One of the most important marketing activities for restaurants (and most small businesses for that matter) is an exit survey, or what is more commonly known as a comment card. The bonus? Comment cards are also one of the easiest and most inexpensive and effective activities. And we all know how much we like those three adjectives when speaking of marketing.
If you already have comment cards in place at your restaurant, make sure they are being implemented faithfully and have a look at both the information you collect and what you have been doing with it to make sure you are using this activity to its best potential. If you don’t have comment cards in place, then get them. Period.
Comment cards need not be complicated or costly to produce. They are simply a means to collect certain types of information from your customers so you can understand them and their thoughts about your restaurant, and stay in touch. Not only will you gather information about whom your customers are, but you will then be able to communicate with them, sending out promotions and information that will be invaluable for building a fruitful relationship. Don’t forget, it’s easier (and cheaper) to market to existing customers than to new ones.
No matter what kind of restaurant you have, you can and should find a way to speak with your customer at the end of any interaction. Find out from your customers’ perspective what you are doing right and what you need to improve on.
Comment cards are surprisingly simple and effective marketing tools. Essentially they are mini-surveys, given at the end of customers’ time with you. Give them to customers while they are waiting for their bill (and don’t forget a pen!). Where possible, have staff hand the survey to clients in person and explain that you would like to hear their thoughts about their experience. You may incentivize it with a chance to win something, but to make it simpler, just ask people sincerely to give their thoughts. Most people are delighted to give their opinion, especially the people who have enjoyed their experience (who are, after all, your best customers and the ones you are going to want to develop a relationship with) or unsatisfied customers (who you will want to appease in order to reduce negative word of mouth).
Make sure your staff understands what the survey is for, and that it’s no longer than eight questions—or people won’t answer. Capture an email address and a birthday for future campaigns. Ask how the person knows about the business, if they would recommend it, and any suggestions on ways to improve. Be clear about what you will do with the contact details, explaining that you will be sending them information and offers, and don’t forget to ask for permission to use any testimonials in your marketing materials.
Use the information at weekly staff meetings to gauge performance, praise staff and discuss problems. Send unhappy customers an offer to come back and give your restaurant another try; it is amazing how powerful those customers can be for spreading great word of mouth if they’ve been won over.
Add this information to your customer database and use it to refine your knowledge and carry out marketing campaigns. Filter customers by different criteria and look for opportunities. Test follow-up campaigns to encourage repeat customers. Send an email or postcard, thanking the customer for their visit with an offer for the next time they come in. Use customers’ contact details to send out information and offers all year long (newsletters, birthday and special occasion offers and invitations, etc.)
You may think you don’t have the time or money to invest in the needed technology. But comment cards can be as simple, or as complicated, as you choose. There are some great new technologies using machines and smart phones that customers can use to input their data, and there are services that do everything for you. These are all interesting, but if the cost is stopping you from acting, then honestly, they aren’t that great. If you can afford it and have the time, then by all means, do it this way. But if you’re a smaller independent, then some photocopies and an Excel spreadsheet can work just fine. You can have staff input data during down times. And honestly, I have found that you get more input and participation when customers can just use a plain old-fashioned pen and paper to write a note about what they sincerely think.
Don't let complications discourage you or keep you from implementing this valuable activity in your restaurant. Large or small, you simply must have comment cards in place.