Why the Best Restaurants Are Obsessed with Knowing Their Guests
Guest Notes are important, but not for the reason you might think
Welcome to the age of High Hospitality, characterized by restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, where staff dutifully Google every guest before service and send out questionnaires that come via email with the subject line, “In preparation for your visit.” Here’s a sample question: If you have anything else you would like to share with us before you dine or anything we can do to make the experience special, please feel free to let us know. It’s very likely that it came from a maitre’d or captain scheduled to be on the floor during your visit. Yes, they think of everything. The service at Eleven Madison Park is very, very good and the restaurant is quasi-officially the best restaurant in the world.
Modern table management products like Resy have made it possible to institutionalize and productize hospitality in a variety of very important ways, such as collecting and disseminating guest information among service staff. In fifteen seconds, a hostess can input a quick note about a guest — “Loves the bread pudding,” say, or, “Daughter’s name is Rose” — as they mark a table as bussed. On the guest’s return, this same note will appear alongside their new reservation, and can be actioned by anyone with a ResyOS device. For restaurant groups that maintain a single guestbook across venues, the entire group benefits from this shared information in real time.
The correlation between knowledge of guests and high quality service is intuitive, but more so than meets the eye. It turns out the practice of collecting guest notes may help the best restaurants to be that good. If great food starts with impeccable mis en place, great service has a lot to do with putting guest notes in their place.
If we look at guest profiles across all of our venues, 8% have at least one guest note attached to the profile. This could be something as simple as “f/o owner,” or as detailed at the note that is atop this article. When we look at the best restaurants on Resy (measured by their aggregate rating of thousands of diners), at the top 20% of restaurants, 13% of profiles have a guest note. As we get into more rarefied air, the numbers become even more pronounced: among the top 1% of Resy restaurants, 54% of profiles have at least one guest note.
So, do great restaurants simply have in common that they maintain good guest notes, or are good guest notes (one of) the reason(s) they’re great?
Here’s another way of connecting these dots. Of restaurants that have been reviewed by the New York Times and awarded three stars, 40% of their guest profiles contain a guest note. At the one star level, 15% contain guest notes. This correlation is so tight that we can predict the rating a restaurant will receive by looking at this one metric, as we did with the fantastic New York Restaurant King, which was awarded two stars from the NY Times this week.
Is something actually going on here, or are we just trying to make our data look sexy? At the Welcome Conference, I caught up with Will Guidara, hospitality king and co-owner of the aforementioned best restaurant in the world, Eleven Madison Park.
“A server who has been charged with having to put notes in at the end of the night about as many of their guests as possible needs to be more present at the table, needs to really engage, to truly listen, and to establish some level of a genuine relationship,” Will said. “So before the notes even get into the system, the hospitality is already better than it otherwise would have been had they not been charged with collecting that information.”
A server who has been charged with having to put notes in at the end of the night about as many of their guests as possible needs to be more present the table, needs to really engage, to truly listen, and to establish some level of a genuine relationship
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Eleven Madison Park is El Tiempo Cantina, a group of seven family-owned restaurants in Houston. They, possibly, introduced fajitas to the U.S., if their website isn’t fake news. I’ve been to various El Cantinas at least fifteen times and haven’t once gotten so much as a, “Hello, welcome back.” They don’t use Resy, sadly, and keep zero guest notes, from what I can tell. But that’s ok. I love El Tiempo, as do many others, if the perpetual long waits are any indication.
In El Tiempo we find an important related rule. There is a clear ceiling to the return on investment for guest notes. And if one’s aim is to build a great, everyday one-star restaurant, there may be little business reason to spend lots of time pruning guest profiles. Back to the data, globally across all Resy profiles (more than 5,000,000), .3% have guest notes in excess of 200 characters. Even at the top of the heap, in the first percentile of all restaurants, only 3% of profiles have excessive guest notes.
So, can a restaurateur focus on collecting guest notes and in doing so ensure that the restaurant will be awarded lots of stars? Directionally, yes!
But don’t forget to find a chef.
Thanks for reading! Resy is a restaurant software company. We work with the best restaurants in the U.S. Want to know more about our products? Visit http://os.resy.com.
Thanks to my Resy teammates Greta Anderson, Allison Chesky, Vanessa Leitman and John Niedermeyer.