Restaurant Doctor Hospitality Resources

Why Guests Don't Come Back
... and What You Can Do About It

Restaurant Basics RevisitedTrade paperback, 400 pages, 6"x9"
Copyright 2014
Published by Hospitality Masters Press

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Updated for a new century, Restaurant Basics is the only book on customer service written entirely from the guest's point of view (the only perspective that really counts!) It is a summary of about 1100 pet peeves -- little lapses in service that, while minor in themselves, add up to cause your guests to become disenchanted and take their business elsewhere. In today's competitive marketplace, unless you consistently have more business than you can handle, you can't afford to let anyone get away!

Details, details, details ... "monumentally magnificent trivialities" as famed hotelier James Nassikas calls them, on which the success of your business hinges. Is there a spot on the table cloth? Is it to dark to read the menu? Is there confusion over which guest ordered which dish?

Is the butter so hard it tears the bread? Are hot dishes lukewarm by the time they reach the table? Minor inconveniences such as these can ruin a guest's evening -- and your business.

Restaurant Basics is the ultimate handbook for the restaurateur who believes in attending to the seemingly trivial details that can loom large in the minds of dissatisfied diners. It asks you to take a look at your restaurant from your guest's point of view, from the most obvious outward appearances through every step of the dining experience. And while Bill Marvin writes with a very light and witty touch, he can be at least as picky as your most demanding patron.

Unlike picky guests, though, Restaurant Basics offers common sense solutions that will help you avoid disaster and keep your customers coming back again and again. As the author reminds us, satisfied customers tip better and are friendlier and the word-of-mouth advertising they provide, free of charge, can guarantee the success of your business.

Restaurant Basics is important reading for owners, managers, trainers and staff members. The material is sensibly organized so that every member of your team can easily identify which are the items most relevant to what they do.

Here is what some industry professionals are saying about Restaurant Basics:

"I LOVE IT!! Restaurant Basics is crammed full of the detail that is part of the everyday responsibility of every restaurateur. It's must reading for seasoned operators as well as beginners in this era of customer focus/service excellence. It's real food for thought."
-- Michael E. Hurst, Owner, 15th Street Fisheries, Fort Lauderdale, FL

"It covers the world of restaurateuring from the customer's point of view. I liked that."
-- Don Smith ("The Coach"), Professor, Hilton School of Hospitality Management, Houston, Texas

"Marvin's book is fun, easy to read and extremely well-focused. I have used his list to establish definitive front-of-the-house operating guidelines for clients. It has significantly improved awareness of guest needs by managers and table servers alike."
-- Bill Main, Co-Owner, The Shore Bird, Princeton-by-the-Sea, CA

"How customers interact with the restaurant is absolutely vital ... TO THE CUSTOMER. We can have the greatest systems in the world and fail if we forget the key points in this book."
-- Stephen G. Miller, President, Miller Resource Group, Grafton, MA

"In our times of increased mechanization of the service industry, Bill Marvin's book comes as a breath of fresh air. To him service still means human attention. And guest gratification translates not only into gaining prestige but increasing bottom-line profits as well."
-- Kenneth R. Burley, Foodservice Consultant, Maryville, TN

Why Guests Don't Come Back and What You Can Do About It


Some observations by James Nassikas, founder of San Francisco's legendary Stanford Court Hotel and originator of the idea of monumental trivialities.

Introductory Ideas
How did this book get started and how is it organized? Is this the end of a project . . . or just the beginning?

1. Momentous Minutia
Why don't guests come back and what can you do about it? What does your point total have to do with your success?

2. Outside Oversights
How can your outward appearance present a stronger image than your advertising? What causes guests to draw conclusions about your restaurant before they ever enter the building? Why are you always the last one to know?

3. Annoying Impressions
How can you drive your guests away before they even arrive? What makes people decide they will have a good time or a bad time in your restaurant before they get to the table? How does your seating style set the mood for the evening?

4. Table Transgressions
What are the silent messages waiting at the table? How can your bussers play a major role in determining if your guests will be ecstatic or enraged?

5. Environmental Apathy
What is the environment in your restaurant and what can you do to save it? What are the sights, sounds, smells and feels that set the stage for the dining experience?

6. Menu Missteps
How effective is your menu as a merchandising tool? Does it make your guests want to buy . . . or want to leave? How could your wine list make your guests want to stay with ice water?

7. Service Stumbles
How can your service staff kill you? Let me count the ways! What really determines the quality of guest service and what can you do about it?

8. Attitude Errors
How can the demeanor and bearing of your staff make or break the evening for your guests? What can you do to affect the professional attitudes of your staff? How can you help all your crew to become expert in creating delighted guests?

9. Vacant Verbiage
How can loose lips sink your ship? What are the "dirty words" to avoid? How can you change your reputation by changing your choice of words?

10. Culinary Catastrophes
What are the cooks' responsibilities in creating guest gratification? What details are you missing that could be building business for your competition?

11. Beverage Blunders
How can you increase your luck with liquids? How can your choice of glassware start people talking . . . or start people walking? What are the fine points of beverage success?

12. Cleaning Calamities
Is cleanliness next to godliness . . . or next to impossible? What are the details that can ruin your reputation? What well-intentioned cleaning activities actually alienate your guests?

13. Restroom Repulsion
What conclusions do your guests draw about your restaurant from one trip to your restrooms? How can your restrooms be a profit center and give you a marketing advantage?

14. Family Fiascos
What determines if you will be a family favorite or a family failure? How do the dining motives of adults differ from those of their children? How can you eliminate most of the problems you have with youngsters in your restaurant?

15. Disabled Disasters
What are the particular needs of disabled diners? What instinctive acts can alienate blind or deaf guests? How can you become the restaurant of choice for the handicapped?

16. Teenage Turnoffs
How can you become a magnet for teens and their tender? What can you do to better serve the market of the future?

17. Elderly Irritations
How can you make points when your market is older and wiser than you are? How can you capture a larger share of this rapidly growing market?

18. Management Mistakes
Could it be true that you are your own worst enemy? How many of your guest satisfaction problems have you created yourself and which policies are at fault?

Closing Comments
How can you use this book to improve your service, reduce your workload and enhance your profitability?

Helpful Homework
What books and tapes does The Doctor prescribe to help you improve your guest gratification scores?


Eight years ago I was doing a consulting project for a hotel in California. The property's Food & Beverage Director shared a little card with me. It was a wallet-sized list of 25 details the hotel had learned were important to their guests. All their managers carried one as a reminder to take care of the little things. I added the card to my library and didn't think much more about it at the time.

Five years later, on a visit to Cape Cod, I went out for dinner with my father. The restaurant was one of his favorites, but it was not having a good night. As the evening got worse, we started discussing what was happening and why. We noticed the details the restaurant staff were missing and the opportunities to salvage the evening that were being lost. The staff was trying hard, perhaps too hard. They just didn't realize how they were alienating their guests. As the evening unfolded, we agreed that if the restaurant had handled the small points better, the entire experience would have been much different. "You should write a book about this," my father said. "Someday I might," said I and went on to other projects. By the way, he never went back to that restaurant!

While assembling material for a seminar last year, I thought of the little card I had received from the hotel. I added a few thoughts and used it in my program. I received an enthusiastic response from this list of 75 points, the sheer length of which looked staggering to me at the time! Later I thought more about it and added another 75 points to the list. When I got to 200, I was certain I must have covered nearly all the potential problems! As the list continued to grow, I found I had a tiger by the tail. Having become more sensitive to what some might consider minutia, I started to notice nuances I had overlooked before. The list turned into a project.

As I talked about what I was doing, people both inside and outside the industry added more observations. Everybody, it seems, had a few pet peeves about restaurants. It also became obvious there were many more reasons why people don't go back to restaurants than reasons why they do! As the list nears 1000 entries, it has become the book we joked about at dinner three years ago.

This book is about common, ordinary, simple-minded things that can trip up even the best operation. We are not talking about rocket science. This is not about the complexities of food chemistry or the nuances of French Burgundies. Hopefully, most of the items in the book are details you already have under control. With luck, there will be a few you haven't thought about that will give you a way to be even better at what you do.

For ease of reference, I have divided the material into chapters by general subject matter. This allows the kitchen staff, for example, to identify items of interest to them without wading through 150 points that mainly concern the service staff. Because restaurant positions are so interdependent, there was often not a clear choice about where a particular point belonged. For this reason, I chose to mention some points in more than one place. I don't want anyone to miss an important detail because they looked in the wrong chapter!

While the emphasis of this material may be toward full service restaurants, there are specific suggestions for cafeterias, fast feeders, caterers and most other types of foodservice operators. Conscientious restaurateurs committed to delighting their guests can extract numerous insights and opportunities from this material, regardless of its focus.

My problem has been in being able to stop adding to the list. For as much as it contains, it is still incomplete. I'm sure you will notice points that I missed. When you do, I encourage you to jot them down and send them along. Why share some of your best secrets? First, your direct competitors already know what you are doing. Most important, it is in our collective interest to make dining out a universally positive experience. Inept operators only educate the public to stay home. The better the dining experience is, the more people will dine out. The more firmly ingrained the dining out habit becomes in the public, the more we all will all benefit.

I hope this book helps you better understand the process of guest gratification in restaurants. Regrettably, I must also warn you that the list is incomplete. I suspect the minutia that affects human beings is endless, but the quest is rewarding. While you are busy solving the problems in this book, I will be getting the next list ready for you!


(from "Outside Oversights")
Inadequate or inconvenient parking

How often are you in your parking lot in the midst of the rush? Do you really know if your guests have trouble finding a place to park? If your guests can't park easily, eventually they won't try to park at all. After business hours, is there available parking space in the lots of nearby businesses? If so, make a deal with them to use the space. Don't just commandeer it! Often a trade for meals is enough of a gesture to maintain good neighborhood relations.

If your parking lot is a long way from the restaurant entrance, you also have a problem, particularly in cold climates. Inconvenient parking can discourage business and cause your guests to get in the habit of going elsewhere. To make it as easy as possible for your guests, you may want to consider valet parking. Let the valet run down the block. Don't ask your guests to do it. Consider making the valet service complimentary. After all, you don't make a cent unless guests come in to dine in the first place!

(from "Annoying Impressions")
Wrong or unclear directions

Develop concise descriptions of how to get to the restaurant. Work up a set for all major directions of approach and test them. Post them by the phone and coach all your staff in delivering the instructions cheerfully. An interesting exercise is to sit (silently) in the car while an out-of-town friend drives you to your restaurant. Make sure they have no other directions besides what your staff told them on the telephone.

(from "Tabletop Transgressions")
Table tops too small for the service
Just because a table has four sides doesn't mean it can seat four people. Determining the proper table top size takes some planning. There must be room for the place settings, of course. Is there room for the guests to rest their arms? What else are you going to place on the table during the meal and where is it going to go? You need space for shared appetizers, wine bottles, side dishes, etc. Pizzerias tables must be large enough for the pizza pan. Cafeterias need to allow for trays. The additional money you may make by trying to pick up a few extra seats with small tabletops is not worth the points you will lose by crowding your guests.

(from "Environmental Apathy")
Murky or smelly water in the bud vase

Fresh flowers in a vase on the table are a real delight in many restaurants. However, if the same flower sits in the same water for a few days, it starts to smell like low tide in Boston Harbor! If you use fresh flowers, make changing the water part of your nightly sidework and you'll be fine.

(from "Menu Missteps")
Recitation of daily specials that goes on...and on...and on...and on
Limit verbal presentations of daily specials to two or three items. Your guests can't remember any more information anyway. Presenting more choices wastes the sales person's time and makes the diner impatient. I recommend a mini menu explaining the day's specials that you can leave on the table after you give the verbal presentation. This way your guests won't have to feel uncomfortable because they can't remember what you said.

(from "Service Stumbles")
Not providing service in the order of arrival

People become territorial. They expect that if they arrived first, they should be served before parties arriving or seated after them. It is not an unreasonable expectation. Your greeter can help smooth out potential point loss by rotating parties between stations. This assures that a server does not get two or three new parties simultaneously. If that is not possible, work out a means of communication so the service staff is clear on which parties arrived first.

Refilling water or coffee after each sip
This annoyance happens when you have only told bussers to keep the water or coffee full. If they are eager to please, they will do just what you told them and do it aggressively. They must have a sense of what makes a good dining experience for your guests and know how their job fits into it.

(from "Attitude Errors")
Speaking a foreign language in front of the guest

Guests find this behavior insulting, no matter what the actual content of the conversation. If your staff talks in another language, train them never to look at the guests while they are having a conversation. To do so will make their conversation appear to be about your diners. You do not want to offend your guests this way.

(from "Vacant Verbiage")
"How was everything?"

This question usually comes after the meal as the guests are leaving. If you ask "how was everything,"the answer is invariably "Fine." If your reason for asking is to get a truthful answer, change the wording. Try asking if everything was done the way they liked it. Try asking them how you did. Better yet, ask how you could do a better job for them next time. You'll be amazed at the suggestions you will receive. Remember that nobody will say a word if they don't think you really want to hear what they have to say.