What makes a good restaurant experience?
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Knowing that good service is an important part of a diner's experience, Sysco Corp., a restaurant supply house with headquarters in Houston, offers its restaurant clients a mystery shopper service. The anonymous "shopper" rates the restaurant on a 100-point scale in each of the following categories:
Food server and buser.
Environment (parking, restrooms, lighting).
Profit factor (beverages offered, dessert menus presented).
In Western Pennsylvania, 60 restaurants subscribe to this service as a way of improving customer satisfaction.
One restaurant offers a $500 bonus to any server who scores a perfect 100 points in the server category. Obviously, that restaurant consistently turns in high scores for food service.
Another survey company, Mercantile Systems & Surveys based in Brentwood, Calif., conducts similar anonymous checks for the hospitality industry, including hotels.
"Operators who use the survey tool properly will see their percentages rise and customer satisfaction improve, said Dan Cosgrove, whose grandfather founded the company 50 years ago.
"Restaurant owners normally reward the server who gets a score of over 90 percent on a survey and this extra incentive can make a huge difference in the service the customer sees."
Although Zagat Survey rates the level of service and decor along with food in other select cities, Michael Mahle of Zagat Survey LLC says that Zagat does not issue any guidelines to the members who offer their ratings. When hundreds of ratings are tallied together and an average taken of the scores, the final numbers produce a credible reflection of the restaurants' quality in each of the three categories, he said.
Measuring good service is subjective, but here's what I expect from a server when reviewing restaurants.
The server should greet diners within 3 minutes of their being seated.
The server should neat and clean.
The server should not be too chatty or familiar.
The server should know the menu and be able to answer questions.
The server should bring drinks within 3 minutes of being ordered.
The appetizer should be served within 5 minutes of ordering.
Entrees should be served within 20 minutes of ordering.
Water glasses or coffee cups should be refilled regularly.
The server should silently survey the table and assess our needs without constantly interrupting to ask, "How ya doin' over here?"
The check should be brought promptly when requested, and change should be returned promptly.
Plates should be removed at the proper time, and the table should be cleared of bread and butter before dessert is served.
First Published September 24, 2006 12:00 am