First Impressions. More Important Than Ever | Brand Education for Restaurants

We all know the old adage about first impressions; however, today the stakes are higher than ever before. Due to the popularity of the web and social media, coupled with people sharing more liberally their opinions, a first impression of a brand can quickly become the only impression of a brand. And, the difference today is that a shared impression can potentially stick with a brand forever.

A large part of managing a brand is doing your best to control the perception of that brand. And yes, perception is reality especially when in the blink of an eye a positive brand’s reputation can turn to mud. I am sure we can all name a restaurant brand or two that have had to battle back from damaging images, food quality issues or controversial comments recently. We can discuss crisis management tactics in a future post. This post is about why it is important to be concerned about your audiences impression(s) of your restaurant.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that an impression is an experience. Throughout the dining experience a customer is faced with multiple impressions, they range from being greeted at the door all the way through paying a bill and exiting the establishment. If you consider how many different opportunities a customer has to form an opinion about your brand, you have good reason to be nervous. 

An Example:

Consider this scenario. What would happen if you sat down at a restaurant for the first time and the menu was dirty, covered in food or in very poor condition?

This was my menu and my first impression. Guess how many people I shared this menu story with? For the record, everything after this was fine however my first impression remains unchanged.

What would you do?

    • – Take a picture
    • – Post a comment on Facebook
    • – Share a picture on Instagram
    • – Tweet something snarky about it
    • – Post a negative review on Yelp
    • – Tell a friend
    • – Think about leaving the restaurant because you are turned off by your first impression

Maybe some of you would do nothing, in fact that probably happens quite often. Not everyone shares information with their friends or networks, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the potential negative backlash. What do you think the comment would be the next time that restaurant is offered up as a dining option?

Today, a bad impression can destroy a brand’s reputation before the server can even take the order.

Are we talking about reputation management here or is it about quality control? It is about all of that and more…as a restaurant operator you are only as good as the last meal you serve. It is more important than ever to get the pulse of your customer while they are still in your restaurant, while you still have an opportunity to right a wrong. Because once a customer leaves your restaurant after a poor experience, your efforts may have to turn to crisis management rather then just customer service.

Here is the obligatory cat meme.

We are living in exciting times where a meme of a cat can reach 500K people in half a day. Ok, granted that is not too exciting but it is rather amazing even if you don’t like cats. Yes, the good news is that information travels quickly but the bad news is that information… travels quickly. A negative post can do more to affect a brand in hours then all the media you can buy combined.

You get my point, news travels fast. And, bad news travels twice as fast. 

The situation becomes more serious when you consider that, Fewer Consumers are Trying New Restaurants these days. Make your customer’s first experience a good one.

So how do you stay on top of a brand’s reputation while it is still in your control?

  1. Train the staff to read a table. You’d be surprised how often a customer’s body language is ignored.
  2. Table visits are essential from managers, owners and even the Chef. Asking for feedback goes a long way.
  3. Be your own worst critic. When was the last time you dined at your restaurant? I hope your standards are as high if not higher than your customers. You could also hire a mystery diner.
  4. The most important thing is to be open to criticism. View it as an opportunity to improve.
  5. Make sure to thank the customer for their feedback. Do the right thing and comp them for their time and input.

Is it hard to tell which face is happy and which one is not?

A couple older posts of mine touch on the need to Be Consistent, as well as the idea that Branding is a Team Sport. This requires the entire team working to make the best possible impression at all times. Every customer, every plate of food and every visit to a table can make or break the reputation of a restaurant’s brand. A restaurant brand could be just one positive post away from being booked solid for the rest of the year or as quiet as a ghost town due to a negative post. Like I said these are exciting times.

What are you doing to ensure customer satisfaction? Has your restaurant been effected by a negative comment or post?

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