Getting Real with Your Service Staff

Posted by at 10 November, at 06 : 41 AM Print

WHEN we think of giving good service in a restaurant, our minds tend to go to the details: Greet the table within thirty seconds; give a lively dissertation of the day’s specials; proactively address guests needs when it comes to drink refills, condiments needed for specific ordered items; etc etc. Well, let’s toss all of that out the window and consider the big picture. Today, it is too often that servers view customers as an inconvenience, which translates to how they serve your guests and ultimately defines how a customer perceives the service, and your restaurant. You’ve seen it, and you know what I’m talking about… Servers feel entitled to 20% tips for simply taking a food order and “taxiing” it from the kitchen to the table. They forget that their true function is to be a guide for the guest’s entire experience, and to ensure that all aspects of the experience are perceived favorably.

If you’re uncomfortable as a manager pointing this fact out to your servers, or feel that you can’t articulate it properly, then take a scissor, cut out this article, photocopy it and hand it to every server in your restaurant. Or, better yet, take a photo of it and text it to the entire Front of House staff.
So, now, you SERVER, let’s get to business. Let’s wake up and get over ourselves. It’s not about us, it’s about the customers that walk through the restaurant’s doors.

To start, I’m going to tell you that unless you give first rate service, you DO NOT DESERVE A FULL 20% GRATUITY. In fact, you probably don’t deserve half of that. Don’t make the excuse of a guest being cheap when you get a bad tip. It’s probably because you did a bad job. And when a customer has a mediocre experience but still tips you 20%, you should understand that you did not earn this but, instead, it’s because the customer is too passive to not over reward you for service that they did not receive. (Manager: It’s important to encourage your guests to tip honestly and, if they are unhappy, to let you know so that there is no misinterpretation of why a tip was less than 15% or 20%. This also affords you the opportunity to understand any deficiencies in your service standards and address them.)

Being busy is not an excuse for mediocre service. If the kitchen is struggling with orders, the server should overcompensate by making sure beverages remain full and recommending to the manager a recourse to keep the guest satisfied. Perhaps send out a cup of soup to tie over their hunger, or a small cold appetizer that can be pushed out “on the fly”. To put it in cornball terms: these small gestures can turn a frown upside down very quickly. You want to do what is in your power to validate the restaurant in the customer’s mind, and to make sure they don’t regret spending their hard-earned dollars at your place.

It’s not uncommon for restaurants on their busiest nights to get overwhelmed for a short period of time. It’s essential to understand that as a server, you are hyper sensitive to matters that may or may not be of concern to the guest. Sometimes a meal taking 20 minutes to arrive can seem like an hour to a guest, and sometimes it can seem like five minutes. It’s your job to make the guest feel as if all is good. “Never let them see you sweat” is a maxim that you should understand and internalize. If you appear stressed, then you are drawing attention to the fact that the kitchen is backed up and can initiate a cascade of frustrations that the guest may otherwise never feel. Stay calm, be attentive, be sensitive. Don’t be in a panic.

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. If things go wrong, you need to defend the restaurant. Throwing the kitchen under the bus does nothing to help you and will only serve to convince the guest that the restaurant is somehow inferior. If a guest leaves and never returns it does not help you. So, even if things are going bad, the worse thing you can do is throw blame at the kitchen (or at the management, or at anything else). Just suck it up. Apply the LAST strategy (Listen, Acknowledge, Solve and Thank), and let the manager do her or his work. It’s their job to make sure every guest leaves happy. But in that regard, you need to set the manager up for success…

It is impossible to give good service without knowing your menus – those including your lunch and dinner menus, your wine list, your list of beers and cocktails, and any ancillary menus such as brunch or happy hour. If a guest asks what comes with the salmon and you have to reference the menu, you look like an idiot (sorry, but true). There may be a bit more flexibility when it comes to the wine list, but only if that list is extensive (thirty bottles or more). Even then, if you demonstrate your ignorance, you are sending a signal to the customer that you have not bothered to do your “homework”. Remember, you are the guide. It’s impossible to be an effective guide if you have no idea of the offerings available at your restaurant IN DETAIL. Just being able to point them in the direction of the restroom isn’t enough.

A good professional server can earn a very good living. This, however, entails you understanding that hospitality service is, indeed, a profession and providing professional service that is focused on the customer’s needs and is cognizant of the customer’s perceptions at all times. If you’re just an automaton processing orders, then you don’t deserve to be tipped like a professional.


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