Image via Toast POS

Real-time guest feedback is becoming the norm at restaurants, and today, restaurant-tech company Toast unveiled via press release a suite of new features meant to make it easier for customers to rate their meals and for restaurant managers and operators to understand and act on their feedback.

Toast Guest Feedback, as the new features suite is dubbed, lets restaurants collect guest feedback via the Toast Go and Toast Digital Receipts software. Toast Go is a handheld POS system made specifically for the restaurant industry. Both the hardware and software are Toast products. With the device, servers can take orders, receive real-time menu updates, swipe a customer’s credit card, and coordinate with the back of house so that cooks no longer have to scream “order up!” when someone’s food is ready.

With Guest Feedback, the Toast Go device also lets guests leave feedback about their experience via the touchscreen tablet in the form of thumb-up-thumb-down ratings. It also lets users type in comments on their experience. That feedback is processed in real time and, if they choose, managers can opt to receive SMS alerts every time a guest leaves a negative comment or review. Toast Guest Feedback can also run a report summarizing all reviews, so operators can see patterns and trends: what’s working, and what isn’t. Guest Feedback integrated into Toast Digital Receipts works much the same way, except for to-go food.

Right now, only about 2 percent of restaurant customers take the time to fill out a survey or comment card at the end of a meal. Having a digital, easy-to-use method for this could increase that number, and up the amount of information a restaurant can use to assess quality of service, popular foods, and other aspects of day-to-day operations.

Toast is hardly alone. Company Presto just raised $30 million, in part for its wearable tech that lets servers and managers see real-time feedback from guests. Square’s restaurant POS system allows the restaurant to communicate directly with a guest through the digital receipt and provides owners and managers a comprehensive summary of guest feedback.

Implementing real-time feedback brings a lot of obvious pluses to any restaurant operation. It’s easier to resolve a dispute or sooth an unhappy customer if said person is still in the restaurant when management is informed. The summary feature seems particularly useful, as it can alert managers to repeat issues in very clear terms. If five guests complain about the state of their after-dinner lattes, it might be time to retrain the staff on how to make those drinks. And Toast’s feature is already reportedly upping the amount of money individual servers bank each year, since the system as a whole makes it easier to tip, even suggesting tip amounts that might be higher than a guest might leave with cash.

One thing restaurant owners and managers will need to keep in mind with this brave new world of guest feedback: technology can’t communicate that some people are just assholes who take their frustrations out on servers. Not everyone, and not even most. My decade-long experience working in restaurants tells me the majority of people are reasonable, and that using real-time feedback as an alert, a manager could resolve an issue and therefore any negative tension before a guest even leaves the premises.

To be honest, a bigger problem than guests abusing the feedback feature is whether a constant stream of ratings will upset servers’ mental space during busy shifts and cause unnecessary tension. That’s one thing Presto has sought to address with its wearables: they only alert managers for super-important issues (as deemed by the restaurant), not every little gripe or hiccup.

Still, most owners and managers at restaurants worked their way up the ranks and have at one point or another stood in that server’s shoes. Real-time, tech-driven feedback has some horror stories to tell, to be sure. But I do think most folks working in the restaurant will be able to see the difference between a real problem and a high-maintenance customer, and real-time feedback will prove itself a huge help rather than make someone’s job miserable.

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