I’ve had the good fortune to work with, and lead, guest engagement at notable brands including Dunkin’ and Blaze Pizza. When understanding how heavily certain elements of each company can affect guest sentiment, I always start with the key leading factor that most correlates to guest satisfaction at each brand—since each brand is different.

However, through my decades of experience optimizing restaurant operations and promotional strategies using guest satisfaction data, I was able to summarize some key takeaways that would apply to most restaurants in today’s tech-driven, data-driven and omni-channel hospitality environment. Granted, each market, menu, demography, and ordering channel present unique challenges and opportunities, but hopefully the following examples could inspire your restaurants to look for potential areas of improvement.

Complexity is the Enemy

We’ve all talked about keeping it simple, but even that statement can be a bit too general. Minimizing subjectiveness and complexity to increase order accuracy is the way we viewed it. 

And sometimes it can manifest itself in the smallest element—an order chit. What many restaurants don’t realize is that the order of items on an order chit doesn’t always correspond to the order of operations in the back of house. The way items and add-ons are broken down on an order chit is by the order of how customers add everything to the cart when checking out. However, when the kitchen receives the chit, there’s a high chance of miscommunication about whether certain ingredients need to be added before or after the cooking process. In a hectic kitchen environment, it’s less likely that your restaurant teams have the time to pause and think carefully through the entire operational process before acting on it. As a result, the likelihood of order inaccuracy increases.

This is a situation where training the entire team and warning them to be cautious would be less effective than just re-designing the order chit layout. Make sure you break down the items in each category by order of operation, so that it’s much easier for your team to follow the chit when preparing the food, even when they’re overwhelmed by rush hour volumes.

Use Your Ace in the Hole to Increase Guest Sentiment

In my world, it’s all about the data. I like to use the guest satisfaction data on Tattle to understand what menu item(s) are the common denominator when it comes to a positive guest experience: what was the one item that was repeatedly involved in positive experiences?

It could be your specialty cookie, or your new truffle fries. Either way, that’s your secret key to customer delight. Based on my experience, sometimes guests who order that one special add-on item can be 2x more likely to indicate a positive experience than those who do not order it.

To that insight, you can look for reasons to offer that non-core hero product as an incentive to the guests, and include that item in marketing promotions when you can. Not only will this likely boost your overall guest satisfaction, but also guests will start attaching these items in future orders without active prompting on your part, increasing customer lifetime value over time. That means your restaurants will also see higher profitability.

Set Yourself up for Success

If you have build-your-own items on the menu, chances are they might see slightly lower accuracy scores across ordering channels compared to your standard items—simply because of the added layer of complexity when creating them. Unlike your standard menu items that your teams probably have made thousands of times and can memorize by heart, each build-your-own order could be a new unique creation that leaves room for potential human error.

This is not to say that you should not offer build-your-own menu items. In fact, they might be the biggest draw for your customers. However, you do need to be careful when it comes to promotions and the degree of freedom you allow guests to customize their order.

For example, knowing that some of the standard items tend to receive higher accuracy scores and overall guest satisfaction, you could try to include more content around your standard menu items in your marketing campaigns. For build-your-own items, assess what product combinations are often ordered together and have them next to each other at the assembly station (food safety permitting) so your teams are less likely to make mistakes along the way.

Minimize Ambiguity in Customization

As more and more restaurant orders come in via online orders or delivery platforms, it’s increasingly common for guests to leave special instructions in text boxes prior to checkout. While guests might like the degree of flexibility, your operations teams might be scratching their heads with the way some of these instructions are written.

For example, if someone says they “want pepperoni only on half,” does that mean a pizza that’s half pepperoni-only and half that’s cheese-only, or a pizza that’s full cheese but with half of it covered in pepperoni?

Of course, when the guest is ordering in store, the communication would have been much easier since they can see the item being prepared and give clearer instructions. This is another reason why across the board, online orders tend to have a higher chance of order inaccuracy than dine-in orders.

One way to mitigate that is by noticing if there are patterns in what people tend to write in their special instructions. For example, if it’s very common for people to write “extra crispy” or “well done” in the text box, perhaps you can include those as a check-box rather than a text box so that you can standardize some of the customization options. This would still allow your guests some degree of freedom in designing their order, but also reduces ambiguity your teams might face. 

All in all, it’s extremely important for restaurants to not only look at their sales data when making decisions, but also satisfaction data since satisfaction data tends to be the leading indicator of success or issues before they’re reflected in your revenue numbers. Be diligent in understanding trends, patterns, and correlations between your different data sets, and make the insights as easy to implement as possible for your teams. When you can fine-tune the process instead of re-training your staff, the outcome is likely to be way more efficient and way more effective.

Alex Kuzmanoff is the Head of Analytics for Tattle, the hospitality industry’s go-to source for customer feedback management and data-focused operational insights. Over the past decade, he has served as guest engagement leadership at nationally beloved brands including Dunkin’ and Blaze Pizza.

Customer Experience, Operations, Outside Insights, Story, Technology