Letting your customers talk: Techniques for using a survey in your restaurant.
In almost every situation, it is better to know what your customers are thinking then not. On the upside, most customers are more then willing to share their thoughts with you. The upset ones are probably more eager but the pleasantly surprised ones just need an easy method and a little motivation. This article is not meant to cover all the reasons why you need feedback. This article will explore one of the most powerful to use and easy to administer methods, surveys.

A survey is simply a list of questions, some open answer, some with assigned choices, which you want your customer to answer. If you have a specific reason to conduct a survey (for example to learn about the new section on your menu) the questions use specific questions. If you are trying to learn about something more broad, use more open ended questions (What is your favorite thing about our restaurant or what would you most like us to change).

Once you have your initial list of questions try giving it as a test run to your family, employees or a select group of customers. Review the answers you receive and make sure there was no misunderstandings or unclarity. Perhaps you want to ask for feedback about the survey on the survey itself. A common issue revolves around the length of the survey. In general the shorter the better (in the customers mind) but make sure that you get the information you want. Customers, in general, will devote larger amounts of time to a task if they are rewarded for it in some way. This brings us to our next topic, getting customers to fill out a survey.

As stated prior, many customers want to communicate with you. With these people, getting them to fill out a survey is as easy as making it easily accessible. Putting it in easy to see/reach place in the front, including it with the menu or check and having it easy to find on your website are good places to start. Certain customers, specifically the ones that had a mediocor time, do not have much modivation to fill provide feedback but can provide invalvualable information on how to improve your business. To get these people communicating a reward is often used. Giving out prizes in some manner (coupons, free meals etc.) is the most common method. There is an article - available here - that goes into specifics.

The last important skill you need to know is how to analyze and use your results properly. If the results you receive are numbers, looking at graphs to see percentages is pretty straights forward. Using a program that automatically collects and calculates these answers makes life much easier. If the answers to some questions are text it is important to read each answer carefully. In general it is best to have multiple people read each answer to get different views on the reply and to prevent any conflict of interests. For example, if a bad comment is directed at the person reviewing the comments, the issue may not get resolved properly.

When gathering information, please pay attention to the good feedback as much as the bad. Running a great restaurant is not having no bad things happen, it is having good things happen. Pay special attention to things that go wrong and then get handled properly. It has to be expected that mistakes will happen, when improving your restaurant, you must improve the techniques you use to handle the unexpected.