So much of every restaurant’s success depends on one central aspect of the business: the food. Initially, a lot of time may be spent developing the menu for a new restaurant, but as time passes, you also evaluate the success of your menu, of individual dishes, and even individual ingredients in each dish. Ultimately, the goal is for every part of the menu to be the best it can be.
But how in the world does a manager, chef, or owner figure out whether a dish is working or not? How do you develop winning dishes? Well, a lot of it has to do with listening to your customers. After all, they are the ones eating your food — and the ones you want to please so they’ll come back for more!
There are a number of different ways to get feedback from your guests, but here are a few of the more effective ways to go about gathering valuable information about your dishes.
What Gets Left Behind
Whether you’re a chef or a manager, start keeping an eye on what comes back to the kitchen — namely, what’s left on the plates to get scraped into the trash by your employees, rather than put into a doggy bag. These are the parts of your dish that your guest didn’t want, even to take home for later. Abandoned food can be a significant tell as you start to figure out what is and isn’t appealing to your guests.
Obviously, one scraped serving of mashed potatoes does not mean ditching your mashed potatoes altogether. It could be that your guest wasn’t going home right away or didn’t want to carry a doggy bag. It simply could mean that these mashed potatoes weren’t specifically to that guest’s taste.
Don’t focus on one-time situations and just keep an eye out for ongoing trends in particular food your guests don’t finish. From there, you can decide whether or not that item needs to be adjusted — or taken off the menu.
What Guests Are Praising
Another way to gauge what’s working on your menu is to have your servers ask for, and then track, guest comments. You can tell the dishes that are already stars on your menu because they’re the ones guests will be the most vocal about throughout the dining experience.
Start by having your more seasoned servers specifically keep an eye out for what customers really respond to when they check in at each part of the meal (“How are you enjoying the entrée?” “Oh, my fish was fantastic!”).
Instruct your team to note if they see the same dish get praised consistently over the course of the next few weeks and report back. And obviously any time a guest asks to send compliments to the chef, the server should be getting that information to you, too.
What Guests Are Sending Back
Of course you want to hear if someone loved a dish, but also take notes when someone expresses a problem with a particular dish’s flavors (if they tell the server that their soup was too spicy, for example).
Pay close attention to complaints when a guest actually sends something back to the kitchen. One or two complaints could simply mean a dish isn’t to someone’s taste. But the same comment over and over likely means something about the dish just isn’t working.
Feedback from Tastings
There are ways to measure the success of a dish outside your regular service hours, too. Why not organize a tasting party? Invite friends, family, your front of the house staff, and even vendors – people you can trust to give honest opinions – with the offer of free tasting courses in exchange for their advice on the dishes you serve them.
Make it fun by printing comment cards where they can mark a score of 1-10 and add comments for each plate presented to them. You can also personally ask the table for their overall thoughts at the end of the meal. Just be sure to encourage constructive criticism. This is not about boosting your ego. You really want to know what will make the dish the best it can be!
Guest Reviews … But from the Right Places
There are, of course, more traditional ways to get feedback. Most restaurants keep standard comment cards at the front of their restaurant or provide them with the check. Those don’t always get filled out, however. And when they do, it’s often only by outliers who were particularly upset with something and wanted to make sure you knew about it. Those are good comments to accumulate, but might not represent your average guest.
Online customer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor provide a huge opportunity for consumers to speak their mind, and there is helpful feedback to be found there. Many restaurants even like to take their testimonials from those sites. However, those unverified review systems mean that reviewers don’t have to confirm they even went to the restaurant in order to leave comments. Can you really be sure that you’re getting truthful feedback and authentic suggestions?
That’s why Rewards Network’s online review system is completely verified. Every review left by our users is tied to a specific visit to your restaurant, which means you’re definitely hearing from someone who dined at your business recently. From there, you can take the compliments and constructive criticism alike and adjust your menu, ensuring the dining experience you provide is the best it can be.
Want to know more about how you can use reviews to improve your menu?