What Nonverbal Message Is Your Restaurant Saying?

by Donald Burns4 Min Read

7. 38. 55. Those three numbers are critical to understand how we communicate with each other. Seven percent of how we communicate is the choice of the word or the work itself. Thirty-eight percent is the tone. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t care for your tone?” That’s exactly what they meant. The biggest shocker is the last number 55. Over half of how we communicate is through non-verbal language. It’s definitely a reinforcement of the classic saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Think about your restaurant for a second. What nonverbal communication is your restaurant telling your guests? Before we dig into why this is so important, we’ll need to dive into the world of cognitive biases.

Mental Shortcuts

We live in a world where millions of bits of information are coming at us every second. In order to process everything, we tend to create mental shortcuts. Now some shortcuts like cognitive maps which allow us to process information faster and then store the information for later. If you have ever opened a door before then you have such a map stored. If not, then every time you encountered a door you would have to go through the entire process of what is this thing in front of me and how do I open it?

Cognitive biases are your brains way of making shortcuts too, unfortunately not all help us out. Think of them more like bad wiring that most people are unaware of they have. The thing you need to know is that your guests have these biases that are having an impact on their experience in your business.

If It Looks Good, It Must Be Good and Vice Versa

Our brains have a funny way of helping us draw conclusions. In the cognitive world this is called confirmation bias. When tend to look for information that reinforces our beliefs.

Your guest drives up to your restaurant and the first thing they notice is part of your sign is burned out. Okay, maybe not a big deal. However, that one thing might grow bigger as we will soon see.

They walk in the door only to find the hostess looking down at her cell phone apparently texting or looking at Snapchat. It takes maybe 30 seconds for her to look up and recognize the guest. However, to the guest it seems like five minutes.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung made a very keen observation he called “perception is projection.” Essentially, it means if you think it’s true, it is true for you. This can have some serious impact on the guest experience from their point of view.

  • Dirty restroom must mean dirty kitchen.
  • Staff that won’t make eye contact or smile must mean their rude.
  • Food that is sloppy on the plate means it must taste bad.
  • Staff standing in the service station talking and not watching the floor must mean they do not care.

Most of these might not be true at all, however when it comes to perception of the guest it is true for them.

Setting Your Restaurant Up for Success

There are a lot of details that contribute to a great dining experience. The devil is in the details. Having checklist that can remind the team of each one of those critical customer points can help swing the pendulum of a good experience to that of a great one.

The first challenge is getting your team to buy in to “why” using the checklists are a great idea. A great analogy is one of the airplane pilot:

No matter how many years of experience a pilot has or how comfortable they are with a certain plane, they always follow their checklists before taking off and landing. If they don’t people can die.

Now you may think that restaurants are not life and death like flying a plane or are they? If you do not provide the guest experience that keeps them coming back, then your restaurant is dying. It’s dying a slow death as sales drop more and more.

Inspect What You Expect

People like to be recognized for doing a good job. It’s human nature. When you start getting your team to use the checklists, they will need some positive feedback that accomplishes two things:

  1. It shows them you are serious when you take time to audit the work they did.
  2. It allows you an opportunity to coach them on areas of improvement. Most people are not given specific insight into how to get better.

However, none of this work at all if you don’t take care one critical step in that is:

Raise Your Standards

The best way to ensure your success is to raise your standards in all areas.

The best way to ensure your success is to raise your standards in all areas. You have to expect more from yourself than you do from your team. Most restaurant owners and managers have that formula backwards. Remember the whole “perception is projection” rule? Well that holds true for your team as well about you. You talk to your team about being punctual, yet you’re always late. You talk to your team about integrity, yet you do not follow through on the things you say. You talk to your team about attention to detail, yet your office looks like a tornado hit.

It’s easy to preach standards from your soapbox. However, few if any will take you seriously if your actions are not in congruency with your words. Here is a new mantra you need to put on your office wall for yourself: less talk, more action.

When you work in the same restaurant day after day you tend to become comfortable. The problem with becoming comfortable is that we lose our drive. We take for granted the little things like rips in the furniture, broken bathroom fixtures, faded paint, cracks in the walls, trash in the flower pots out front. All of these are little nonverbal messages that you are sending to your guest.

The sad part is that most of these messages start communicating even before they have had a chance even try your food. That’s a lot like being in a football game where it’s fourth-quarter and you have no points on the board. Granted, there are teams that can come back from a huge deficit to win the game. Just remember it’s easier to stay ahead, than try to make up when you’re trailing behind.

Donald Burns

@donaldburns | LinkedIn | Website

Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™ is a leading authority, author, speaker and international coach on how restaurant owners and operators go from just good to becoming exceptional. He advises in the areas of menu development, design & engineering, restaurant operations, culinary consulting, culture, peak performance and team dynamics.

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