HOW TO MAKE GUESTS FEEL VALUED WITH GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE
We operate in a rapidly changing business landscape, but regardless of the situation your venue may find itself in, it’s still possible to deliver a safe, enjoyable experience for guests. Maura Milia from The Connaught looks at how to best communicate changes that come with new customer spaces.
At The Connaught we have implemented a number of changes to service in line with government regulations. Through careful and considered communication we’ve found that our guests are very understanding of the changes made and by anticipating all scenarios we’re still able to offer world class hospitality. Here is some insight into the key changes we’ve made and how.
MANAGING GUEST FLOW
By managing guest flow through your venue you can manage in-house capacity much more effectively while allowing as many guests as possible to experience your service. There are a number of ways you can do this, for example, you can introduce a reservation system, a waitlist with the option to receive a call back when a seat becomes available, or if you’re fortunate enough to have another bar on site, you can use this as a waiting area to allow guests to relax and enjoy a drink while they wait.
At The Connaught we operate using all of these options. We have a reservation system specifically for guests staying at the hotel. As the hotel is often fully occupied, this system gives residents the opportunity to have a drink at the bar at their preferred time without having to wait. Our reservations and reception teams offer all guests the opportunity to book a table when they’re initially making their reservation and again upon check-in – this serves as a reminder and ensures guests have the best experience possible during their stay.
We have always operated with a no-reservation policy for outside guests, and we still allow walk-ins, of course, but only if the bar has space. We are lucky to have another bar, The Champagne Room, which allows us to accommodate guests while they are waiting to be seated. This system helps manage the flow of guests and means we can avoid having a long queue outside the bar. During very busy occasions, we also offer the option of a waiting list, so that whenever a tale becomes available or a guest doesn’t show for their allocated slot, we can call guests on the waitlist and hold the table for 15 minutes to allow them to arrive.
Making our guests feel comfortable and at ease remains our top priority. We aim to create an environment where people can relax and feel a sense of normality in safe surroundings.
Offering guests a fixed time at their table can be beneficial from an operational point of view as it takes the guesswork out of table availability, particularly during busy periods. It also allows venues to maximize table covers and increase revenue during peak times.
This can be a delicate matter, as guests do not want a limit placed on their experience. That said, there are a few ways you can approach this for the best outcome, including informing guests of timeslot duration at the booking stage, so they are aware of the limits from the outset, or if you have another bar area in your venue you could arrange for guests to move there once their time has lapsed.
Where possible, we try to avoid placing a limit on our guests’ experience. Only on very busy occasions and weekends, where we have lots of reservations, do we give a time allocation to our guests. Communication on these occasions is key. We inform guests of the time available at their table and we give them a gentle reminder 20 minutes before the next reservation is due to arrive, so they don’t have to make a prompt departure.
Our host team does a great job managing reservations and table turnover. Most of the time, our guests are very understanding. On the rare occasion when the guests stay over the time allocated, we find a solution. We can offer guests the opportunity to move across to one of our other bars – in this instance, we communicate with the other bar teams first to ensure seats are available to avoid any inconvenience. In the event the other bars are also at capacity, we will call the guests who booked the next slot 20 minutes prior and let them know of the delay. We also send a complimentary drink to their room to apologize for the inconvenience. We are very lucky to have wonderful guests, and we find planning ahead allows us to find solutions in advance to please all parties.
Depending on the economic climate some venues may consider condensing their menu, and in recent years there has been a shift toward a more curated list of offerings. A smaller menu can have a positive impact on your bottom line and can lead to more efficient service at the bar and more consistent serves.
When making menu changes, it is important to consider the customer from the outset. Identify the most popular drinks and ensure they remain, consider any guest's feedback, and try to incorporate this where relevant in the menu – this shows you value guests and care about their experience. Ultimately, how guests react to menu changes is all in the delivery. If you are reducing or altering your menu, be sure to make guests aware of this and ensure your team is well briefed on why it has changed and the benefit this will have for everyone.
At The Connaught, our guests have big expectations and occasionally we will release a new menu to excite our guests. Rather than removing items, some of which are much loved by our guests, we adjust and use our creativity to bring an extra touch to what we already offer. To avoid any waste we share the production of certain products such as daily garnishes and juices with the other departments in order to have a more sensible, sustainable approach. This has been a valuable addition to our operations and has a lot of benefits.
We spend weeks training the team on menu updates and really look forward to showing our guests what we have been working on. When introducing a new menu, we prefer to do this face to face with our guests, so we can discuss the changes and answer any questions they may have. It is wonderful to witness the reaction and curiosity it provokes and is a lovely way to connect. After our initial reopening, we then shared the menu on social media and uploaded it on the official website of The Connaught for everyone to see.
It is also very important to keep a record of what your guests like. At the end of service, we take note of all the drinks that our regular and returning guests loved the most and create a profile on our system for each of them. We call it the ‘Guest Bible’. This helps us anticipate guest needs when they return and train new members of the team accordingly in order to deliver a seamless service.
CHANGES IN SERVICE
From digital reservation platforms to contactless payments and more - venues are increasingly becoming more tech-savvy, harnessing technology to upgrade guest experience. There is potential to use technology to assist with ordering, service, and payment to enhance customer experience.
Consider what technology is right for your venue. Ask yourself: who are my customers? What technology would improve how we serve them? How likely are they to embrace that?
We have implemented some digital technology to reduce contact including menus accessed by QR codes, which really helps minimize contact in touching menu folders. We now offer QR code menus as default, explaining that there are two QR codes: one with our full menu and the other one with the NHS track and trace. Of course, not all guests are tech-savvy, and for those who are uncomfortable with the idea of using the QR code, we can offer a physical menu. In order to prepare for the latter, we ordered extra menu folders to enable us to rotate and thoroughly sanitize menus after each use.
Most of our guests have embraced the QR code without any problem. Although without a physical menu it is harder for us to read customer signals or gauge what they may be interested in. It’s, therefore, more important than ever to interact with guests as much as safely possible.
UNDERSTANDING THROUGH EMPATHY
One of the things that we find helps during times of rapid change is demonstrating a strong sense of empathy in every single situation. It is our job to make our guests feel heard, respected, and understood. When guests come to our venue, they are looking for a home away from home, they want to feel welcomed, they want personalized service, tailor-made for them every single time and it’s important we deliver on that.
Sometimes, and here is where empathy plays the biggest role, they come to our venues for a safe, private, and comfortable environment. They don’t want any interaction at all, just a place where they feel comfortable to read a book, to close a very important deal, or just to switch off from whatever is happening in their life. It’s our role to understand and respect that. Ask your team to always put themselves in the customer's position and imagine how they feel. Seeing things from a guest's perspective will allow them to be more proactive, anticipate the guests’ needs and learn how to deal with challenging situations.
FIVE KEY TAKEAWAYS
- Communication is key. Be sure to communicate all changes to your guests, they will be more understanding.
- Have a system in place for managing reservations and time allocations to ensure smooth service and happy customers.
- Make your guests a priority and deliver great experiences. For a hotel it’s the hotel guests, for a neighborhood bar it’s the regulars.
- Get creative. Be prepared to try new ways of doing things in order to keep the experience going and guests happy.
- Show empathy in all situations so guests feel understood and valued.