The truth is that service is not really a transactional act, and therefore, it can’t be given. Service is a byproduct of consistently executing the other key processes that make a business successful—like hiring right, training well, suggestive selling and practicing servant leadership.

Hospitality or Customer Service?

Most restaurant owners and their customer-facing team members confuse service with hospitality, but they’re different: Service fulfills a need, but hospitality fulfills people. You can get service from an ATM or a vending machine, but you can’t get hospitality. Hospitality is the key deliverable that distinguishes great food service operations from average retail ones.

“Service fulfills a need, but hospitality fulfills people.”

For instance, if you buy a vacuum cleaner at a store—no matter how hard you looked for someone to help you, or how you were treated by the employees—you still have a vacuum cleaner when you get home. So even if there was no discernible service accompanying the purchase, you still have a tangible something after the transaction.

But when you patronize a restaurant, what do you have after you eat? Only memories. While menu, value, décor and cleanliness all play a part, it’s service and hospitality that makes that memory positive and drives customer loyalty and repeat business.

The Core of Great Customer Service

So what are the key drivers of customer satisfaction? Here are the three basics that every industry, not just the food industry, should follow.

1. Focus on ROC, not ROI
Repeat business is the linchpin of profitability in any successful business. Everyone is familiar with ROI, but a lesser-known and more critical metric is ROC—Return of Customer. “Will you come back?” and “Would you tell your friends to try us?” are the two most important questions relative to the customer experience. If the answer is yes to both, you’ve delivered on expectations and achieved ROC. If not, you haven’t. It’s that simple.

2. Hire Great People
Repeat business will always be dependent on the weakest people you allow on your teams. Make your customers’ experience consistently exceptional by hiring and developing great people. When you hire great people—despite the cost, despite the effort, despite the commitment—great things always happen. Compete first for talent, then customers.

When you hire great people—despite the cost, despite the effort, despite the commitment—great things always happen.

3. Consistency Is Key
Know what customers hate about patronizing your business? Inconsistency in quality, service, speed and accuracy. So when customer service problems reoccur in your business—before you blame your people—evaluate the likelihood of a short-circuit in a system or process. Bad service issues routinely arise when you hurry-hire the wrong people, cleanliness isn’t a priority, an understaffed or undertrained team messes up orders, or inefficient scheduling causes you to be short a server at peak hours. This makes customer-facing team members stressed, swamped and snippy, so they smile, serve and ultimately sell less.

Habitually consistent good service is the result of systems that:

  1. Foster a caring culture
  2. Make positivity and fun part of the core business practices
  3. Educate and encourage teams daily to be better than they were yesterday

Don’t forget that excellent service begins with leadership and the notion that, “My customer is anyone who isn’t me.” The fact is that the way you treat your team members determines how they’ll treat your customers. Model the way, every day. Apply constant, gentle pressure every day to improve.

Restaurant operators are stewards of special moments in customers’ lives. The food service industry’s shared goal of giving care and sustenance to strangers and regulars alike as part of our business model is what sets us apart from retail and manufacturers. Service is our invisible product.