For 24 years now, I have been providing, critiquing, analyzing and teaching restaurant service from fast food to fine dining and from Tiki Beach Bars to Caribbean resorts. Here is what I have come up with – three words and one philosophy for GREAT Service.
Attitude – Some call it the “un-teachable” factor. I like to refer to this as “The absolute most important characteristic you should be looking for in an interview”. When you have a genuinely friendly person who can pass on a warm, inviting, light-up-the-room kind of smile to your guests, you don’t mind spending extra time to teach them the techniques.
Knowledge – Let’s be honest here, it does not take that much to know how to serve some guests. You need to know the computer system and have a basic understanding of the menu and kitchen layout. The day’s specials and table numbers would help too, but come on….we’re talking about GREAT service here! Service that enhances your guest’s experience – Service that is so amazing that the guest feels like they were the only guest in the restaurant. Knowledge of every single aspect of the entire business is pertinent to execute service on this level.
Attentiveness – The guests in your restaurant want to feel like they are being taken care of and the service staff has to be available to them to do that. Attentiveness will also allow you to be proactive in solving any problem. Every problem with a guest experience only gets worse the longer that they wait.
The philosophy is simple – If you want to give GREAT service then you have to run a GREAT restaurant, and I mean in every aspect of the business! Be great at ordering. Care about your staff. Take care of maintenance issues immediately. Pay your bills on time. In short, if you do what it takes to earn the respect of your staff, then they will be able to give amazingly GREAT Service. If your staff does not respect how you run the business, they will never pass that feeling on to your guests.
If your guests get a good feeling from your staff, their experience will be enhanced right away. Every guest that walks into your establishment has expectations. They may be verbally stated or a conscious thought that is not stated but most of the time their expectations are subconscious. These expectations are the keys to how they base their dining experience. Their expectation could be as simple as “I want to make sure we are on time for the movie”. Or, they could be much more elaborate such as, “I need tonight’s dinner to go perfect, I really need this new account.”
The key is to Exceed Their Expectations, but how do you exceed something that you do not necessarily understand? By nature, most people are very quiet and reserved to people that they do not know and very seldom will a guest come right out and state their expectations such as “We on our lunch break and my boss will be very upset if we get back late again”.
Your service staff has control of the type of service that they give to any one table and they need to be flexible enough to adjust according to the type of table they are serving. Before they can make any adjustments, they need to know what they are dealing with and there are two great ways to obtain the information – ask and observe. Knowledge is a big part of great service so it’s important to get the information you need to do the job right. It is amazing what people will tell you when you just ask. Asking a simple question such as “Have you been enjoying the day so far?” or “So what brings you here tonight?” will possibly provide staff members with some pertinent information. Image how much you could customize the service with an answer like “It’s been a great day. We were at the park all day and I’m sure our little one is getting very tired but we had fun” or “It’s our first time here but we were told the ribs are great so we wanted to try them”. Now you have a great start on which to base their expectations.
A married couple out for a quick dinner during their busy week has much different expectations than a young couple out on their third date. Basic observations can also give you the information that is needed. Looking at how they are dressed, noticing that a couple is holding hands, seeing that they have a binder with them and realizing that they are ordering from the bar are all things to take into account. Using your observations to narrow down the type of guests they are – are they on a business meeting, a date, out for a family dinner or with some friends having a casual get together, gives you powerful information that lets you customize your service. Start with simple observations and direct your questions from there. This is a great way to understand their expectations so that you can exceed them.