Diner Survey Says: Don’t Rush Us

Discussion
Jul 19, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Diners are looking for speedy service at restaurants. Just don’t make them feel as if they are being rushed out the door if you want them patronizing your eatery again.

A study conducted by two professors at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Breffni Noone and Sheryl Kimes, concludes that the emphasis by restaurants to increase revenue by moving diners in and out may, in the end, be counterproductive.

“Pace is a key element in customer satisfaction,” said Prof. Kimes. “Customers can be happy with the food quality, pricing, the quality of service and the ambiance, but if the pace is off, they might still not be happy.”

Richard Martin, managing editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, told USA Today that findings of the survey of 270 consumers were “a wake-up call” for restaurant operators.

“It puts the onus on restaurateurs to realize it’s also about hospitality and not just a numbers game,” he said.

Still, finding the right pace for serving diners is anything but an exact science. The one time where extreme speed is valued, said Prof. Kimes, is when customers ask for the check. “Once a customer asks for a check, do it as quickly as possible,” she said.

Moderator’s Comment: How can food service operators determine the optimum pace of service that generates both revenues for the restaurant and loyalty
among patrons? Do the findings about pace of service in restaurant have parallels in other categories of the consumer food and retailing businesses?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "Diner Survey Says: Don’t Rush Us"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Desired service speed varies depending on time of day, day of the week, and individual mood.

I’ve seen signs advertising quick lunches in some sit-down full-service restaurants. Before the signs, I have a feeling they were avoided by people whose lunchtime was limited.

It is different to serve a group starting dinner at 8 PM on a Saturday than an individual starting breakfast at 8 AM on a weekday.

The best servers use polite observation and polite questioning to determine the appropriate service speed. This is a key training issue.

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 7 months ago

The short answer is that they can ask the patron about the pace of service they prefer.

In general though, it seems that every year most people live their life on a faster track than the year before. It is where our society seems to be going. That said, it should come as no surprise that most people want to move things along at a faster pace.

But in considering this question, we should also realize that people evaluate the pace of things in restaurants based on certain “how long?” moments of measurement. How long before they are greeted? How long until the order is taken? How long until the food is served? Similar measurements are noted in other segments of the consumer food and retailing businesses as well.

Manage these expectations – these moments of measurement – and customers will come away more satisfied regardless of the pace they prefer.

Marilyn Raymond
Guest
Marilyn Raymond
15 years 7 months ago

Just as many outlets have a bar to help people ‘get settled’ with a drink while waiting for a table, many independent restaurants are now offering space for leisurely desserts, coffee, after dinner drinks — many offering comfy couches and chairs that make one feel like you can easily linger without guilt that you are holding up the table.

Assuming this space can be in a less ‘prime’ location – even perhaps a different level, the turnover isn’t as critical.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 7 months ago

I don’t think you necessarily have to rush people out of the supermarket either. But it would be nice to give them a reason to stay longer.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 7 months ago

Ironically, a friend and I both just wrote off a diner I have been frequenting for 30 years for being asked to leave as they were busy and needed the table. (We’d been there under an hour.) A diner!

That said, pace matters everywhere. I was shopping at Macy’s (and I mean shopping: looking around, contemplating what I wanted/needed) and was approached 7 times in 15 minutes by various salespeople. I left – as they broke my concentration every time they approached – and spent several hundred dollars in another store.

Retailers need to pay attention and, I agree, even asking what consumers would like would help. (I told each of the 7 salespeople that I wanted to browse.

Brookstone personnel recently offered to help, then stood aside while an indecisive niece agonized over a purchase for over half an hour. They will see me again and again.

This is a tough issue – I think – in which to train staff. I applaud anyone who tries.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

It seems that even modest-sized eating establishments now use that table-planning/turnover software to help plot out seating. But watch an experienced hostess/host when you ask how long before you can be seated. This is a fine art mixed with Mr. Spock-like calculations…

“Let’s see…that older couple is hardly talking. They’ll be done in 5 minutes. That table of six just ordered coffee; that’ll be at least 25. The kitchen’s backed up about 8 minutes from those filets that came in frozen. That baby’s starting to whine. If we can get a check to them now, we’ll have that table free.”

When you have a good dining experience, you don’t notice how good the staff is. That’s the way it should be.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Dare I say that one needs to exercise a bit of common sense and good judgement? Waiting and sales staff who speak to customers without pressuring them encourage them to stay and spend rather than rushing away empty-handed, forming a brief but important bond that will give important clues about the way in which they want to be treated. Service – in both hospitality and retail outlets – is much appreciated; fawning less so, harassment and its opposite number, ignorance (as in ignoring the customer) the ultimate turnoffs.

Patricia Berry
Guest
Patricia Berry
15 years 7 months ago

I am not sure as a single diner that pace is as big of an issue as being completely ignored for larger parties. I have become quite frustrated at dining out lately, especially when dining alone. It used to not bother me to eat alone until all the recent bad service. I would almost assume they rushed me because I would at least receive some attention. I have sat near tables with two or four people. The server will refill tea glasses and pass by my table at least ten times before giving me a second thought. I have a hard time understanding this because I am pleasant and respectful of the servers trying to do their job and I also tip well. I think the retail world has become one impersonal place to be, which explains the use of online shopping and take out orders.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 7 months ago

Rick’s nailed it: the staff has to be attuned to the pace of clientele. That extends beyond hosts to wait staff and kitchen staff.

Lori Wnek
Guest
Lori Wnek
15 years 7 months ago

Just coming back from a month in Europe where restaurants do things a bit differently than American restaurants, I must say I think they have the right idea. Servers do not present the check, but rather wait to be asked. By doing that, the customers choose their own pace of dining. I also found the longer we sat, the more likely we were to have a second drink or dessert. When I asked my Hungarian and Slovenian relatives why this is done, they said it would be very rude to drop the check at the table – “it’s like telling you to leave now.” How this policy would affect American restaurant and servers’ income may be something we could learned from those same European restaurant owners. Let’s ask them what they think!!

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 7 months ago

The above comments have nailed the best way to find out how much of a hurry customers are in: ask. Beyond that, my particular pet peeve is that for groups of three or more adults, it seems obvious to me that they are probably in a social setting, and will want to talk a bit between courses. There is one restaurant in NYC – Houston’s – where I love the food but have stopped going because no matter how the request is made, they still bring drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert, one right after the other, with zero break. When the appetizer has to be swapped out for the entree, and the check arrives WITH the dessert, I think the customer is being rushed. And, when done in relatively expensive restaurants, it’s obvious they are churning tables by policy, rather than serving their customers. Short term win for the restaurant, long term loss.

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