Like many people with Celiac Disease and food allergies, I have trust issues with restaurants. Sometimes I go to a restaurant that gets absolutely everything right and amazes me with their knowledge and service. Other times, I’m appalled by a restaurant’s ignorance and unwillingness to go out of their way for a paying customer. I’ve written about steps, which restaurants can take to make their gluten-free or allergic patrons feel safe. Celiac and the Beast also had some great input yesterday, after having an awful experience at a restaurant.
Aside from having a gluten-free menu and having policies and procedures in place to ensure a safe meal, the service is what takes a restaurant to the next level.
The difference between an average restaurant and a great restaurant is customer service.
To me, good customer service is when the company or restaurants is able to figure out what the customer wants or needs and offer it before the customer asks. This doesn’t mean the company never makes mistakes; it simply means they acknowledge them, apologize for them and promptly figure out how to remedy it. It’s always validating to get what we want AFTER we ask for it, but we feel understood and valued when someone already knows what we want and gives it to us before we even ask.
How does can this type of service be implemented in a restaurant for food allergies or Celiac Disease?
- When seating a patron, ask right away if anyone in their party has any food allergies or if they need a gluten-free menu. I understand the legal reasons for putting a statement on the menu to notify your server if anyone has food allergies and am not suggesting that be eliminated; but when the server or host asks about dietary restrictions up front, it makes the customer feel more comfortable. This will demonstrate the restaurant is aware of food allergies and Celiac Disease.
- When the response is “yes,” tell them how you’ll handle it. People with food allergies or Celiac Disease, don’t want to be perceived as picky, annoying or burdensome. Once you find out what their food allergy is, explain how you’ll ensure their meal is safe and ask if they have any further requests.
- Ask for their feedback at the end rather than waiting for their potential complaint. If there was a mistake, offer some sort of concession before they have to ask. Although you obviously want to be careful not to make mistakes, how you handle it determines whether or not you have a repeat customer, and whether or not they’ll feel comfortable trying your restaurant again.
When it comes to food allergies and Celiac Disease, all I want is for a restaurant to be knowledgeable and honest. If this means they KNOW they’re unable to provide a safe meal for me, so be it. But a restaurant needs to be up front about this so they’re not putting their customers’ lives at risk.
Anything I missed? Have you had any great (or awful) customer service experiences at restaurants?