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Put it in writing

Consider yourself lucky if a guest tells you about a problem they've had while dining with you. It means you have a chance to fix the problem and keep them as a customer. The majority of the time, they walk out the door and start telling anybody who will listen about the cruddy time (or food or service) they had at your restaurant. They probably won't come back either.

When we have a chance to address a problem we frequently hesitate. The fact that we're busy or lack the words to do it right keeps us from fixing the problem and making the guest happy. Busy? No excuse. What could you possibly be "busy" doing? Customers are your second most important asset (after employees) and deserve to be THE priority. Lacking the words or the tools? Here's where we can help.

The best way to follow up on remarks made by guests in the course of conversation or on comment cards is with a formal written response. It should be personalized, sincere, and address the specific issue raised by the guest. No generic form letters allowed.

But not everyone has great writing skills, and it's plain hard work to craft a well-thought-out message. Having written responses prepared in advance will help. Create some templates that address common complaints like poor service or bad food. Keep printed versions on hand or keep them handy in the computer. When you need to write a letter, just change information as needed to make the letter customized, and print it on your restaurant's letterhead. A copy should be kept in a file. Periodically, review these — you might see some patterns that need to be addressed.

To show your sincerity and get the customer back for a positive experience, include a gift certificate with the letter. Make it easy for them to redeem the free meal. Design a special certificate to use for this purpose and train your staff to inform you when someone is using one of these special certificates. This will give you the opportunity to go to the table and speak with the guests, making sure their experience is enjoyable. Also, be sure they're numbered so they can be tracked as they are redeemed.

We've created some letter templates that you can download and personalize with your own information and the offer you want to include. If you're using Microsoft Word, do a "Save As" and save the document as "Stationery." This will convert the document to a template, so you'll always have your master version on hand and ready to use.

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