Keri Russell floats on cloud nine as Cheryl Hines and Lew Temple look on. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield, Waitress
I owned a delicatessen once so I know how hard the restaurant business is. Creating the atmosphere for success with a restaurant is extremely difficult. Ask the number of restaurant owners who go out of business every year and you’ll see what I mean.
As a consumer, here are eight of the things I think make the difference in my returning or not to a restaurant:
Getting to know your customers. This seems like a no brainer, of course. The restaurants that become our favorites are the ones where the management comes to your table to make sure you are happy with the food. They come often enough that they get to know your name if you eat there often. They hire wait staff who does the same. The waiters greet you warmly and see to it that you have what you want the way you want it.
Making certain that hot foods are hot and cold foods are cold. Again, this seems like a no brainer. The restaurants where the salads are kept refrigerated are ones where you know they are paying attention to details. The food service that serves coffee hot—and hot tea hot—are the ones I love.
Serving the utensils the person needs. Bill and I have noticed a trend in restaurants to give you only a knife and fork wrapped in a napkin. That’s great if you are drinking lemonade or a soft drink, but ever have to stir your coffee or tea with a knife or fork? It just doesn’t work well—and it’s embarrassing because you figure the people at the next table think you’re totally lacking in manners.
Providing a carafe of coffee on your table. Many restaurants have a policy of having the server pour your coffee—refills and all! How many times have you wanted more coffee and the waiter has disappeared? By the time you get more, you have finished your food. It’s so much more convenient to have an insulated carafe of coffee on your table so that you can pour it yourself when you are ready. It doesn’t have to be a gallon carafe! One that holds one or two extra cups is sufficient. It just shows that your needs are important and they are being fulfilled as quickly as possible.
Losing dangerous equipment. Most of the time when we eat out, I drink hot tea. People who do not drink hot tea don’t realize that if you use lemon and sugar like I do, you need a saucer under your cup. You need somewhere to put your tea bag (if you aren’t served a pot of tea) and a place for your spoon, lemon rind, etc. I don’t want to lay these things on the bare table! Also, I hate those wretched metal pots of hot water. They are extremely hot and dangerous because they burn your hands most of the time. It’s almost impossible not to have the water spill from them because they are designed poorly. If the restaurant supply company tries to get you to buy them, refuse. Buy ceramic pots only because they are much safer.
Serve the highest quality food available for the price you are charging. We were eating at an expensive steak restaurant recently and my salad was made of the bitter yellow center of head lettuce. I didn’t eat it. I did wonder what they were thinking. I realize that greens have become expensive—like everything else!—but using less of something good makes more sense than serving something that doesn’t appeal to the palate.
Make sure enough napkins are available. Not every restaurant uses cloth napkins and that’s understandable, but whatever napkins are chosen, enough should be available so that if a spill occurs, the patron has some available. Also, if you are eating an especially messy food—like ribs or a drippy sandwich, you need more than one small napkin. Usually, the first thing I ask for is extra napkins—because I know I’m messy!
Making sure everything and everyone is clean. Let’s face it. No one wants to eat in a less than spotless restaurant or be served by someone who looks as if they could use their hair washed or their fingernails cleaned. The cleaner the appearance of everyone and everything in your restaurant, the happier your customers are going to be.
It’s tough on restaurants now because when people start cutting back on luxuries, they eat out less. Following some basic rules can make or break a restaurant.
Always greeting your customers with a smile and these basics can go a long way towards keeping them through this downturn in the economy.
About Sue Freeman Culverhouse
Author of Tennessee Literary Luminaries: From Cormac McCarthy to Robert Penn Warren (The History Press, 2013) Sue Freeman Culverhouse has been a freelance writer for the past 36 years. Beginning in 1976, she published magazines articles in Americana, Historic Preservation, American Horticulturist, Flower and Garden, The Albemarle Magazine, and many others. Sue is the winner of two Virginia Press Awards in writing.
She moved to Springfield, Tennessee in 2003 with her sculptor husband, Bill a retired attorney. Sue has one daughter, Susan Leigh Miller who teaches poetry and creative writing at Rutgers University.
Sue teaches music and writing at Watauga Elementary School in Ridgetop, Tennessee to approximately 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. She also publishes a literary magazine each year; all work in the magazine is written and illustrated by the students.
Sue writes “Uncommon Sense,” a column in the Robertson County Times, which also appears on Clarksville Online. She is the author of “Seven keys to a sucessful life”, which is available on amazon.com and pubishamerica.com; this is a self-help book for all ages.