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Have you recently dined out at a full service restaurant and given a survey code to go online and give your feedback? Restaurant chains such as Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, to name a few, ask you to complete a survey for a free bloomin’ onion (Outback) a free order of 6 wings (Buffalo Wild Wings) or a chance to win $1000.00 (Chili’s). What are these restaurants doing with this information? What if you have a legitimate complaint? Is the survey a form of double check to ensure their customers do not “fall through the cracks”? My family and I recently visited Chili’s and Outback, and completed their survey. In both instances, we received inferior food quality and service. In both instances, staple items at these 2 chains had become victim to the 3 known restaurant sins; reduced quality, reduced portions and increased prices. To be fair, the service was better at Outback, but the service at Chili’s was non-existent. In both instances, the restaurants were not busy. In both instances, the server was made aware of the problem. In both instances, no manager came to the table or was anywhere in site. In completing this survey, was my voice to finally be heard? Apparently not… in both instances, no one from either restaurant contacted me regarding my visit to their establishment or my feedback that was given. Outback did give me a code for me to write down and use on my next visit for a free Bloomin’ Onion. Chili’s gave me a chance to win a $1000.00… still waiting for that one.

So what does happen with this information that the restaurants receive? I do believe that some restaurant companies use this information. For example, in the survey completed for Outback, I raved about their sister company, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, who seems to always do everything right. From the moment you walk in the door until the time you leave, they are usually very predictable in giving you good to excellent service, good to excellent food and a good value for your money. I posed the question to Outback, how is it that Carrabba’s can have a better steak than you do and they are an Italian restaurant, not a “steakhouse”? Since my survey was submitted, Outback has added a “wood-fire grill option” (just like Carrabba’s) as well as their “classic” version of their steak. I do not think that my one survey or suggestion changed their minds, however, I think that many other consumers feel like I do; they are tired of getting poor value for their money and they are speaking up about it by not returning to these establishments. Maybe this is an indication as to why Outback Steakhouse has decreased guests counts for the last several years, while its sister company is doing much better. Here is Chili’s 10K filing quote as how they see their business, “The Global Economic Crisis continued to adversely impact our business and financial results in 2011.” How is the global economy to blame for a bad product, bad service and no follow up?

The moral of the story is, when running a restaurant, be consistent. Offer exceptional food at a quality price with a dose of great service. When your customers speak, LISTEN TO THEM, especially when you asked for their comments in the first place.

Ken Hoffman is CEO of International Restaurant & Hospitality Consulting Group, a worldwide leader in Restaurant, Retail & Hospitality Consulting. Contact them today for a free consultation of your restaurant, retail, hotel or resort’s performance.