Words mean a lot. Unfortunately, many of us don’t weigh their meaning, nor do we understand how the words we use communicate unintended meanings. Because we are in the service industry, it is imperative that we use words and phrases that continually send a signal about our commitment to service. And it’s imperative that we not only police ourselves but also monitor and coach our staff, as far too often their choice of words (and ours) send the wrong message to the guest.
In my work consulting restaurants, I am frequently called upon to conduct Front of the House workshops. The discussion of words and how we inadvertently send the wrong signal during those workshops is always a fun topic that generates spirited interaction. When we discuss the meaning of the phrases they frequently use, servers, hosts and managers alike are both shocked at the things that come out of their own mouths, and in agreement that there needs to be more awareness and caution with regard to the words we use. No one actually wants to send a negative message, but they acknowledge that this is what generally occurs.
The phrase “no problem” actually communicates to the guest that their request is a problem.
It starts at the host stand. In nearly every restaurant I have worked, and in nearly every one I have consulted, the host invariably greets the lone diner with the phrase “Just one?” And every time I hear it, I cringe. In my mind I’m not hearing “Just one?”—I’m hearing “So, you’re eating alone because no one likes you and you couldn’t find an eating companion if you had to buy that companion a lobster dinner and a bottle of the best champagne?” Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. Why would we want to rub it in the guest’s face when they are dining alone? Aren’t they already uncomfortable enough? Why would we want to remind them that they are alone, and create further discomfort? A much better phrase to use might be “Table for one?” or, even better, don’t say anything. If someone is meeting them, he or she will let you know. Just assume that someone coming in alone is not going to have a dining companion and show them to an appropriate table. Instead of honing in on the fact that he or she is alone, how about striking up a conversation as you seat him or her? “How’s your day going?” is a much better conversation than “Are you eating alone again, you loser?”
Another phrase that makes my hair stand on end is the most common reply to a request: “No problem.” The phrase “no problem” actually communicates to the guest that their request is a problem, “but don’t worry, I can do that for you.” It’s a horrible thing to convey. Again, we are in the service industry. We don’t want our customers to feel as though their requests are putting us out. That’s why we’re there—to provide them with things and services!
My favorite reply is one that all employees at the wildly successful Chick-fil-A restaurants are trained to use: “It’s my pleasure.” How great is that? “Can I have steak sauce for my NY sirloin?”; “It’s my pleasure.” “Is it possible to have mashed potatoes with my omelet instead of home fries?”; “It’s my pleasure.” This simple phrase lets the guest know without doubt that their wants and desires are the focus of our mission. It communicates to them that we get satisfaction from giving our guests great service and a great experience. From “No problem” to “It’s my pleasure” is a distance of a thousand miles. In my restaurants I always seek to create a culture that is hyper-focused on providing the guest with the best experience possible. The words and phrases that you and your staff choose will tell your guest how important service is to you and your restaurant.
Constantine N. Kolitsas is a restaurant consultant living in the New York tri-state area. His company, CNK Consulting, has helped numerous businesses improve their operations, develop their concepts, and increase profitability. For more information visit cnk-consulting.com or call 1-888-869-6068.