Service standards hold the key to profitable Christmas for restaurants

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Customer service, Zagat survey

More than half of the SMG survey respondents are anticipating poor customer service when having Christmas dinner at a restaurant
More than half of the SMG survey respondents are anticipating poor customer service when having Christmas dinner at a restaurant
Restaurants across the UK are being urged to focus on providing first-class customer service and nurturing customer relationships throughout the festive period after a survey found that December is seen by diners as the worst month to eat out in terms of service standards.

The survey, conducted on 2,000 diners by customer insight agency SMG, found that around 60 per cent will wait longer in December for a meal than in any other month, and 55 per cent are anticipating poor service when attending Christmas meals.

"This busy time of year should not come as a surprise to restaurants,” said SMG’s managing director Jeremy Michael. “Customers should not have a reduced customer experience because the industry is not prepared.

“Restaurants need to ensure that they have hired sufficient staff and provide training for staff to better deal with customer queries. They should be taking advantage of this opportunity by focusing efforts on providing first class customer service and nurturing customer relationships.

“By doing this, restaurants are turning those customers into ones that not only return, but recommend."

Other findings from the survey include: -

  • One-third of diners would have ordered more during meals in December but didn’t get the opportunity through inattentive staff.
  • Forty per cent of respondents reported having had their food orders forgotten by staff.
  • Twelve per cent of diners have had food dropped on them while eating out in December, and a fifth have had crockery or glassware accidentally smashed next to them.
  • One in 10 have gone home with food poisoning after a particularly bad Christmas meal out, while a quarter have received a cold meal.
  • Stressed out staff have ruined an evening out for 65 per cent of people, while 18 per cent have experienced a particularly rude waiter or waitress.

Service standards are a particular gripe for serial restaurant investor Luke Johnson who, at the Arena Christmas Lunch​earlier this week, told delegates that the way customers are treated by restaurant staff is often actually more important than the food.

Speaking at the Lunch, Johnson said: “It’s extraordinary how bad service can still be in Britain, even at expensive hotels and restaurants. But that’s why there remain wonderful opportunities in this sector because frankly so many of the opposition still aren’t doing their job very well.

Critic to advocate

“My experience from owning classic restaurants like Le Caprice, The Ivy and J Sheekey, is that diners actually consider food, wine, value and decor important, but what really matters to them and what really makes an outstanding restaurant, is how the customers are treated as people.

“Over two-thirds of all complaints relate to poor service. The best managers I’ve ever worked with are the ones that know you can turn around dissatisfied customers by exceeding their expectations - you may well switch them from being your worst critic to one of your greatest advocates.

“The task of persuading employees to deliver excellent service on every occasion is very hard, particularly at busy times like Christmas. The first step is always to hire nice people who actually like dealing with the public; and the second crucial step is to cultivate a pride in the organisation and instil a belief throughout the company that the customer always comes first.”

Service standards in London’s restaurants were labelled as a particular ‘weak link’ by Tim Zagat earlier this year, with his eponymous restaurant guide​revealing that 73 per cent of all customer complaints relate to the front-of-house.

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