For better or worse, customers love to talk about restaurant service — whether it’s on public review sites, in an email to the restaurant, or in conversation with all their friends and family. A great service experience will stay with a customer and encourage them to come back, but a negative one will stick with them perhaps even longer, and it can have impacts on your bottom line. A study from Cheq and the University of Baltimore found that online reviews influenced $703B in revenue in the U.S. in 2021. This research also uncovered the negative impact of fake or bot reviews, providing a helpful reminder to keep it authentic and look to your community for support.
Today, reviews are front-and-center, with Google Reviews popping up as soon as anyone looks up your business, and people on Instagram and TikTok constantly sharing about their experiences at different establishments.
Great reviews encourage new business, and positive social media and word of mouth can bring in crowds — but negative ones can scare them away easily.
When deciding how to approach service in your business, do some customer research. Find out who your customers are and what kind of service they love, and train your staff to provide it. Plus, a great CMS that connects to your POS can help restaurants keep notes about regular customers. If Friday lunchtime regular Martin loves a slice of lemon in his water, why not delight him by providing it without him having to ask?
The most important aspect of any type of restaurant customer service, from the most formal and exclusive establishments to the corner bodega with the best sandwiches in the neighborhood, is kindness. Customers will always remember restaurants where they were treated well — much more than they’ll remember if their food was perfect or if they waited 10 minutes or 12. And the human connection that comes from kind service is what builds the trust that turns one-time customers into regulars.
There’s no one best type of restaurant service — it’s all about ensuring your service style matches your ambiance, values, food, and clientele. We’ll get into all the different ways you can approach service in restaurants, plus highlight some tools that can help.
What types of service do restaurants offer?
There are two major categories of restaurant service — on- and off-premise — and varied opportunities and expectations that come with each of them.
1. Quick service options
Counter service: Popular with sandwich shops, pizzerias, bakeries, cafes, fast food restaurants, and any takeout-focused restaurants that happen to have a few tables, counter service is quick — but there are still ample opportunities to delight guests and provide seamless service. In addition to greeting every customer with kindness, it’s important that the restaurant is set up to quickly usher customers through the restaurant. Especially during a busy lunch rush, clear signage can tell customers where to order, where to pay, and where to pick up their food, minimizing confusion and wait times. It’s also a way to welcome new customers alongside the regulars who’d know where to go in their sleep. If you ever notice a bottleneck of customers, consider adding a divider to direct the line.
Kiosk service: Mostly popular with fast food chains, kiosks come in handy as a way to manage heavy customer traffic, and to provide guests who aren’t feeling up to human interaction with a quick way to order. As with counter service, clear signage is crucial here, otherwise customers can get frustrated while they figure out where to stand and where to pay.
2. Full service options
Full service restaurants let customers sit down, order from a server, and have their food brought to them at the table. Customers come to connect with friends, family, a partner, or a date, and diners typically spend between half an hour to a couple of hours at the table. As such, the service provided by the waitstaff is an especially important factor of their experience, and can impact whether the customers want to sit down, eat, and get out, or stay awhile (and keep ordering more drinks — and growing their tab).
It’s important to match your service style to the type of restaurant you run. Formal, elegant service doesn’t fit a family-friendly restaurant — and gregarious, chatty service that’s perfect for families might not make sense at a hip date spot.
Here are a few full-service restaurant styles to consider for your business. Determine what kind of service you want to offer and train your front of house staff accordingly.
Family-friendly: If your restaurant welcomes kids and multigenerational families, and has a relatively casual setting, it makes sense for the servers to be friendly, funny, patient, and charming. They’re always on, providing comfortable, welcoming service, even when several children are screaming.
Formal: Formal service is mostly found at formal classic restaurants. Details that show the staff is ready to go above and beyond are the hallmark of this service style, like taking a guest’s coat, pulling the chair out for them, ensuring the cutlery is at a perfect angle relative to the plates, and providing traditional wine service (and tasting).
Hip: Service at hip, trendy restaurants can be anything from warm and welcoming to aloof. It largely depends on the style and training provided by management. Some establishments want to create a cool, laid-back, unbothered vibe, while others aim for warm service that’s friendly but not pushy.
Classic Diner or Dive: There’s something to be said for bare-bones service every once in a while — but it really needs to align with the setting. Dive bars and diners are famous for staff just taking orders, serving food, and collecting payment with little fanfare. For customers that aren’t in the mood to chat, it’s perfect.
3. Off-premise service: takeout, delivery, and meal kits
Even though off-premise dining customers may only be in the restaurant for a moment — or, with delivery, not at all — there’s still ample opportunity to provide excellent restaurant service. In all forms of off-premise service, including takeout, delivery, and meal kits, keep the following considerations in mind:
Make sure the food arrives on time, and exactly as ordered. Using a platform like DoorDash can help you keep track of how long each order takes, helping you get more accurate with your estimates as you go. Learn more about avoiding wait time, avoiding missing items, and avoiding cancellations.
Make sure the food travels well. Invest in well-sealing containers for soups, and any other kind of container that prevents a mess and keeps food fresh.
Add a personal touch and a reason to come back. In the bag, send a note, a smiley face, and maybe a coupon for a future order or a QR code to your loyalty program.
Throw in a freebie. Free spring rolls, edamame, bread, or other low-cost items can do wonders for customer loyalty.
Offer combos and meal kits that meet the needs of your customer base. If you have a lot of young families in your area, offer an adults + kids meal option. You can price it so it’s very profitable for the business, but still appealing to families that want to order a quick, easy, and complete meal.
Make sure you have a section of the restaurant clearly marked for pickup and takeout. Takeout customers often want to be in and out as quickly as possible, as do delivery drivers, and clear signage makes that happen.
How to provide the best restaurant service
Meet customers where they are
Ultimately, the best service is provided to customers when they can choose how they want to interact with your restaurant.
Offering multiple ways to order, from takeout and delivery to on-premise service, both indoors and in a covered outdoor space, gives customers all the choices they could possibly want — and encourages them to patronize your restaurant many different ways, depending on their mood.
Streamline your menu to include only your best dishes
If the food isn’t meeting or exceeding expectations, customers won’t be back — even if the service was great. So always be testing your menu, and use menu engineering to find the stars, puzzlers, opportunities, and dogs. Then, you can cut out menu items that aren’t leaving customers raving and aren’t pulling their weight, profit-wise.
Ensure accurate wait times
Whether it’s for in-person reservations, or takeout or delivery, accurate wait times are important. Use reservation apps and takeout and delivery apps that help restaurants determine their wait times — and do everything you can to stick to them.
Thoroughly train staff on the steps of service and personalize them for your restaurant
The classic full-service steps of service are as follows — but you might add or remove steps depending on your restaurant’s style.
Greet the table and drop menus
Take drink orders
Bring drinks and take food order
Check on table to make sure everything tastes right and see if they need anything
Clear dishes and offer dessert and more drinks
Take dessert and/or drinks order
Bring dessert and/or drinks
Ask if customers are ready to pay
Bring the bill and process payment
Thank the table and say goodbye
Some additional steps to consider:
Bring over free bread or a small plate of olives
Make a little bit of conversation
Ask for feedback
Ask customers if they’re part of the loyalty program
Explain the specials
Leave a chocolate or candy with the bill
Open with a particular greeting of choice
Don’t let staff training be an afterthought — learn more about restaurant employee training.
Listen to feedback and address issues head-on
Both in person, via email or phone call, and on review sites, it’s important to handle feedback with grace — and address whatever issues are raised head on. A poor customer experience doesn’t have to mean they’ll never come back, especially if you provide an apology and an incentive to come back and try again.
Use restaurant technology to measure and improve the customer experience
Bring on DoorDash to help you reach new customers, meet them wherever they want to eat, and boost your revenue. And learn more about how DoorDash’s metrics and analytics can help you improve your restaurant’s off-premise service.