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Scott Schulfer

How to Improve Customer Satisfaction In Restaurant Industry

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How important is customer satisfaction in the restaurant industry? We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we said “super extremely very important.” It's a crucial factor in restaurant risk assessment.

We’d be guilty of butchering the English language, but not exaggerating. Here’s why it’s such a big deal and how to improve it. We’ve also got 10 short and sweet customer satisfaction questions you can ask your diners to help you measure it.

Importance of Customer Satisfaction In Restaurant Industry

Let’s look at some statistics that bear our non-exaggeration out:

  • Harvard Business School found that a 1-star increase in the Yelp rating of a restaurant corresponded to an 5–9% increase in revenue.
  • After one single negative experience, New Voice Media found that 51% of customers will never transact with that business again
  • Almost 40% of all restaurant complaints are on public forums like social media and review sites, per Food Service Magazine. When things go wrong, people broadcast it.

And that doesn’t bode well for the next stat:

  • 60% of diners read reviews online before going out for a meal, according to OpenTable. They read reviews before they even look at photos of the food.

So, customer satisfaction in restaurants is paramount. It substantially affects your revenue, your traffic, and your reputation. And it’s probably no surprise that the most important part of the customer experience is service.

Impact of Service Quality on Customer Satisfaction In Restaurant

ReviewTrackers did a text analysis of over 300,000 online restaurant reviews. 

And you know what the most frequently mentioned word was?


The impact of service quality on customer satisfaction is about as big as it can be.

According to an IEEE International Conference study:

“Customer satisfaction is positively influenced by service quality, whereas customer loyalty is positively influenced by customer satisfaction. Furthermore, customer loyalty is indirectly influenced by service quality through customer satisfaction. Finally, [an]other key finding is the relationship between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, which is stronger for customers who perceive high value than for those who perceive low value.”

In plain speak:

Customers are more loyal to restaurants when they have better experiences going there. And that has a lot to do with service. What’s more, this entire dynamic is stronger at higher price points.

So make sure you have a solid bartender duties checklist, bar operations manual, and bar training manual. When your staff is trained up, service is smooth. 

Factors Affecting Customer Satisfaction In Fast Food Restaurant

A 2016 study references these variables as the factors that affect fast food restaurant customer satisfaction:

  • Order accuracy
  • Drive-thru performance
  • Price and value
  • Service
  • Friendliness
  • Speed
  • Cleanliness

But customer satisfaction is a bit more elusive in the fast food segment. That same 2016 study found that only 47.57% of customers are satisfied with visits to fast food restaurants.

Nevertheless the industry persists. Against everyone’s better judgement, apparently. But the chance a customer returns increases from 20% to 81% when they report a higher level of fast food customer satisfaction.

How to Improve Customer Satisfaction In Restaurants

Customer satisfaction is the secret ingredient that drives every successful restaurant. In an industry notorious for narrow profit margins and high turnover, extra attention to customer experience details has an outsized effect. You don't want to be a statistic in the high restaurant failure rate.

One of the ways you can analyze your customer satisfaction is learning how to do a swot analysis for restaurant improvements. This involves getting your restaurant management and staff involved to find out what customers like and dislike. Here are a few additional tried-and-true ways to increase customer satisfaction in a restaurant:

Start Files on Regular Customers

According to OpenTable, 65% of diners include restaurant staff remembering their name as one of the most important parts of their dining experience. And 50% include remembering their favorite drink. Yet more evidence that knowledge of how to hire bar staff is a useful field of study.

Top restaurants typically assign one staff member to track and record the preferences of VIP guests in an online system like OpenTable. If you don’t want to invest in an online system, encourage your servers and kitchen to take a more personal approach to hospitality.

Treat loyal customers who visit three or four times a month something special now and then. It doesn’t have to be extravagant—their first name or a dessert is all it takes. Restaurant and bar management is so often about building relationships.

Add Bread Service

A lot of restaurants skip free bread service because of the added cost. And that may make sense on the surface.

It may make sense from a financial perspective. Park Tavern in San Francisco, for example, spends about $2,600 a month on its request-only bread service. But diners delight in the small luxuries. 

And amazing—free—bread brings people back. It can even draw them in to explore a lamb wine pairing.

If you can’t afford to offer free bread, consider elevating it to a paid appetizer. Pick a specialty bread—baguettes, old-fashioned biscuits, or focaccia—that aligns with your brand, and make it a great low-cost option. Add a signature spread, high-quality EVOO, or compound butter for even more flavor.

Take Online Complaints Seriously

Even the most acclaimed Michelin Star restaurants receive bad reviews from time to time. Reading these complaints, as irrational as some may be, helps you identify the perception of your restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses.

Notice the word perception above. You may think the review is off-base, but it was someone’s experience. There’s value in that. And that experience, whether you agree with it or not, can be broadcast on review sites and impact your reputation. So identify the opportunities in the customer experience and get ahead of them. These are fundamental restaurant and bar manager duties.

Some restaurateurs choose to respond to reviews, either privately or publicly. If you take that route, remember your intention: diffuse rather than escalate tension with an apology. The last thing you want is bad press from a restaurant rant on Facebook or Yelp.

Offer Prix Fixe Dining

A prix fixe menu offers customers an elegant dining experience without the hefty price tag. Most restaurants use them for special occasions and restaurant weeks. But if you make them a regular occurrence, you can get even more customers through the door.

Draw a business crowd with a lunch pre-fixe menu or make it a part of your regular dinner service. Diners love to splurge a multi-course meal within a lower price range.

Comp Mistakes

When servers or cooks make mistakes, it’s their mistake, not the diners’. Even if it’s unclear whether a miscommunication took place, you should still comp the dish.

Here’s why:

Most diners want to have a wonderful experience at your restaurant. And most diners don’t think it was their fault. The two preceding sentences are essentially mutually exclusive.

By giving them a free dish—or if something goes really wrong, paying for the whole meal—you make their experience a positive one. This perspective redeems restaurants in the long run, making clients more likely to come back regardless of the original issue.

Keep It Clean

A Harris Poll by Cintas found that about three-quarters of diners won’t go to a restaurant with negative cleanliness reviews. Hotels are around 70%. And that’s before COVID-19.

Now customers are doubtless more demanding when it comes to restaurant hygiene and understandably so. That’s why bar and restaurant opening and closing checklists, bar cleaning checklists, and restaurant cleaning checklists are vital. Repeatedly train your staff in new customer expectations during pre-shift meetings. Emphasize the importance of consistent hygiene on the business’s reputation and the traffic that affects their pay. 

One super easy win on the hygiene front is rolling out a touchless QR code menu. Word spreads fast that you take hygiene seriously and are actually doing something about.

Heck, some restaurants even implement sanitation quizzes to ensure that the staff understands the importance of high standards.

Pare Down Your Menu

Slimming your menu down by a few choices can actually boost customer satisfaction. According to a Harvard Business School working paper on the topic, people prefer limited choices when dining out.

A paired-down menu also gives the kitchen an opportunity to hone their craft. By focusing on making fewer dishes incredibly well, you carve a niche in the restaurant world.

Make sure that each dish adds value to the menu and clearly differentiates from other offerings. Despite fears to the contrary, a smaller menu doesn’t necessarily have to limit diversity.

This is actually a deep and exciting field called menu engineering. Virtually every successful restaurant utilizes it.

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Seat Reservations on Time

Nothing upsets diners more than waiting for a table they reserved in advance. To please first-time visitors and locals alike, seat visitors as soon as possible. If your reservation system isn’t working, consider redefining your slot times or speaking with the kitchen about speeding up their process. Efficient service is essential, not only to customer satisfaction but to restaurant and bar profitability. When you fail to sit guests on time, you’re taking revenue away from the company.

Train Your Staff in Allergy Awareness

Because of the gluten-free trend, a lot of restaurants fail to differentiate between serious food allergies and dietary preferences. As an establishment, it’s particularly important to take food allergies seriously.

At the beginning of every meal, have servers ask diners if they have any allergies or serious restrictions. Doing so gives your kitchen a heads up. Keep a few planned, off-menu dishes in rotation to meet extreme needs: lactose intolerance, celiac disease, or veganism.

A restaurant that serves delectable fare to everyone—not just the average eater—will inspire loyalty. That’s the kind of place that becomes a go-to for diners with dietary restrictions.

Say Thank You

Appreciation goes a long way. Whenever diners leave your restaurant, make sure that their server and the hostess give genuine “thank you” with eye contact and a smile. Many servers also choose to write a note on checks when they pass them to. This seemingly small stuff adds up.

Restaurant Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions

Looking for a solid 10-question restaurant customer satisfaction survey? We searched far and wide for the best questions and whittled them down to 10.

Try these:

  1. How often do you visit our restaurant?
  2. How did you hear about us?
  3. What did you like about our food menu?
  4. What did you dislike about our food menu?
  5. What type of food and drinks would you like to see on our menu?
  6. Were our employees and wait staff friendly?
  7. How was the speed of service?
  8. Rate the cleanliness of our space on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the cleanest possible.
  9. Would you eat here again?
  10. What’s the likelihood that you would recommend our restaurant to a friend or family member?

It’s best to keep it short and sweet while avoiding yes/no questions that communicate little. People so rarely fill out restaurant customer satisfaction survey questions. Make the process as painless and fast as possible. Ensuring customer satisfaction should be a part of your restaurant business plan to guarantee success.

And while you’re mastering successful bar management, look into BinWise Pro. It optimizes how to do bar inventory so no customer is left waiting for a drink, no drink is 86’d (see what does 86 mean and restaurant terms), and your bar runs like a dream.

Things running like dreams are great for customer satisfaction. Knowing how to make customers happy is knowing how to drive restaurant sales.

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