Effectively Using Comps
Most restaurant owenrs use comps - parts or all of a meal offered to customers on the house - as a way of taking the pain out of an unsatisfactory experience- and hopefully keeping those customers as people likely to return, and not spread ill will about your establishment.
Beyond damage control, however, comps can be an extremely effective and cost-efficient marketing tool - to reward existing customers and encourage their loyalty.
"We want to treat everyone very well, but our regular customers deserve something extra," says Michael Bonaides, partner, The Myriad Restaurant Group. "With us it is often an appetizer, an extra course, or a dessert." At the same time, Michael says, "We don't want to make others feel like they are second-class citizens, so we ask managers and servers to be very aware of nearby tables—sometimes it's appropriate to give them a dessert, too. It's not a big cost and it makes friends."
Smart restaurant owenrs will train their staff to notice clues that may indicate a special occasion. For example, if there are cards and flowers on the table, servers will offer a special drink or dessert.
The cost of comps is small for the goodwill they generate. For customers it's often not the value, it's that they feel special.
"Comps are a win/win for us," says Philip Hansell, asst. food and beverage manager, The Royal Oak, Napa, CA. "Guests get great treatment (which translates to good tips) and they come back." In addition to occasionally rewarding regulars with comp menu items, all dinner guests are offered complimentary after-dinner drinks from an extensive selection presented on a cart. "It's very visual, has a high perceived value, and creates a lasting impression," says Philip.
As a manager, you do want to be careful to make sure the tactic is not overused by servers anxious to increase their nightly take home- customers who get comped often leave a hefty tip in appreciation. If you notice the same server doing most of the comping, you might not be getting the value you should from it. How much of a formal policy you place on the rpocdure depends on your staff's level of experience and maturity.
Eskimo Joe's and Mexico Joe's, Stillwater, OK, even offer comps to people who might not yet be customers. Management is armed with printed cards redeemable for a free lunch or menu item; they can stamp their business cards with the same offer. "The cards let us take advantage of some unique opportunities outside the restaurant to build business and make people feel good," says Robert Williams, director of restaurant operations. "For example, in the course of daily life if someone is especially nice, giving them a card is a chance to say thank you. Hopefully they'll come and bring others. But even if they don't you can believe they'll tell a friend or two."