The Bottom Line
The Importance of a Phone Number
In a recent performance, a comedian referred to phones as something along the lines of “the app that I can’t delete and hate when people use it on me.” And while many of us prefer texts to voicemails, and speaking to a fellow human being is just downright scary for an overwhelming percentage of the population, a phone number is nevertheless a critical driver of business.
And you wouldn’t believe the number of restaurants that are foregoing phone numbers.
Yes, a growing number of restaurants are doing without phone numbers, or at least ones that allow customers to connect with a member of the staff. Sure, not every restaurant wants to accept reservations over the phone; it interferes with their OpenTable or other reservation software. Answering general questions can be cumbersome, especially for a short-staffed spot struggling to meet minimum wage requirements. But to eliminate the option of an incoming call entirely? That’s a whole different story.
I was asked to interview management at a list of restaurants as part of a consulting project recently, and little did I know that the biggest challenge would be hearing their voices on the phone. A disproportionate number of calls landed me at an automated response tree like the one outlined above. In one case, I reached an option where I could leave a voicemail for management [there was no option whatsoever to speak with a live person]. After leaving a message for an interview request, I got a voicemail of my own from the manager, who said her restaurant didn’t have an incoming call phone number and she had no way of speaking with me on a business line. Interesting would be a polite way to put it.
How Would You Feel as the Customer?
Put yourself in the position of the customer. Take it a step further and say you’re not a prospective restaurant customer, but rather you have a question for your cable provider. The dreaded call where a robot answers and gives you nine options to choose from. You proceed to be served nine more sub-categories for your problem, and the process continues until you receive an automated response saying your provider can’t accommodate your request at this time. You hang up in fury and project lucid statements that shouldn’t enter the public sphere.
Now imagine that reaction from potential customers to your restaurant. Imagine what they will tell their friends who ask about your restaurant after that kind of experience. It gets ugly, fast.
Many Phone Calls Are Positive
Some of the common gripes that restaurants—or any business, for that matter—may have against phone calls are the time and resources they require, the fact that many inquiries can in fact be answered by a machine or on the website, and the inevitable spammers and salespeople. These concerns are well-founded, but are they enough to negate the risks of not having a phone number?
The example above, noting high potential to turn off potential customers, is one case. Even if their question could be answered online, sometimes it’s a human touch that makes all the difference. But what about calls from potential suppliers and partners? Some may email you, but others may be working the phones. You never know…you could be passing up a deal that will go straight to your bottom line.
Then, of course, there’s the idea of a journalist calling you for free press, or even a TV producer looking to scout your restaurant for their show. Again, some will email you, but others who have the phone in their hands will keep that phone in their hands, and just move onto the next place if you don’t give them the option to communicate on their terms.
Would You Go Without a Personal Phone Number?
Would not having a personal phone number be liberating or nerve-racking? Surely the former at times, but the latter in the long term. Yes, you would be able to get by if you inform your peers on social media, email and other channels that you’re inaccessible via phone, but there’s not much you can do for the unknown [legitimate] individuals who want to contact you for good reason.
Now apply this mindset to your business. Not having a phone number may sound blasphemous to many of us, but for the few looking to buck the trend, consider the larger implications before making that plunge.