More than in any other type of business, first impressions are massively important if you are running a restaurant. That’s why you’ve put so much time into decorating and designing your interior. That’s why your spent hours toiling over your menu and working on its design. That’s why you spend 20 minutes picking the perfect filter when posting pictures of your food on Instagram. That’s why you make sure that you have great hosts and waiters who are ready to greet your customers with smiles on their faces. And that’s why you need to make sure that the first impression you make on the phone when someone calls your restaurant is just as strong. Phone etiquette is just that important.
Why It’s Important
In this day and age, customer service is everything. Even though it’s a digital age and people commonly use online channels for asking questions and solving problems, people still like to talk to someone. When starting a restaurant today, it’s easy to focus more on things like social media channels and online orders – which millennials prefer – but you’re still going to have to take a lot of calls.
According to this study, 46 percent of customers would prefer talking to a person on the phone when it comes to customer inquiries. This is especially true in restaurants. When customers want to make a reservation, they still prefer to use the phone. Takeout orders have always been key to the success of restaurants and they will continue to be crucial sources of income. They also come via phone for the most part.
Whether you like it or not, you and your staff are going to have to talk to people on the phone very often. That’s why you need to discuss proper phone etiquette and learn how to improve the way you and your staff communicate with customers over the telephone.
Everyone who is ever going to answer a phone in your restaurant should receive training regarding proper phone etiquette so that the way you talk to your customers on the phone becomes one of your restaurant’s strongest assets.
But being an ace on the phone doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes training and it takes practice. And even though it seems easy enough, there are many small things that you can do that will make a world of difference to the people on the other side of the line.
Whether it’s the people in your restaurant who take orders or the hosts who book reservations, having proper phone etiquette can go a long way towards boosting your eatery’s reputation. Following these six very important tips will help get you on the right road towards stepping up your restaurant’s phone etiquette in a big way.
The general rule of thumb is that you need to answer your phone before the third ring if you don’t want to anger or annoy your customers. The longer you let your phone ring before answering it, the more agitated your customers grow.
That’s why it’s sometimes best to have staff members, if you can afford it, who do nothing but tend to phone calls – especially if your phone is typically ringing off the hook. If you don’t have room in your budget right now to designate one or more people to take calls, then at least make sure that you have more than one phone in your restaurant and that they are strategically placed in areas where your staff members can get to them quickly and answer them, no matter what other tasks they are responsible for during the course of their shifts.
However, don’t think that it’s alright to answer the phones quickly only to put the customers on hold for an excessive period of time. Getting put on hold for a long time is probably even more infuriating than having to wait for someone to pick up the phone. No matter what, it’s your responsibility to act quickly. Answer the phones quickly, but also be sure to talk to your customers immediately and help them with whatever it is they need as soon as possible.
Nail the Introduction
Remember, first impressions are everything. Make sure that your first contact with the customer makes them feel as if you truly want to talk to them. If you simply answer the phone saying the restaurant’s name and nothing else, you’re not going to sound like you want to help your customers, you’re going to sound like you’re answering the telephone simply because you have to.
Make sure to introduce yourself as well. For example, “Thanks for calling Ginger Restaurant. My name is Jim, how can I help you?”
Give them a name behind the voice so that they feel as if they are talking to a person, not a nameless worker hiding behind the business’ name. Be energetic and enthusiastic. Most importantly speak with a smile.
Smile When You Speak
This might sound like a cliche, but it’s a good rule to follow. And if you can’t fake excitement in your voice, try to genuinely smile while answering the phone. Work on it until it becomes a habit and you no longer have to think about it.
Preach to your staff that they need to smile when they answer the phones. It might sound trivial, but it makes all the difference when it comes to that every-important positive first impression you want to secure. There are many things that you need to take into consideration if you want to be a good communicator on the phone. You need to make sure that your pace is moderate, your tone is positive and that it sounds as if you’re smiling while speaking. The goal is to make sure that you and your employees sound as if you are excited to talk to your customers and ready to help them with anything they need, even if you might not be feeling too hot at the moment.
Practice speaking with a smile and giving off a positive attitude over the phone. Over time, it’s going to become second nature to you and your employees if you keep working at it.
Master the Menu
Sure, your servers need to know the menu like the back of their hands. But so does anyone who answers the phones in your restaurant. The people taking calls need to know the menu inside and out. They need to be aware of all your specials every day and it also helps if they are very familiar with prices.
Sometimes customers that are ordering takeout aren’t completely sure of what they want and might ask for recommendations. Other times, they might be calling to order a special that you aren’t serving on that day. Your staff needs to be able to guide them through the process and make recommendations when needed in order to get customers to buy, even when the item they were specifically looking for isn’t on the menu that day.
Whoever’s on takeout duty really needs to have a mastery of the menu and keep great track of any changes that might be taking place on the menu. There’s nothing worse than having to call the customer back and tell them that you aren’t serving what they ordered.
Nail the Sign-Off
If you are working a takeout order, make sure that you tell the customer when they can expect their food to be ready and don’t forget to say “thank you.” The person working the phones should have a good idea of how long it takes to make the dishes that were ordered. And if they aren’t sure, they need to ask the kitchen staff to give them an accurate approximation of when the customer is going to be able to pick up his or her food.
If you tell them that the food is going to be done sooner than it really is, customers will be angry that they have to wait for it. And if you tell them that it’s going to take longer than it actually is to make the food, you run the risk of selling them a meal that’s going to be cold by the time they get home and are ready to eat it.
If the staff member is taking reservations, “thank yous” are obligatory as well. Remember to keep speaking with a smile, even at the end of the call.
Never Stop Learning
We’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating: keep practicing. Giving your staff an introduction and some training on restaurant telephone etiquette is not enough. You need to make sure that they are practicing and getting better every day on the job.
Use role-playing exercises to test them and help them improve. The more your staff members answer phones, the more refined their technique will get and the happier your customers will be talking to them.
Just like anything else in life, practicing proper telephone etiquette helps you and your staff to get better at it and increase the level of confidence with which everyone in your restaurant communicates with customers over the phone.