The food service industry is thriving: In 2017, U.S. restaurants brought in a total of $651 billion in revenue. Though the boom is exciting, it also means that there’s more competition. So what can you do to become the go-to eatery in your area? Why not ask your guests?

Customer surveys give you the data you need to improve your menu, service and guest satisfaction. And if you ask the right questions, you’ll get insights that will help you stand out in a crowded marketplace. So if you’re ready to hear what your guests have to say, here are six questions that restaurant and food service professionals should be asking.

1. Was your meal prepared to your satisfaction?

You can have the best waitstaff and greatest ambiance, but if your menu doesn’t pass muster, not much else matters. What did your respondents think about the taste and quality of their food? While this may seem like an obvious question, it’s also one of the most crucial. The feedback you receive can help you refine your menu and improve the dining experience for future guests.

2. How would you rate the overall service?

Are your servers attentive and friendly? Ensure they’re giving guests an exceptional experience by asking respondents to rate their service. Negative responses could be a sign that you need to change your training program or invest more time into explaining staff expectations. To get a more complete picture, send a survey to your servers and ask them to share any struggles they’re having.

3. How did you find out about us?

Are the mouth-watering Instagram photos of your menu items bringing in the most guests? Or is your Yelp listing and all of the stellar reviews you’ve received the biggest driver? What about Facebook? Are your targeted ads grabbing diners’ attention? Learning which promotional channel is most popular with your clientele will tell you where you should focus your marketing efforts and dollars.

4. How likely are you to dine at our restaurant again?

Recent research shows that current customers spend 67 percent more than new customers. So if respondents don’t plan on returning to your eatery, that could be a sign that you need to rethink your menu, create a more inviting atmosphere or build top-of-mind awareness by improving your branding and overall marketing strategy.

5. How was your online ordering/reservation experience?

Do you accept online orders or use delivery or reservation services such as OpenTable or Caviar? This question will help you assess the value of those platforms. Are customers having a hard time using this new technology? Are they even using it at all? The responses here will let you know which — if any — bugs need to be fixed, or if you should consider switching services.

6. How likely are you to recommend our restaurant to family and friends?

This question will capture customers’ sentiments about your business. A positive response tells you that you’re on track to build a loyal base of brand advocates. A negative response could predict a decline in business. If you learn that you have very few promoters, find out why. Include a follow-up question asking respondents to elaborate further so you can make the necessary adjustments.

Tips on writing effective questions

As you craft your survey, keep these three things in mind to get the most helpful results.

  • Define your goal. Do you want to improve customer service? Would you like to track the success of your new menu? Establishing a goal will allow you to edit your survey down to only the most necessary or important questions.
  • Use a mix of open-ended and multiple choice questions. An entire survey in which respondents are required to write short answers could be an overwhelming time commitment, while a survey that just asks for multiple choice or number ratings might not give you a complete picture of how respondents feel. Use a mix of question types to get the best insights.
  • Remain objective. Avoid language that will lead people to answers that you want to hear. A question like “What did you think of our new and improved menu?” reflects the bias of a proud restaurateur. Let your respondents tell you if the menu is “improved.” Asking “What did you think of our new menu?” is more objective and ultimately will be more helpful.

Use the results to make improvements

The data you collect from a survey points toward solutions that will enable you to meet guests’ needs and improve the way you market your restaurant. But nothing will change if you don’t follow through. Once you have this valuable feedback, you have to act on what you’ve learned if you want your business to grow.

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© 2018, Amber Humphrey. All rights reserved.

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