You can’t afford to not make a great first impression. There are too many other options for your guests in today’s marketplace. And with fewer dining out experiences per week, the amount of chances you have is also down. 

Here are five points of contact I find often get ignored in independent restaurants. If you ignore these five points of contact, you reduce your opportunity to build your business. You actually drive business away. 

Increase your chances of winning and keeping business. 

1. First contact: Make it count. Your guests encounter you the first time in many ways and all must be stellar. Whether it’s print advertising, your social media, people driving by or how your staff answers the phone, it all counts. You have one chance to make a first impression; there are no second chances.

2. Facilities: A little spit and polish can only help. When people walk up to your front door, is there trash? It doesn’t matter if you share a strip mall with 20 other tenants who never pick up trash. If it’s in front of your door or around it, pick it up. Make your employees aware and make sure they’re cleaning it up when they see it. Do you let your employees smoke out front and leave their cigarette butts? Are your windows clean? Once your guests get into the dining room, what will their impression be? Are the tables clean, the chairs free of crumbs, condiments clean and organized on the tables? Are your tables balanced? Make sure your team is keeping it all clean. 

3. Greeting: At my semi-annual workshop, I teach restaurant owners about my GUEST philosophy. The G stands for greet and it must be done within 30 seconds. Make it a rule that someone is near the door at all times. Never fall down on this job because a guest should never have to approach you. And train your employees to all be aware of it. If they’re not sure if someone has been greeted and helped, they should ask. Even if we THINK someone has been helped, don’t ASSUME. You know what they say about what happens when you assume? It makes an ASS out of U and ME. 

4. Bussers: Try to be seen and not heard. And this doesn’t just apply to official bussers. It applies to anyone who busses a table, from a server walking by to managers. My mom taught me this rule: No one comes in or out of the kitchen empty handed. If you see dishes on a table, pick them up, and do so without disturbing guests. How do you train your servers to see it as their duty? Yes, this guest isn’t in your section today, but they may be in your section tomorrow. But they won’t come back to be in anyone’s section if they don’t have a great experience. 

5. Servers: Your servers spend the most amount of time with your guests. You must train them to think like a salesperson, not an order taker. In so many restaurants I see human vending machines. Train them to change their attitude. It’s not about upselling and increasing ticket averages, but improving the guest’s experience. If the server thinks the experience will be better if the guest has a premium vodka, then the server has the attitude necessary to make the suggestion. It’s not pushy. It’s about improving the guest’s experience. They need to guide the guest, show off what they know, be the expert, talk about what they like. To do this, your servers must be trained in everything menu related. They have to know ingredients, allergens, portions, prices, extras that are available, etc. Servers need to use the right words, such as “featured item” and “special.” The right words will influence the purchase. 

One side note related to a clean dining room: have clean and fresh menus. It must be reflective of your business, just like your entrance, your advertising and your phone greeting. Your menu is your sales tool; treat it like one. 

You have few opportunities to keep business, but many to lose business. Every point of contact counts.