The importance of a good first impression

According to the famous quote by author Andrew Grant, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and according to a new report, this has never been truer.

Hospitality Guest Experience Management (HGEM) has found that 83 per cent of customers believe the welcome they receive in a restaurant to be one of the most important factors of the whole dining experience.

Managing director of HGEM Steven Pike believes that treating each guest as an individual and also making customers feel welcome is pivotal to a restaurant: “This varies by restaurant, and I would say that reading each guest individually is more important than having a set step-by-step process.

“It’s important to engage with each guest and use positive body language. Making them feel welcome is the most important part.”

According to the report, the top five restaurant grievances are: disappointing food, having to ask for service, taking too long to bring drinks or food, an unclean table and being ignored on arrival.

Olive Tree Brasserie in Preston is ranked eighth best in Preston, according to TripAdvisor. General manager Tee Hogo also believes in the importance of welcoming customers upon arrival into a restaurant.

He said: “The first thought is making them feel like we want them to be in the building, which is why we welcome them in when they come in.

“Bit of general chit chat with them, finding out what they’ve been up to before they came to the restaurant, if they’ve been before and introducing yourself by name as well,” he added.

The report found that when asked about what made them feel most unwelcome in a restaurant, twenty-four per cent of people over the age of 56 said an “impersonal or generic greeting” was least welcoming. 21 per cent of 36-55 year-olds said the same. 32 per cent of millennial guests found “not being greeted promptly” the thing that made them feel least welcome.

Tee agrees that a positive welcome can be important: “I think if someone walks through the door and you don’t acknowledge them and they just go and sit down, from there on the experience is bad for them.

“But if someone comes through the door, they sit down, you welcome them in and you make a mistake along the way it’s easier to cover up for, because you’ve already built that initial relationship with them and then they trust you. If you make any mistakes after that it’s easily resolved.”

HGEM’s report also found that a customer leaving a restaurant because they were not happy with the welcome was not uncommon.

The report found that baby boomers were the most accepting, with 32per cent saying that a bad welcome would not put them off returning. However, only 21 per cent of all other age ranges were of this mind-set.

Training is also tremendously important according to Tee. He continued: “I think it is really important, and I don’t think waiting, waitressing or bar-tending is for everyone. We’ve had staff that we’ve taken on, gone through training and it still doesn’t go in. I think you really need to be a people person and a bubbly person. Training is very important and it makes your staff feel at ease.”

“Product knowledge makes everyone feel comfortable, doesn’t it? If you don’t know what you’re selling then it’s always difficult to then approach a customer.

“The most important characteristics is for you yourself to be bubbly, to be open with people as well and be able to create a conversation, rather than waiting for a customer to make a conversation with you,” he added.

Tee also believes it is important to frequently table-check customers in his restaurant: “Between every dish we try and check the table to see how happy they are with their food. If there are any complaints, it is easily dealt with at that point.

First impressions were also a key part in the results of the report, with 48 per cent of those aged over 66 saying that cleanliness was the most important factor. For the other age groups, the staff has the strongest effect, with forty-four per cent of those under 66 picking this option.

personlised-welcome-piece-photo-1

18-25 year olds are most influenced by the décor – thirty-one per cent of them said that this had the biggest impact, whilst only 18 per cent of those over 26 said the same.

The report also looked into which brand made customers feel most welcome, with respondents finding that Prezzo was the best in this regard, receiving thirteen per cent of all responses. Prezzo pipped Wagamama by just one per cent in this category.

Respondents also answered what they would consider to be most essential for making them feel welcome. ‘Staff going out of their way to help (such as by holding the door or helping with buggies)’ was the most important for 33 per cent of respondents, whilst 31 per cent answered that ‘additional conversation beyond the greeting’ was the most important.

Although the welcome is key for Tee, he believes that the success of a restaurant is mostly down to all round customer service: “It’s the main thing, because it does give you a lot of feedback from the customer whilst they’re eating their meal.

“If they’re not happy with something, they tell you straight away and there you’ve got a chance to resolve the issue from there on.

So when you’re welcoming customers into your restaurant, remember one thing: the welcome they receive is paramount. You never get a second chance to make a good impression.

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