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By Alex Fainblum
“Can I have the burger with no tomatoes, extra mayo, lactose-free cheese, and sub the bacon for avocado? And make sure it doesn’t come in contact with any peanuts!”
If you’ve heard this before, you’ve met the picky customer. Or the many customers with allergies and intolerances.
Your staff’s ultimate nemesis – the picky customer – may not be the easiest to handle, but we’ve got some tips that can help you turn a picky customer into a loyal customer.
Here are five ways to win the battle against the picky patron.
For those in the hospitality industry, serving customers with food allergies can sometimes be a stressful situation. With varying degrees of food intolerance, allergies, and in some cases the very real risk of anaphylactic shock, restaurateurs can sometimes feel like they have their customer’s life in their hands.
Allergies are becoming much more common and diverse, so be sure to label any common allergens that can be found in each dish under the item’s name in your menu. But don’t wait for your customers to scan the whole menu – ask your servers to identify the dishes that may cause an allergic reaction.
Here are some tips for giving your guests with allergies the best experience:
Conversation with your guests is always important (duh!). But when a customer has food allergies, clear and concise communication can make all the difference.
This starts with your servers. Ensure your staff are trained on dealing with allergies and are aware of all the ingredients in each dish you serve. Having your staff indicate an allergy through your point of sale is a great way to clearly alert the kitchen staff of the condition, make sure everyone is on the same page, and streamline your restaurant’s communication.
Some places take communication to the next level – providing a positive, lasting impact with guests. When a manager comes to the table to confirm the allergy, it’s always appreciated. When they bring a list of alternative dishes with a smile, it encourages guests to come back.
For a person with a food allergy, the worst thing that can happen (other than needing your date to stab you with an EpiPen mid-dinner) is feeling like you can’t eat anything at the “it” spot in town.
When creating your menu, make sure it’s transparent. Clearly indicate which items have ingredients that might bring on an allergic reaction to one of your patrons. Consider adding ingredient information to your online menu, so potential customers can do their research and ensure that they will be able to order something that meets their dietary restrictions.
And if you need one more reason to provide ingredient info to your customers upfront: paramedics rushing through your front door is definitely not good for your bottom line.
Your food is amazing. The vision is great, the ingredients are fresh, and the flavors are bold.
When providing alternative options to your customers don’t sacrifice the quality of your menu that you’ve worked hard to create. Bring those same skills out to play.
Create a few options without nuts, gluten, seafood and other common allergens. If they’re not on your menu, keep them in your back pocket and bring them out with passion the next time a patron discloses a food allergy.
You’ve worked hard to create your menu, and your staff take pride in knowing the ins and outs of each item. But as a restaurateur, your primary responsibility is to the customer – so if you’re noticing more modification requests in your POS reports, it may be time to consider switching up your menu to more readily accommodate your guests.
Stay one step ahead of the picky patron and make it easier for them to pick and choose. They can’t shred your menu to pieces if you already have! Create a “Make Your Own Burger” section on your menu, offer a variety of add-ons for salads, or even let your patrons build their own cocktail.
If you can’t beat them, join them. Open the eyes, ears, and stomachs of the pickiest patrons with the chef’s table experience.
When your customers understand why you choose certain ingredients over others they will be more likely to understand how each ingredient works together to create the final meal.
But before you start, ask your diners about their dietary restrictions and apply them to the food you’re preparing. Show them how to enjoy your restaurant’s most popular dishes, within the limitations of their strict diets.
The educational experience of the chef’s table will help you impress even the pickiest of patrons.
Does your restaurant offer specialty items for patrons who are lactose intolerant? Do you offer vegetarian and vegan options as well? Use icons on your menu to help them stand out.
Add a leaf emoji to your restaurant’s zucchini pasta, herb salad, and chocolate-vegan ice cream. Attach a dairy-free sign next to the items your lactose-intolerant customers will love, or a gluten-free sticker on your buckwheat noodle salad.
These symbols will make it easier for your customers to quickly identify the food they can eat. The faster they’re able to order their food, the faster you get a new happy (and sure to return) customer.
You may have impressed your picky customers with your food, but don’t underestimate their pickiness. Sometimes picky behaviour goes beyond just food.
A server’s worst nightmare – having to split the bill in a million and one ways. Keeping track of who ordered what can be a very tedious process, especially if your records are written on a small notepad. So why not ditch the paper and bring on a POS that can help you easily split bills between patrons?!
Win all your battles by clarifying your ingredients, educating your customers, and perfecting the split bill – your sanity will thank you!
Alex is a Marketing Coordinator at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant dining experiences. She’s a lover of all things chocolate covered but her true passion lies in late-night eating.
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