The New Steps of Service

There’s a new service model shaking up restaurants across the country. Read on to learn how to use it in your restaurant.

The restaurant industry has always been a tough gig — known for its low margins, high labor costs, unequal pay, and an over-dependence on tipping. The COVID-19 pandemic only magnified these issues, and guests expect a different type of hospitality now. But this challenging year has created a unique opportunity to rethink and rebuild the way we run restaurants.

Now, there’s a new service model emerging that’s helping restaurant operators run healthier, more durable businesses, while meeting guests’ changing expectations about how technology and hospitality can come together to create a better dining experience.

Read on to learn about the New Steps of Service and how it works for five different concepts across the country: Zócalo, Eventide Oyster Co., Roc ‘N’ Ramen, HOUSEpitality Restaurant Group, and Alpine Inn Beer Garden.

Part 1

What Is the New Steps of Service?

To understand how the New Steps of Service is shaping the future of restaurants, we have to first take a step back.

The first full service restaurant opened in 1765 in Paris, and it set the stage for how restaurants all over the world would go on to staff their front- and back-of-house teams. Then, in 1916, White Castle broke the mold with the first quick service restaurant. But since then, more than 100 years later, the way we staff and operate restaurants has remained largely the same. We’re still using the same tipping models and the same service structure, resulting in the same tight margins and high turnover. Now, many restaurateurs are looking for a change. 

The New Steps of Service is a modern way of structuring your front of house that combines the traditional touchpoints of hospitality with the efficiencies of technology. It streamlines the flow of service by empowering your guests to order and pay whenever they like, and it keeps the orders coming to increase average check sizes. 

By putting ordering and payment technology in the hands of their guests, servers can embrace a more rewarding role: welcoming guests, helping them choose the right menu items, checking in, and not having to spend time running to the point of sale and swiping credit cards. And guests are given the opportunity to keep ordering food and drinks whenever they’re craving them – not having to hesitate while flagging down a server. 

Restaurants that use the New Steps of Service can become more profitable, with more satisfied guests and better-paid employees. 

Check out the following results from some restaurateurs who use this model.

The New Steps of Service in Action: By the Numbers

Staff Wages

+20-30%

staff wages have increased by 20-30%

HOUSEpitality

Average Check Size

+15%

average check size increased 15%, equalling an extra $120k per year at full capacity

Roc ‘N’ Ramen

Table Turn Times

-5 to 15 mins

table turn times have gone down by 5 to 15 minutes per table

Zócalo

Weekly Revenue

$100k

average weekly revenue processed through Order & Pay is $100k

Alpine Inn

Reactive Discounts

-10%

reactive discounts are down 10%

Zócalo

Profits

+7-10%

overall profits increased 7-10% during the pandemic

HOUSEpitality

The testimonials above reflect the experience of the merchant and results may vary.


Top Benefits for Staff

Implementing the New Steps of Service is an opportunity to create more rewarding careers for restaurant employees. Working in a restaurant has rarely been a stable, financially sustainable career path. With the New Steps of Service, reduced labor costs and higher profits mean restaurants can pay their employees higher wages and offer more rewarding jobs. 

“It definitely gives them the ability to focus more on the customer service aspect and then assist anyone that needs help with anything,” shares Sean Southwell, Operations Manager of Roc ‘N’ Ramen. A focus on great hospitality combined with responsibility over more tables helps employees learn faster and find more fulfillment in their jobs. 

  1. Staff can earn higher wages. Some restaurants, like HOUSEpitality Restaurant Group, implemented a service charge instead of tips when trying this new model, and it led to significant increases in pay for staff across the board, both in the front- and back-of-house. Floor captains — what they now call their servers — and cooks are making upwards of $20 an hour, with bussers, dishwashers, and food runners earning $15 - $17. “The beautiful thing is people are leaving additional tips as well,” Kevin said.

  2. Parity between front- and back-of-house staff. By implementing a service charge that’s divided among the staff, everyone makes more per hour and the front- and back-of-house divide can start to close.

  3. Front-of-house staff don’t focus on processing payments. Instead, they focus on connecting with guests:greeting them, teaching them about the ordering system, giving suggestions and upsells, doing table touches, offering next rounds, checking on water glasses and guest satisfaction, and saying goodbye. Overall, they’re presented with a more satisfying job, where the bulk of their time isn’t spent swiping credit cards and running back and forth to the point of sale terminal. 

Top Benefits for Owners

There’s no shortage of reasons why owners are thrilled with the performance of their restaurants after implementing the New Steps of Service. “With Order and Pay, the average check size is up 15%. That's another $120,000 per year when we're at full capacity. It's transformed our business,” shares Chef Wayne Carrington of Roc ‘N’ Ramen.

  1. Guests keep coming back. Guests, once educated, love the model and come back for more. At Zócalo, Executive Chef Ryan Rose reports that they have a 40% returning customer rate, and Kevin Healy of HOUSEpitality explains that there’s a wow factor for guests: “Guests love it because they can order their margarita before they sit down, and in seconds upon sitting down the bartender makes it and it gets run out to you,” says Kevin. 

  2. Larger check sizes. Since guests can order on their phones and don’t have to wait in line for another beer, “We're doing more transactions per guest than before,” says Regional Manager and Operating Partner Michelle Monterossa Qadri of Alpine Inn Beer Garden. And if they’re still hungry, guests know the menu is right there at all times — no flagging down a server to ask them to bring over the menu again.

  3. Lower labor cost. Staff can take on more tables and behave like floor captains, so service charges and tips are split among fewer people, lowering labor cost and increasing employee pay. And since sales are higher, labor cost percentage reduces as well.

  4. Continuous, automatic upsells. The Order & Pay system doesn’t hear a guest’s initial “no, thank you” to an offer of an additional side, sauce, or drink like a server would. “A server allows the emotion of the ‘no’ to stop them from asking the question over the course of a night, and the tech doesn't,” says Ryan Rose from Zócalo. The system will continue to prompt the guest to increase their order size with each and every order. And upsells are baked into every transaction: Ryan explained that instead of a server having to remember to ask every guest which tequila they want in their margarita — or defaulting to the well tequila — guests are prompted every time to choose which tequila they want in their drink, encouraging them to choose a higher-end one or to switch it up with different rounds.

  5. Reduction in comps and voids. Since guests order for themselves, and select their own modifiers, they can see exactly what’s being sent to the kitchen or bar before ordering. As a result, Zócalo saw a 10% reduction in reactive discounts. 

  6. It functions as a training tool for new staff. Each spring, the wave of hiring begins again, and this year more than ever, training is crucial. Ryan from Zócalo shares that Order & Pay has helped new staff get onboarded more quickly. “You have 150 brand-new people who are out there supposed to be the face of Zócalo and they’ve been there for five days. [Order & Pay] is another tool that’s getting them that information, helping them with the flow of how things are ordered, to make their jobs a little easier.” 

  7. Collect your customers’ data. By processing payments through Order & Pay and providing email receipts, you’re able to capture customer emails, which can later be used for targeted marketing campaigns to keep guests coming back. Collecting guest data has become all the more more important as guests expect hospitality across every channel today.

Top Benefits for Guests

Guest expectations have changed significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and guests have become more comfortable with technology. The New Steps of Service maintains what they love about dining in at restaurants — eating great food and connecting with staff who can consult about their order and give them a great experience — and combines it with technology that increases speed and convenience of dining. 

  1. Speed of ordering. Guests can place their orders as soon as they’re seated, no need to wait for a busy server to come to take their orders. In fact, drinks can be delivered even before they interact with their server. And when it comes to getting a second round, there’s no wait and no lines: “The guest doesn't have to disrupt their conversation, go stand in what could be a pretty long line to get a beer, and then go back to the table. They're more apt to order another beer because it comes quickly,” says Michelle Monterossa Qadri of Alpine Inn Beer Garden.

  2. No more waiting to pay. Guests can pay and get up and leave as soon as they’re ready, and they don’t have to sit around, bellies full, waiting for a busy server to come back with the check and the receipt. 

  3. Order accuracy. Since they’re putting in their own orders, they can be sure that their “no cheese, please” makes it onto the order chit every time. 

  4. More comfort and control for guests with allergies. Order accuracy is even more important to guests with allergies, which is why many prefer ordering online where they can select their own modifiers so they can be sure the cooks see them. Now, that functionality (and that comfort) is available when dining in.

  5. Customization. Since guests put in their own orders, they’ve got more opportunities to customize their dishes with add-ons.

Part 2

What do the New Steps of Service Look Like?

The New Steps of Service is designed to provide seamless service throughout the dining experience, with the experience flexing between guest-led and server-led.

This model empowers servers to become the “captains” of their sections. It helps them better serve their guests through technology-assisted dining, and it frees them up to focus on high-hospitality tasks like doing table touches and connecting with guests  — instead of spending many minutes per table dealing with low-hospitality tasks like swiping a card, walking it to a point of sale terminal, and bringing it back with the receipt. 

As Ryan Rose from Zócalo put it, “Before Order & Pay, we had a floor captain and servers. The captain created a sense of hospitality, while the servers took the orders. With this, we now have a room full of floor captains.”

“Before Order & Pay, we had a floor captain and servers. The captain created a sense of hospitality, while the servers took the orders. With this, we now have a room full of floor captains.”

Ryan Rose Zócalo

At Eventide, a counter service restaurant that runs on this model, cross-training and collaboration are what powers the restaurant. “We sort of cross train everyone — we want anyone to be able to step into any of those [front-of-house] roles. Certainly Order & Pay allows you to scale back on the number of staff, [but] you want to make sure you have people available to run food. You want to make sure you have someone that's there to see people explain the process and you want someone that's doing the continued service. But you don't need as many people on the floor taking orders as you would in a traditional model,” shares John Myers, General Manager at Eventide. 

Check out this floor plan comparison that shows the difference between the traditional full service model and the New Steps of Service, how they tally up over a four-hour shift, and how front-of-house staff spend their time.

The Traditional Service Model vs. The New Steps of Service

Traditional

7 Servers

New

3 Floor Captains

Average Ticket Size

$34

Tables Turned

0 tables

Revenue

$0

Average Ticket Size

$38

Tables Turned

0 tables

Revenue

$0

Primary Tasks

  • Taking Orders
    • Walking guests through specials, and taking down each guest's orders, including modifiers
  • Putting in Orders at the POS
    • Walking to the POS, waiting at the station if busy, and then inputting orders
  • Processing Payments
    • Dropping the check, coming back for their card and bringing it to the POS, processing the payment, and giving card back to guest

Primary Tasks

  • Greeting Guests & Assisting with Ordering
    • Assisting guests with Order & Pay system if they need support
  • Making Food and Drink Recommendations
    • Helping guests make the best food and drink choices and helping accommodate their needs
  • Table Touches
    • Checking in with guests throughout the meal, ensuring everything is to their liking, and connecting with them

1These amounts are estimates based on select Toast customer experiences. Actual results may vary depending on your unique circumstances.

Steps of Service in a Full Service Restaurant

The traditional steps of service involve a lot of time running from table to a central point of sale and back again, and a lot of time spent swiping credit cards and processing payments. Here’s how the New Steps of Service is used at full service restaurants. 

  1. A guest arrives, is seated, and a host or server spends time greeting them and setting their expectations for how they’ll order and pay for their food. The guest puts in their own drink order from their phone, and the bartender starts making it.

  2. The server then spends time suggesting specials and making recommendations for each guest, either inputting orders on a handheld point of sale or guiding guests through the process of ordering their food with the QR code and their phones. During this process, the first round of drinks is brought over by a food runner.

  3. Food and more drink orders are sent off to the kitchen within minutes. Bussers or food runners bring over the food and drinks as they’re ready.

  4. The server spends time doing table touches during service, ensuring the guests are happy with their food and that water glasses are full, and offering other rounds of drinks and food (to be ordered on the guest’s phone or through a handheld POS).

  5. When the guest is ready, they can pay on their phone and leave right away, not worrying about waiting for a busy server to bring back a receipt. The server doesn’t have to be involved with the payment process at all, and tips are prompted through the guest’s phone. OR: the guest flags down the server and they pay right away on a handheld point of sale system, still saving the server the trip from table to central POS and back. 

  6. The guest leaves, happy and satisfied, tables have turned more quickly, and the server can move onto greeting their next group and guiding them through the process. 

Speed of service is better for everyone. Not having to wait to do the administrative work of cashing out, that’s better for everyone. Being able to order what you want, when you want - that’s better. Is it exactly the same? No, it’s not, but I believe it’s a better experience.

Kevin Healy HOUSEpitality Group

Comparing the Ordering Process

When guests order in a traditional restaurant, there are few opportunities for buying more drinks or any extra side dishes they’re craving. With the New Steps of Service, the menu and ordering power stays with the guests, and this keeps the food and drinks coming whenever they want — no need to wait on a table touch. 

ORDERING PROCESS

Traditional Steps of Service

1
Guest is seated by a host and is given a menu to browse
2
Guest waits for server to come back  
3
Guest orders drinks from server  
4
Server walks away to put in the drinks order at the central POS
5
Guest waits for drinks  
6
Server comes back with drinks and guest orders food  
7
Server walks away to put in the food order at the central POS
8
Guest waits for food  
9
Food runner brings over food
10
Server comes by occasionally to see if they want anything else  
11
Guest orders another round
12
Server walks away to put in the order at the central POS
13
Food runner brings over extra round

ORDERING PROCESS

New Steps of Service

1
Guest is seated by floor captain and browses the menu through QR code
2
Guest orders their own drinks  
3
Drinks brought over by food runner
4
Guest orders food on their phones or from a floor captain with a handheld  
5
Guest waits for food  
6
Food runner brings over food
7
Guest orders more items at any time through their phones  
8
Floor captain does table touch, guest orders more through handheld  
9
Food runner brings over extra rounds of drinks or food

Comparing the Payment Process

The payment process is where we see the starkest differences between the traditional service model and the New Steps of Service. Check out how much waiting is eliminated for the guest, and how much walking back and forth is eliminated for the server. 

PAYMENT PROCESS

Traditional Steps of Service

1
Guest flags down to server, waits for them to come over  
2
Server drops check and walks away to take care of other table
3
Guest drops credit card and waits for server to return  
4
Server returns, grabs card, takes it to central POS
5
Guest waits for server to return  
6
Guest calculates tip and signs check, and leaves

PAYMENT PROCESS

New Steps of Service

1
Guest pays and tips on their phone when they’re ready and leaves

How to Apply the New Steps of Service to a Quick Service Restaurant

The New Steps of Service can help bring some of the most profit-driving and hospitable elements of full service dining to a counter-service environment. The New Steps of Service, when applied to a QSR environment, encourages guests to go from a single transaction per visit to multiple transactions. 

How? It’s simple: a front-of-house staff member emerges from behind the counter to meet guests where they’re seated and see if they want another round of drinks or food. This second touchpoint from a front-of-house staff member makes for larger check totals and leaves guests feeling looked after. These extra orders can be processed on a handheld point of sale, or through Order & Pay technology that uses QR codes and a guest’s smart phone. 

Steps of Service in a Quick Service Restaurant

  1. A guest walks in and the server greets them and sets their expectations for how they’ll order and pay for their food.
  2. At the counter, the guest orders and pays in line with a server with a handheld POS, OR waits in line to order and pay at the central POS terminal at the front of the line, OR sits down at a table and orders on their phone with a QR code. 
  3. Food and drink orders are sent off to the kitchen. Bussers will bring over the food and drinks to where a guest is sitting as they’re ready. 
  4. At their table, the guest can use the QR code to input more orders through their phone if they’re still hungry or want another drink. 
  5. While the guest is eating, a server roams through the seating area doing table touches, ensuring guests are happy with their food and that water glasses are full, and offering other rounds of drinks and food (to be ordered on the guest’s phone or through a handheld POS).
  6. When the guest is done, they can pay for their additional orders on their phone and leave as soon as they’re ready, not worrying about waiting for a busy server to bring back a receipt. The server doesn’t have to be involved with the payment process at all, and tips are prompted through Order & Pay. 
  7. The guest leaves, happy and satisfied, tables have turned more quickly.

Part 3

How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Re-Train Your Staff to Embrace New Titles and Prioritize Connection

Servers can be wary at first when they hear that they won’t have to spend all that time punching in orders and swiping credit cards. But the work they’ll be doing instead is even more rewarding: providing great hospitality.

Servers can become the “captains” of their sections to make sure their guests have what they need. This can mean more table touches, more time spent making recommendations or suggesting specials, or simply making sure water glasses are full.

Training your staff to sell this way of dining to their customers each shift is an important piece of the puzzle as well. “Arming your staff with the right verbiage and the right way to make a guest feel comfortable in a sort of non-traditional ordering environment is very important. So make sure your staff is prepared and empowered to speak about why you're doing things a certain way, and have faith in why you're doing it that way – and to be able to explain to the guests why you're doing it,” says John Myers from Eventide.

Teach Your Customers to
Order & Pay

Since this is a new model, customers will need some hand-holding at first, and staff will have to spend some time talking guests through the model on their first visits. 

At Alpine Inn Beer Garden, staff training includes a role-reversal. “We put them in the guest’s position. We sit them down at the table and everybody scans the QR code and goes through the menu and places an order so they know each step that goes into the process,” says Sean Agoliati from Alpine Inn. 

When front-of-house staff greet guests at your restaurant, they should explain that guests can order and pay at their convenience to provide a more seamless experience. It’s important to also reiterate that their server will still be there to make sure they have everything they need -— whether it’s making recommendations, filling up water glasses, or sending in another round of drinks.

Many restaurants are also setting expectations even before guests arrive at the restaurant by promoting their new mobile dining experience on social media and websites.

Train Counter Staff to Do Table Touches and Upsells

If you run a quick service restaurant, that same staff who used to be handling the long queue at the counter can now focus on covering the floor and encouraging upsell opportunities — whether it’s another round of drinks, an extra side, or dessert. Essentially, table touches can become an easy and profitable part of your steps of service, even in a counter-service environment.

Once they pick up their order at the counter, we didn't want the guest's interaction with the restaurant to be finished. So we have servers that roam through the dining room with Toast Go handhelds. It allows us to have another interaction with the guest and to sell a few more food items before they head out the door.

John Myers Eventide

Consider Eliminating Tipping

Many restaurants are seeing success by moving from a model that is reliant on tipping to one that includes a flat service charge for every order, including HOUSEpitality restaurant group. Kevin Healy eliminated tipping at all eight HOUSEpitality restaurants and moved to a 20% service charge as part of their adoption of the New Steps of Service.

This newly captured 20% funds their labor costs for the front-of-house staff, resulting in zero server labor costs most days — and they were also able to redistribute the savings out to their staff. In other words, the best servers ultimately received a pay raise, even during the pandemic. Currently, captains and cooks are making upwards of $20 an hour, with the bussers, dishwashers, and food runners earning $15 - $17.

As an added bonus, “people are leaving additional tips as well,” Kevin says. “With that, our average employee is making an additional $3 an hour from tips, on top of that increased hourly wage.”

“It’s such a great thing,” Kevin said.

Listen to Staff Feedback

When it comes down to it, your staff are the ones living and breathing this service model every day, so be constantly listening and learning from them  — and make changes when you notice common themes in staff feedback. 

“Flexibility is important, making little tweaks and listening to your staff, if they have suggestions — they're the ones doing it every day,” shares John Myers from Eventide. “Let's say [a staff member says] ‘I know we keep doing this one thing and it seems like every time we go to the table, we're going at the wrong time. They don't want anything.’ 

“[Respond] to your staff's feedback to make sure you're doing it the way that it needs to be done and not the way that you're like “in my head, this makes perfect sense,” — maybe there's something you don't see. When you're doing it, it's different. So be responsive to staff feedback, be responsive to guest feedback and be ready to be flexible,” he added.

Get the Tech You Need to Bring the New Steps of Service to Life

The New Steps of Service can be implemented at your restaurant a number of different ways, but it all starts with tech that's made to meet the needs of today's restaurants. 

With Order and Pay, the average check size is up 15%. That's another $120,000 per year when we're at full capacity. It's transformed our business.

Wayne Carrington Roc 'N' Ramen

There are several different ways to implement the New Steps of Service, but the technology that powers this model is Order & Pay, a QR code ordering system that lets your guests order food and drinks themselves, at any time. And Toast Go 2 handhelds can help bridge the gap between the traditional service model and the New Steps of Service, letting your servers roam around with point of sale systems in their pockets, ready to put in more orders for your guests at any time.

You’ve heard from the operators and managers of Zócalo, Eventide, HOUSEpitality, Roc ‘N’ Ramen, and Alpine Inn, and learned how they’ve taken a proactive approach to reimagining their businesses this year with the New Steps of Service. 

Click through the images below to read each of their full-length stories.

These five businesses, of all different sizes, concepts, and locations, have found success with the New Steps of Service and have adjusted this framework to suit the unique needs of their businesses. 

The industry has changed forever. Now it’s time to create better jobs, better guest experiences, and more sustainable businesses. Will you give the New Steps of Service a try?



To learn how real restaurants are implementing the New Steps of Service, watch the Reimagine On-Premise Dining webinar.