No matter how well you know your restaurant, you can never quite see it from a patron’s point of view—even if you read every Yelp review. You and you team are too close to the day-to-day to understand what they experience when they drop in for dinner and a drink.

Because of this, you should always seek feedback on how your guests perceive your restaurant. The customer survey or comment card is a great method for gathering this information. But to be useful, it has to be done well.

Here are the four steps to create a proper customer survey to receive valuable feedback.

1. Determine what you want to know

You first need to know exactly what information you want feedback on. Determine your burning questions.

You can gather information on many aspects of your restaurant experience:

  • Menu, both food and drink
  • Pricing and perceived value
  • Service quality
  • Ambiance
  • Promotions or events

This may change over time. Surveys are particularly useful when opening a spot to gather immediate feedback, fix the kinks, and align with your guests’ expectations. A year in, feedback is equally important, but your questions may shift in focus.

2. Create a simple customer survey

It’s important to write clear, concise, and direct surveys. Any confusion over the questions will keep guests from filling out the survey. Moreover, unclear questions will give you muddled data, making the whole venture less than fruitful.

The best practices for writing surveys are:

  • Keep the survey short: Long or time-consuming surveys are the main reasons people won’t fill it out. Limit yourself to five to seven questions, fewer if they require anything more than multiple choice or ranking.
  • Ask one question at a time: It can be easy to run multiple questions into one another, especially with limited questions. Make sure each question only asks one specific thing to avoid vague answers.
  • Use smart response structures: Use numbered response scales (e.g., answer scales of 1–5, where one is strongly agree and 5 is strongly disagree). This makes it easy for your guests to answer and yields accurate quantitative data you can track over time. Avoid binary “yes/no” or “true/false” answer options, as they provide much less useful information. You can, however, use multiple choice or fill in the blank to make some questions go quicker.
  • Use digital surveys strategically: Digital surveys won’t provide in-the-moment reactions that table-side surveys do, but they may offer a different, and valuable, perspective. If you send out a newsletter, try adding an online survey asking for honest feedback from your most loyal customers. (Survey Monkey, Google Forms, and Typeform are all free tools with varying degrees of customization.) If you’re putting a survey on your website, consider putting very short surveys on relevant pages—for example, two to three questions about your bar program on the drink menu page.

3. Get people to participate

A less than shocking revelation is that people don’t love responding to surveys. But you want feedback so you can better serve your customers! So how do you get your guests to fill out the questionnaire?

  • Offer a discount: Put a special deal on the survey. Whether it’s something you tack on to the end of the meal or offer on their next visit has different pros and cons. Offer it immediately, and more people will likely fill it out. Offer it later, and you can earn repeat business, but you risk people forgetting and not getting the survey back to you. If they respond online, maybe through a number or link on their receipt, you can email them coupons and add them to your mailing list.
  • Hold giveaways: Ask guests for their email address on the feedback card, and enter every response into to a prize giveaway. (Random.org can help you pick an arbitrary person from the proverbial hat.) Giveaways allow you to offer a larger, more exciting prize and account for the cost in advance.
  • Communicate it to guests: Make the survey part of your servers’ pattern at every table. Talk about the incentives for filling it out, how much your restaurant cares about hearing from it’s guests, and that it will help you better serve them. You can’t expect people to fill out a survey stashed behind the ketchup or dropped with the check if nobody has mentioned it.

4. Act on the data

The last step of the customer survey process is the most important one: implementing changes based on a critical mass of good, usable feedback. It’s easy to fall into two traps:

  1. Fixating on one comment—make sure you identify trends that should be addressed and separate singular opinions from the important feedback you will take actionable steps on.
  2. Not making a plan to rectify problems—talk to your staff about the feedback you’re planning to address and communicate the changes you expect to see from everyone.