Don't Settle For Good Service, It Will Kill Your Restaurant

By: Anna Dolce

7 Minute Read

Oct 26, 2018

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The Toast Restaurant Management Blog is delighted to welcome Anna Dolce, a restaurant industry veteran and former Miss Georgia (EU) who consults, coaches, and challenges restaurateurs to create memorable dining experiences through revitalized hospitality.

Stemming from her TED Talk titled Service Isn't The Same As Hospitality, Anna shares with us her views on how to empower your staff to delight guests through exceptional hospitality, not just 'good service'. You can watch her presentation from TEDxBend below.

So many restaurants aim to provide good service.

Settling for good service is simply aiming for you to meet your guest’s minimum expectations – nothing more, nothing less.

If you don’t delight your guests – from what’s on their plate to the person delivering it with a smile – you don’t give them a reason to remember you or your restaurant.

Good service is the reason so many restaurants go out of business within three years of opening.

Great service has the power to build you a 100-year brand.

Why Is Good Service Bad for Business?

The biggest – and sadly, not-so-obvious – problem with good service is that restaurants treat it as an add-on to their guest’s dining experience, while guests regard it as a basic element of their dining experience.

When guests visit a restaurant, they expect a warm welcome, expect an attentive server getting to deliver food and drink in a timely fashion, expect inviting ambiance, and so on and so forth.

Good service is expected to be a basic feature built into the product – in a restaurant, the ‘product’ is the dining experience restaurant owners and operators craft for their guests – and guests expect to get their money’s worth.

Nothing goes horribly wrong, and nothing blows your guests away either. You stay right in the middle of the two: average, which is just another word for forgettable.

There are too many dining options today for guests to tolerate restaurant staff who simply through the motions of hospitality – you know, the type who doesn’t know much about the food they’re selling and don't care much about people they are serving – rather than delivering delight every time.

What Does Great Hospitality Look Like?

So, what makes the difference for a thriving restaurant? It’s genuine, great hospitality.

Service and hospitality are not one and the same. Though many in the restaurant industry use the terms interchangeably, it’s important that we define both separately.

Service is a sequence of acts, tasks, and procedures which are done with consistency. As such, service can be mechanical, rehearsed, and repeated without conscious thought.

Hospitality, however, is an emotional connection established between restaurant staff and guest, where the former exudes genuine compassion, empathy, generosity, and thoughtfulness to the latter in order to make them feel welcome and appreciated throughout the course of their experience at the restaurant.

Service is what we do for our guests, and hospitality is what we do with them.

Service is transactional; hospitality is emotional.

Service can be given methodically, while hospitality is highly dynamic – hopeful, confident, thoughtful, optimistic, generous and open-hearted.

Guests forget good service, but remember true hospitality.

What builds hospitality in a restaurant? Here are five ways you can upgrade your guest experience with great hospitality.

1. Your End Goal Is Hospitality, Not Profits

Answer this: what is the purpose of your business?

Many will say: "to make money, of course."

This mindset is the reason why so many restaurants are numbers-focused rather than people-focused. They tend to use every marketing trick in the book to lure people in and consider financial profitability their only measuring stick.

Though profitability and fiscal health are imperative to the health of your business, there is no quick and easy path to profitability in the restaurant business.

Profits are generated by guests who want to buy the dining experience you create. Food is only one part of that experience, hospitality is another.

People buy the feelings they experience by interacting with your restaurant's ambiance and your servers' hospitality before they buy any food. It is your job as a restaurant owner, operator, or manager to create a memorable environment that leaves guests feeling full – both their stomachs and their hearts.

The best definition of business in the restaurant industry that I’ve heard is "to profitably create experiences that are so compelling that customer loyalty becomes assured."

In order to create these compelling experiences profitably, your focus must become people not the numbers. When you take care of your people, they will take care of your numbers.

2. Remember: It Starts at The Top.

Restaurants' first customers are its team members.

A restaurant owner's hospitality towards his or her team, or lack thereof, is a barometer for what will be accepted and extended to the guests of the restaurant.

It isn’t enough to preach to the staff to be hospitable; the leader must embody and demonstrate it to every guest within their restaurant, whether they work there or don't.

3. Align Your Strategy and Processes to Deliver Hospitality

Restaurants sometimes have rules, policies, and procedures in place that hinder their ability to create a culture centered around great hospitality. When this is the case, they're only hurting themselves.

Not responding to online reviews (especially the critical ones), having rigid rules about returns and refunds, not seating a party of two at a four-top during a slow shift – just to name a few. How are these rules support help in putting people first?

I once had a struggling restaurant owner tell me that she would never stop cooking the food she personally liked, even if her customers didn’t like it, even if it cost her her business.

Her ego and pride were superseding her hospitality.

4. Hospitality Takes More Than Just A Few Training Sessions to Master

For restaurant staff to stay engaged, they must feel that both their role and the company they work for help them to progress and grow professionally. You need to make working in your restaurant worth their while. 

Most restaurants cease all training and education after their brief new-hire training period, then later wonder how their staff “just doesn’t get it.”

Education is not an event – it’s a process. By creating ongoing learning opportunities for your restaurant staff, you help them expand their operational skillset and confidence. A restaurant running on the backs of a confident, equipped staff is much more likely to succeed financially, and less likely to have a high employee turnover rate.

5. Recognize and Reward Hospitality

We're quick to point out our flaws or when things are going wrong within our business, but more often than not we forget to recognize what’s going right.

With the many moving parts that make up a restaurant's operations, the chances that something or someone is not working adequately at any given moment are pretty high. The problem with this is that when we point out only the negatives we see and get more of it. It's a self-effacing prophesy: what we focus on expands.

The most effective way to bring out the best in people is to never skip rewarding positive behavior, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem.

Human beings will often rise to our expectations of them; when we raise our belief in people, their own belief in themselves increases.

Service With A Smile

There are no participation trophies in the restaurant business.

Good service may keep the doors open for a little while, but it's a practice that will ultimately close many restaurants in the long run. Restaurants that merely provide good service forget the main thing they are selling.

In today’s "results at any cost" driven world, it’s easy for restaurants to fall in the trap of becoming more numbers-focused than people-focused. Yet, the easiest and surest way to higher profits is through changing the way people feel about your restaurant; in other words, through renewed hospitality.

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