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Service can make or break a customer’s restaurant experience. Even if their food is incredible, bad service can turn them away for good. Check virtually any restaurant’s Yelp page, and you’re likely to find at least one message along the lines of: “Loved the food, didn't love the service.”
There are easy tactics you can adopt to make sure guests are waited on with the level of hospitality they expect. To achieve this, you’ll need to put in place training for all your staff, new and old, on your front-of-house service expectations.
Make Training Engaging
New employees dread dull trainings, so give them something they can sink their teeth into. If you pack your front-of-house training full of interactive activities, peer-to-peer mentoring, hands-on shadowing, and actual customer contact, new hires will learn actively and soak up information eagerly.
Every pre-shift meeting should reinforce the importance of the guest and the mission of exceeding their expectations. You can run contests to challenge your servers to elevate guest experience, e.g., “The first person to get a positive Yelp review won’t have to do side work for a week.” Gamification is a surefire way to incentivize good service and maintain a routine of excellence in your restaurant.
Each employee should also have cross-functional training, meaning your servers should know how to help behind the bar, your hosts should know how to ring in food on your POS, and your bussers should know how to greet and seat guests. This enables your staff to help out anywhere when your restaurant is slammed, making sure customers are always greeted, seated, and served in a timely fashion.
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Observe Closely and Give Feedback
Whether it’s the manager or a trainer, someone should be closely observing the way new employees interact with customers and providing constructive feedback as needed. If a server is struggling to make eye contact with a guest while offering up the specials, explain to them that eye contact helps to connect you with your guests and give some pointers on how to do so. If a hostess doesn’t greet your customers with a warm smile and a friendly hello, make sure they understand that these simple greetings can change the entire experience of the guest.
You can also empower your servers to be confident when talking to customers. When your staff take pride in the unique experience your restaurant offers, guests will respond to that enthusiasm. If you notice any server lacking confidence in talking to customers, explain to them that practice makes perfect and offer positive encouragement on what they’re doing right. Fostering an environment of support will give your staff confidence in all aspects of their job.
Lastly, your team shouldn’t be afraid if they make a mistake — this kind of environment breeds distrust. Your employees should know that they can come to you when difficulties arise and that instead of scolding, you will teach them the right way to handle a situation.
Provide an Experience
It’s pretty easy to sense when a server is not interested in talking to you or when they aren’t enjoying themselves. This is very distracting when you’re out to eat — it sends the message that you are not welcome in the establishment. Explain to your employees the difference between providing a service and providing an experience. There should never be a moment when your guests feel unwelcome in your restaurant.
The guest continually notices the servers, bussers, runners, and managers. They notice when they are being waited on with care and, alternatively, when they are being neglected for chatter at the wait stand. It should be the collective goal of your entire team to make your guests feel as at home as possible.
Make Sure Hospitality Continues Through the Entire Meal
Service isn’t over once the check is paid. In fact, your staff should be providing quality service right until your customer walks out the door. There’s nothing worse than feeling like your server can’t wait for you to leave — if your guests choose to linger after the check has been dropped, don’t assume they don’t need anything else. Continue to check on them for refills or anything else they may need.
As your guests go to leave, offer a warm goodbye and a sincere thank you. Think of the difference between walking out of a restaurant unobserved, versus having each server, host, and busser thank you for coming and saying, “We hope to see you again!” Which one leaves you in a better mood? Give your customers a reason to come back. Ensure they know that their choice to dine with you was the right one by showing them that they are appreciated throughout their entire meal.
The Details Matter
Train your staff to consider the details, even the ones that seem small.
Always make sure every table has the essentials to enjoy their meal, like silverware and condiments, before the food arrives. Refills should be offered frequently, food should be run as soon as it’s ready, a guest’s concerned look should be addressed by the first person that they make eye contact with, and interactions with customers should be phrased with care.
For example, your servers should say “I will be right back with your change,” rather than “Do you need change?” These small details make a big difference to your guests — people prefer to have their needs anticipated, rather than having to ask for everything. Not only do these particulars show that your restaurant is a well-oiled machine that operates through collaboration and teamwork, it also reflects that each guest is significant.
Quality service should be the focus of your restaurant and team alike. Through offering unmatched hospitality, you’ll cater to more repeat customers, train more professional staff, and increase your reputation and sales. Most importantly, you’ll let your customers know that they are truly valued.