NY Restaurants Get Feedback With Response Cards

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Two restaurant groups in New York are keeping pace with their customers' needs through diner response cards.

Be Our Guest, which operates six restaurants in Manhattan, and Aquilon Restaurants Ltd., which runs five, gain instant feedback through response cards that accompany each guest's check. These cards encourage comments and critiques of each restaurant and enable customers to keep abreast of special events.

"We benefit a lot from it," said Chris Paraskevaides, general manager for Be Our Guest. "In this business, when 95 percent of the people don't complain, [unhappy customers] don't come back. This gives us an opportunity to formally apologize by mail and retain a guest.''

Aquilon typically uses response cards for a period of nine months, evaluates the themes of the responses and acts accordingly.

Steve Markowitz, assistant director of operations, said the cards are especially useful when one of his restaurants -- Sign of the Dove, Contrapunto, Yellowfingers, Arizona 206 or Arizona Café -- is introducing a new menu or new menu items. The cards also help determine the level of ambiance their guests desire.

"A few years ago, loud music was common in restaurants,'' Markowitz said. "We had a lot people who said it was a great atmosphere. After a while, that turned into comments that the music was too loud.''

Be Our Guest, which has used response cards for six years, also uses a computerized telephone reservation system to help create its own in-house database of customers, which Paraskevaides called "staggering.''

The database creates a guest history and can track how many times a guest has visited each of the group's restaurants: Blue Water Grill, Park Avalon, Coconut Grill, Isabella's, Ocean Grill and Atlantic Grill.

Customers on the Be Our Guest database are placed on mailing lists to receive periodic newsletters and invitations to special events. One such event is an exclusive annual wine tasting, complete with a sommelier. Paraskevaides said these efforts make a difference.

"[The response card] doesn't cost us a thing except for printing costs," he said. "If you receive a newsletter, next time you're planning a special occasion, you think of us."

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