Ramona Rosales / Julie Soefer / Amelia J. Moore
As we covered extensively in our feature "The New Rules of Dining Out," customer feelings of entitlement have long been an issue in the hospitality industry, but the pandemic has highlighted how pervasive and damaging the problem really is. With dining out as we know it changing, what role can chefs, business owners, and their teams play in educating restaurant guests?
Last month at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Restaurant Editor Khushbu Shah led a conversation with 2019 F&W Best New Chef Caroline Glover, Nashville chef and restaurateur Maneet Chauhan, and Houston-based Master Sommelier and Goodnight Hospitality partner June Rodil. They shared their experiences and strategies for turning their customers into better guests and how they manage the guest experience in this new era of hospitality.
Here are a few highlights from that conversation with the 2020 and 2021 classes of F&W Best New Chefs as part of the F&W Best New Chef Mentorship Program.
On customers today
Rodil: "In times of strife, you see the worst and the best of customers. It's more polarizing."
Chauhan: "You cannot come into our restaurant if you disrespect our restaurant family."
Glover: "We had to change our hospitality when we reopened. It does not mean the guest is always right. We have the tools to make it right. We do not tolerate bad behavior."
On disarming angry customers
Chauhan: "People want to be acknowledged. Most of the time, that's simply all they want. When I'm approaching an irate customer, the first thing I always do is disarm and acknowledge."
On training employees
Rodil: "We made mental health a priority and used some of our PPP loan and hired an epidemiologist. We meet as a team regularly and do one-on-one meetings. We tried to take their strife and angst and anger [and thought about] what it would be like to be a guest. We try to make the team feel more at ease and equip them in this new era."
On strategies for dealing with unruly customers
Rodil: "We have an email and text system with our managers so they can see how I respond to customers via email and use it as a model. I have a degree in literature so I will tell you to f--- off in the nicest way."
"Disarm, acknowledge, apologize. I show up happy at the table because it's very disarming. I run towards a fire with glee."
On building customer loyalty
Chauhan: "We send something out to our loyal customers to try when we're working on a new menu. They automatically feel as if they belong."
Rodil: "We send out a weekly newsletter. We share news about staff so our customers can make a human connection. We use it as a system to remind customers how to book a table, what our protocols and guidelines are, and also what we stand for by including information about social and community causes that the teams prioritize."
Glover: "Shared tips helped create more loyal customers. The kitchen will share notes with the guests, and everyone tries to do their best with special guests."
On social media and Yelp feedback
Chauhan: "I encourage my team to read every comment and review. We have dramatic readings of Yelp reviews with our hospitality family in Nashville. It's so funny and cathartic."
Glover: "I'm not allowed to read the reviews. Yelp is a garbage fire. It's so personal to me."