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Restaurant Comment Card – A Bad Idea. Let Us Explain Why

A recent article in Upserve Restaurant Insider advocates the use of a paper-based restaurant comment card as a vital source of feedback for the restaurant owner. This is very bad advice and something we need to explain why.

The full article is here. In fairness to it, the author and publication – there is good intent. The main point is that it is a good idea for any business, including those in hospitality to understand the satisfaction levels of customers. For this reason, comment cards are a tool and part of a toolkit to understand how the business is performing. Nonetheless, the advice is just bad and to clarify. We will unpack why and dispute the claim that:

Comment cards are not dead. – Correct – but they should be. There are at least a dozen reasons why any restaurant should STOP the comment card.

The article shares four tips. Specifically, they say that they agreed on four best practices for a customer-friendly (and data-rich) restaurant comment card.

Let us look at each and do a little correction:

ONE: Lead with a thank you:

We agree. Politeness and courtesy will always get a higher response rate.

TWO: Ask for but don’t demand customer details

We agree. In fact, our data shows that response rates will decrease by over 20% if a single request for personal data is asked. The bigger question here though is, why ask for any personal information? What advantage is there for the customer to give the restaurant their name and email? Only 5% of businesses actually do anything with feedback data, so why bother? Moreover, the likelihood is that the customer is simply going to be spammed or the business won’t respond. Either way, the business will suffer from this lack of action.

We think a much better approach is to lead with survey questions that are convenient for the customer to answer that deliver insight and create action. Do this first, and only then, and if necessary, ask for any personal information.

THREE: Keep it Simple

We agree. The issue here is not to prescribe 8-10 questions, rather use 1 to 2 minutes survey time as a guideline. With this in mind, we know from our own data that drop off rate increases by 30% when the survey goes over this time.

The critical issue missing here is ‘What to Ask?”. Any survey worth anything needs to work backward from

  1. Confirming what is the purpose of obtaining survey data
  2. What is not known that would be valuable to the restaurant

FOUR: Don’t Forget About Open-Ended Questions

We disagree. The quite from the article is:

5-point and Yes/No rating systems are fast and easy ways to gather data on things like ambiance, food quality, and menu variety, but the truth is the juiciest—and most actionable—insights come from open-ended questions. NO NO NO.

While they may have value in adding colorful commentary to a survey, they possess many issues:

  1. The interpretation is subjective. What does: “The service was terrible” mean? In this case, it could imply speed or courtesy or queueing.
  2. This means that they cannot be a springboard to action – as the analysis is so vague.
  3. Even one open-ended causes a higher drop off rate. In fact, our own data suggests a 10% drop off rate for their inclusion. The reason is that they are harder to answer than choice or numeric scales where the answers are all already delivered.
  4. The more open-ended questions you have the fewer responses you will get – our data suggests only one open-ended should ever be used

Restaurant Comment Card – What is Missing from the Article

Understanding What to Ask

To understand what to ask, the restaurant owner must know what are the issues. It is important to realize that in the restaurant business, customer defection is well into double digits. So it is important to understand the severity of the defection rate. One way to help is through a customer defection calculator. We have one of these for free on our web site that uses Excel to determine the impact of customer defection on the restaurant business. When the defection rate is known then customer feedback should establish or confirm the principle reason for this defection. The Restaurant Times claims:

Restaurant Customer Attrition: 7 Causes Of High Customer Churn Rate

The causes are shown in the article here.

Understanding How to Ask

Paper-based comment cards should not be used – ever. Stop the Comment Card – Please! Click the link for the dozen reason why the restaurant needs to use something more effective. By this we mean:

  • Easy to give feedback – use the mobile phone
  • Convenient to give feedback – use SMS, Phone Call or the Web to give feedback
  • Even Smiley Faced feedback – that everyone can use
  • Simple to give feedback – in English or Spanish
  • Immediate staff alerts notify the right front of house, or back of house, of an issue, even who the customer is. This allows immediate correction
  • Tracking of those alerts until completion to provide ‘closed loop feedback’

Restaurant Comment Card – A Digital Alternative

For a full list of features and benefits of a more effective way to get feedback, check out the feature list here.