7 Tips for Creating a Great Dining Experience

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

What makes a great dining experience? Find the answer to that question, and you’ll fill seats with a steady stream of new and loyal guests. But, if your customers can’t find your menu online or don’t feel welcomed upon entering, their visit may be unforgettable, and not in a good way. 

Restaurateurs aim for encounters that align with the restaurant’s unique concept and vision. However, with tons of digital touchpoints and low employee retention rates, it’s hard to deliver a cohesive and consistent experience. Explore what makes a dining experience memorable and how to create a plan that results in word-of-mouth referrals and delighted brand ambassadors. 

Group of women enjoying eating outside at a healthy restaurant

Good versus exceptional dining experiences

A satisfying dining experience stems from a mixture of elements, like your location, atmosphere, service, and food. Yet, you want to stand out and provide moments that keep your brand at the forefront of your guests’ minds. 

In short, the experience you deliver is one of your differentiators. Because let’s face it, when someone wants the best burger in town, they have plenty of choices. But having an excellent dining experience time after time? Now, that sets your business apart from the competition. After all, “76% of all consumers would rather spend their money on experiences than on material items,” according to Momentum Worldwide

Great tasting food is an experience within itself. Still, when you combine delectable meals with a people-first approach, restaurant visits become memorable. It starts by knowing your ideal clients and producing more of what they want. For example: 

  • Families want an environment tailored to young children with fast, convenient service and attentive staff. 
  • Tech-savvy Gen Z guests may prefer mobile payment options, whereas baby boomers still want to pay with a check.
  • Sports fans expect more than just TVs. They want to kick-off a big game with a giveaway or sizzling wing special. 

Of course, regardless of your target market, everyone needs to feel special. If your staff struggles to make connections or lacks a hospitality mindset, it’ll reflect poorly on your restaurant. Fortunately, there are easy ways to focus on dining experiences. 

1. Deliver engaging and interactive encounters

Once guests walk through your door, their dining experience begins with an immediate smile and greeting. Even if you can’t assist the guest right away, it’s essential to acknowledge their presence. But, customers want more than a smile and great food. Provide an unforgettable experience by: 

  • Offering in-house events, like live music or trivia nights
  • Providing Instagrammable spots for photos 
  • Using a text/SMS program with geotargeting to pique interest
  • Developing campaigns that encourage guests to share their dining experiences
  • Using a digital menu or signboard to display user-generated content or highlight specials
  • Responding to online feedback, including good and bad reviews

2. Embrace hospitality in your restaurant culture

How does your restaurant crew define hospitality? Go ahead, ask your staff that question. You’ll get a range of answers, like table-side friendliness or greeting people once they open the door. 

But, hospitality goes beyond a skillset where your crew follows a series of steps. Instead, it’s a mindset that’s influenced by your restaurant culture. This is why a great dining experience often starts with a robust and positive restaurant corporate culture. Make every encounter fantastic by: 

  • Asking for and acting on feedback from staff
  • Hiring team members who fit your culture not just a list of skills
  • Noticing the energy of your crew and making changes when something isn’t working
  • Developing and implementing safe and inclusive restaurant policies 
  • Writing a restaurant mission statement that embodies your vision and values.

3. Define in-house dining goals and standards

Remember, your team is diverse, and each person learns differently. Convey your objectives and guidelines in various formats to reach all staff. For instance, deliver training modules in-person, on a mobile phone, and through guided role-playing. 

Your training program also mirrors your culture. Team members engage with customers in ways similar to how your management team interacts with staff. Create clear goals that define your customer experience. Consider:  

  • Specifying the length of time from guests sitting down to being greeted 
  • Telling staff how to time their check-up visit after the food is delivered 
  • Mentioning telltale signs of discontent and when crew members should alert management

You’ll also want to devise an etiquette guide for staff. Here’s the thing — many first-time employees have spent more time in their life interacting on a device than face-to-face communications. Sure, they say please and thank you. But employees may not understand how other body languages, like folded arms, present to diners. 

Managers must catch mistakes in behavior before they turn into habits. For instance, your servers shouldn’t refer to customers as honey or sweetie or hun. A kind and consistent reminder will break them of this practice and help them find another way to show endearment or kindness. 

4. Develop your crew’s talents and abilities

The National Restaurant Association reports, “One in three Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant.” Although your hiring practices and interview questions should weed out those lacking character or applicants who don’t share your vision, even near-perfect job candidates need direction. 

That’s where your onboarding and training program comes in. Start by identifying leaders in your existing staff. These employees may be back of the house stars or highly efficient servers. Their job title is less important than their dedication to your brand. 

Empower your team members to take new hires under their wing, mentor them, and alert management to potential problems. Create an ongoing system that:

  • Showcases your vision, values, and goals 
  • Shares ways each detail impacts the dining experience
  • Delivers personalized feedback to strengthen individual skill sets
  • Focuses on tactics that reduce employee turnover 

5. Create a cohesive online strategy

Before the internet, people found your restaurant via word of mouth, an advertisement, or simply driving down the street. Although that still happens, it’s much more likely that potential guests find your restaurant online. 

People may do a voice search while driving, asking, “Who serves the best burger near me?” Or hungry consumers may fawn over a mouth-watering Instagram photo. Tell folks what to expect by perfecting your digital footprint. Take steps like:

  • Outline a plan that includes criteria for responding to mentions and reviews on social media, review sites, messenger, and email.
  • Dump the stock photos and take real pictures of your food for placement on your website and social channels.
  • Make your menu easy to access, visually friendly, and readily sharable.
  • Customize your communications with platform-specific guidelines, such as ones for Facebook marketing versus Instagram ads.
  • Offer a FAQ page to assist diners with popular questions, like gluten-free meal choices or payment options.

6. Choose technology that your guests want

For many diners, a great dining experience turns rocky when it comes to ordering or paying their bill. Automated systems help smooth these pain points, but aren’t a good fit for all markets. 

Avoid negative encounters by getting feedback from your guests before deploying a new service. Intimately knowing your guests results in exceptional restaurant visits. Learn about customer preferences by:  

  • Creating an online survey for loyalty club members or repeat customers
  • Sharing an online poll asking which payment options your guests prefer
  • Doing a trial run with new technology and getting feedback from staff and customers
  • Designing a loyalty and referral program using tech that your customers use and feel comfortable with 

7. Handle special requests with ease

Accommodating guests shouldn’t be an afterthought or an inconvenience. Your policies should clearly define how you manage special circumstances, whether for a list of ingredients or a certain seating type. 

But you also need to convey this information in a way that sticks with your staff. After all, if your server seems annoyed by a special request, your guest may feel embarrassed, hurt, or upset. 

Consider asking staff to go over complex orders with a manager. Doing so helps crew members enter the request correctly, and the supervisor is aware that this table may need extra oversight or attention. 

Design a great dining experience for every guest 

You already know that bad service can kill your business. However, do you know what’s worse? Disconnected experiences that weren’t bad, but didn’t feel special. You can order delivery and eat food at home from most restaurants these days, so what makes in-house dining unique? It’s the human touch. When you devise unforgettable experiences, like the server who knows your name combined with a welcoming smile, it makes every moment exceptional.

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