Like any restaurant, the classic diner depends heavily on customer loyalty. But perhaps diners are even more driven to create a great customer experience for its regulars, because diners are unlike other restaurants—they are no-frills, old-school venues that are equal parts food, history and community. Its success revolves around relationships—the kind of place where the waitress calls customers by name because she remembers them. The Serious Eats blog affirms that diners “are as essential to our way of life, our democracy, and our sense of community, as any other American institution we have right now.” So what are the key factors that ensure an outstanding customer experience at the American diner?
At a diner, “everybody knows your name” (or at least the names of the regulars) by the third visit, on average. It’s this sense of community and collectivism that delivers a dining experience that goes to the heart, along with the stomach. Regular customers have their own personal coffee mugs, snapshots on the wall, and running conversations with the staff.
A diner customer has certain expectations, drawn from the long history of this specific type of restaurant. Without question, breakfast should be served all day—a staple of diner culture. The menu should feature the mainstays of diner fare—pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, burgers and fries, milk shakes, tuna melts, and at least two kinds of pie. And lastly, a diner should have its doors open when other restaurants might be closed—late in the evening for a much-needed cup of coffee, or perhaps in the dead of night for a midnight feast.
A diner is a place where customers can let their hair down. Along with the corner pub, it’s one of the first spaces where any and all members of the general public could gather, grab a well-worn booth, and share life (and a tuna melt) together.
Diners may not have world-class chefs making fancy food, but no one walks away hungry and everyone finds something they like—because the diner menu is almost infinite. The New York Times described the Greek diners of Queens as “restaurants where menus are vast, everything is possible (Italian, Chinese, Jewish, you name it), everything is available and portions are grand.” And if by chance one can’t find the precise entrée she’s looking for on one of these vast menus, the waitress will likely be happy to ask the cook to create it.
While customers at their local diner enjoy the casual nature of the staff, they also expect respectful, friendly service. The good news is, they are willing to pay a premium for it—seven out of ten Americans (70%) would be willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service, a 12% increase from five years ago. Lots of refills on coffee, orders arriving with reasonable speed, and big smiles always send customers out the door happy.