guests’ expectations and set them ahead of time with some smart online marketing that also benefits your restaurant’s operations.

Expand Dining Area Options

Are you still offering only indoor or outdoor seating? It’s time to enhance your seating options. With detailed online descriptions that showcase creative seating options like heated or cooled patios, rooftop gardens, shaded seating, semi-private rooms and cool new options like igloos and parklets, there are more ways than ever before to help your guest envision their dining experience with you. That sets expectations and excites them before they even arrive.

You can also address things like upstairs/downstairs for individuals with mobility differences and private seating for guests with COVID concerns.

Clearly outlining the great new seating options you have available helps attract guests while reducing the need for guest-requested table changes that can disrupt operations.

Define Party Size Accommodations

Staffing concerns continue to plague most restaurant owners, and it’s made many reevaluate what maximum party sizes should be at their establishments. Since this is often variable depending on the day and time, you can set expectations accordingly to avoid guest disappointment. The inability to accommodate a large group may be something new for your guests, so tell them ahead of time rather than embarrass them in front of their group.

Outline restrictions for party sizes at peak times or with preferred seating options. For example, a two-top during peak dinner rush wouldn’t work well in an igloo. Instead, it would be a more profitable space for a large, feisty group. Figure out what your minimum and maximum party sizes are for each seating option, and then outline those on your website.

Communicate Seated Time Limits

Table turn-times are another new concept for guests, though restaurants have been guided by them internally for years. The time of day and size of the party will typically dictate time limits, but don’t be afraid to communicate these to your guests in the name of setting expectations.

While this practice helps keep operations on schedule and profitable, position this change in a friendly manner that showcases your desire to ensure each guest has the opportunity to dine and enjoy your restaurant. Ask guests if they would like a last order of coffee or dessert prior to the end of their scheduled time, and provide the check proactively.

Post a Detailed, Mobile-Friendly Menu

What’s the first thing guests do when discussing where to go eat? They pull up online menus. Make sure yours is detailed, easy to read, and up to date. If you only have certain dishes during brunch or lunch, ensure there is a separate dinner menu.

Avoid PDFs and make your online menu easy to scan on a phone. Bonus points for an “Order Online” option or in-app ordering. In case your reservations are full, your guests can still enjoy the dishes they’ve been eyeing to-go.

Be sure to communicate your dietary preference offerings and how you handle substitution requests as these are key for many guests.

Post Cancellation Policies

Canceled reservations can cost you dearly, especially when a group has requested preferred seating or peak times. When guests simply don’t show, you’ve often lost a valuable half-hour of dining time which translates directly to dollars out of your pocket. Most reasonable guests will understand this when you state it upfront.

Other details like nearby parking availability, parking passes, or valet services can add a nice touch of hospitality to your guests’ restaurant experience as well as keep them on time for their reservation, which aids in your operations. Mask or vaccination requirements are valuable for guests as well.

Clearly communicating policies upfront takes the guesswork out of your guest’s dining experience. Setting expectations helps staff and customers alike. And when your customers’ expectations are in line with the reality of their dining experience with you, you’ve likely got a positive review. Ask for them politely and offer a bonus appetizer or dessert for the best review of the week or month to drive more excellent reviews and drown out any negativity.

When you use all of your online tools to market your dining experience and anchor it with easy-to-understand policies and offerings, your guests will notice and appreciate it.