What Restaurant Customers Really Want (But Aren’t Telling You)

These simple, proven modifications can mean more business for your restaurant.
Outdoor Restaurant
Many restaurant-goers desire a more relaxed atmosphere when dining out. (Photo: Dominic Alves/Flickr)

Are there simple modifications that your customers are secretly wishing you would make? We talked to some restaurant customers and managers in New York, the empire of eating out, to find out what they’d like more of in their restaurants.

Smaller plate options

A lot of customers wish their favorite restaurants offered smaller portions.

“It’s good for the smaller people of the world,” explains Sarah Quigley, a Brooklyn resident who frequents restaurants in her area.

This especially applies to dessert. People often want a bite of sweetness after dinner, but they don’t necessarily want to make a second meal out of it. They often end up having to split a dessert with friends, which is less fun, since they have to compromise what they want and grab their portion before a quick-­eating friend wolfs it down.

“I rarely want a whole dessert,” says Quigley. “Miniature desserts … that would be pretty great. I would be willing to pay proportionately more for that.”

More relaxed experience

Customers don’t like feeling pressure to vacate their tables once they are done eating. The ideal, say some of the folks we spoke to, is a restaurant that offers great quality food with a coffee shop atmosphere.

“Customers like to be able to get high-­quality food but feel comfortable,” explains Jason Wahto, a former manager at a Brooklyn restaurant and bar.

Even if a coffee shop vibe isn’t right for your spot, your customers probably don’t want to feel like you’ll kick them out once they take their last bite.

Friendly repartee between servers and customers

Wahto’s restaurant had an open kitchen, so customers could watch their food being made and get to know the staff making it.

“They’d say things like ‘do what you did last time,’” says Wahto. As a result, staff and customers would get friendly and joke around. Customers grew excited to see their newfound friends at work.

“It’s cool to be able to interact with the people actually making your food,” Wahto adds.

Menus and prices on display

Some restaurants put menus in windows, so people walking down the street can see them. Customers like this; it lets them choose a place without going inside and asking to see a menu.

“I’m not going to go into a place unless I know what kind of food they’re serving and what their prices are like,” explains Quigley.

And woe to the restaurants that don’t let customers know how much they charge before making them order. “I hate any place that hides its prices,” says Quigley.

The freedom to leave

Often, customers are stuck waiting too long to pay for their meal. Especially in big places, it can be difficult to attract the attention of a server. Nobody likes being stuck. Server attentiveness goes a long way.

Tasting plates

When customers try out new restaurants (or even frequent old ones), they want to sample as much as possible, which makes tasting plates tempting.

“The meals that I enjoy the most are the ones where I get a little bit of lots of things,” says Quigley. “That’s why I like sushi and dim sum.”

Comfortable seating

It should be a given, but many restaurants get this one wrong. Invest in comfortable chairs; your customers will thank you for it.

BYOB

It’s tempting to make customers buy their alcohol at your place, but it dissuades many customers from coming in at all. They find alcohol in restaurants overpriced. Besides, customers like to be able to drink their favorite beer or wine.

“Lots of places don’t have good drink menus,” points out Quigley.

Obviously, if your restaurant does well with its drinks, you should probably keep doing what you’re doing. But if your drink orders aren’t much to speak of, consider going BYOB; you might attract a new crowd.

Shorter menus

As far as menus go, customers prefer quality over quantity. They’d rather a place make a few things really well than a whole bunch of things that are just OK.

Quigley, who is originally from Ireland, notices that American diners tend to make many things, none very well. By ordering off of shorter, more thoughtful menus, customers can be sure that they’ll eat something really good.

Besides, “Too much choice is usually overwhelming,” says Quigley.

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