In my last article I talked about how busy our restaurants will be. That was only a few weeks ago and we are now there. At this point every state is reopened to 100-percent capacity. Our customers have been very understanding of our slow service, our inconsistent staffing and fluctuating hours.
This after-COVID honeymoon period is about to end and guests’ expectations will be very high. I want to highlight some very avoidable pitfalls that I have run into over the past 30 days. Essentially, all of the restaurants I will discuss could have done it better and more efficiently by utilizing the tools that we have available to us now.
Adjusting Hours and Customer Communication
One way that many restaurants are dealing with this labor shortage is by adjusting hour or days of operation. I know of a number of restaurants that have gone from being open seven days a week and to now five days a week. Some operations are cutting out an entire service, meaning that they only do dinner whereas before they did lunch and dinner.
OK, you have adjusted hours, but my question is: What should you do next? Here’s the hint … Tell the customer.
A friend of mine recently told me that her group had reservations for a large party on a Sunday night at one of their favorite restaurants. She called to confirm the reservation on Friday only to be told that the restaurant is no longer open on Sundays. The restaurant had reservations and did not call any of the guests. Imagine how this affected the folks who did not call to confirm.
Another restaurant had a lot of reservations for a weekend night. The city had closed off a number of streets for an event. The restaurant should have called all of the reservations and given them a heads up about the event and let them know where to park. That was not done, and about 60 percent of the reservations never came in. A totally avoidable disaster.
Training, Training, Training … Making Current Staff and Managers Better
As I mentioned, our COVID honeymoon regarding service will be over soon. The more that people go out, the greater the expectations will become. As a consultant as well as a consumer, here is what I am seeing when I go out.
We walked into a restaurant and there was a sign at the host stand: “Please wait to be seated.” I think it should have said: “Please wait to be acknowledged.” We waited (with others) and no one – not a host, server, bartender or owner – came to the front. While we could see the staff, they did not seem to see us. Everyone walked out. In today’s world the host area is the most important.
Recommendation: Staff it with an employee or be prepared to work the station if you are the owner. Greet the guest, acknowledge that they may have to wait and send them to the bar.
Walked into a restaurant last Saturday and was greeted immediately by the host. We were seated right away, but the server did not get to the table for almost 15 minutes.
Recommendation: Take out tables from the dining room and keep only as many as your servers can actually handle. I would rather wait and spend money at your bar than become frustrated at one of your tables.
Because of COVID, customers notice everything related to sanitation. I watched my busser remove the glassware from our table by sticking his fingers inside the glasses so that he could carry four at a time. He also was cleaning the tables with a dry cloth, no disinfectant, no sanitizer and now no confidence on my part that this operation is looking out for my health or safety.
Recommendation: Train your bussers in best clearing and cleaning practices to show that you are looking out for them and your customers.
Prepare the Staff for Service Every Day
My single biggest pet peeve is when the restaurant is out of product but either fails to tell the guest or the staff. I was at a restaurant last night and the service went like this:
Server: “Here are our special cocktails for tonight.” (It was 7 p.m. and there were four specials.)
Us: “We would like the watermelon mojito, one white sangria and one red sangria.”
Server (returning from the bar): “I’m sorry, we are out of all of the special cocktails.”
I am not sure how this could have possibly happened or why the manager would not have told the staff not to hand out the specials list. Then this happened:
Server: “May I take your order?”
Us: “We would like one grilled salmon, one skirt steak and a Greek half chicken.”
The server returns to let us know they are out of those three dishes. This is embarrassing for the server and embarrassing for us and our friends who have never been to this restaurant.
- Let the staff know what you are out of. That way they could come to the table and say, “We are out of the following dishes, but if you would like some recommendations, here are some other great dishes.”
- Only offer drink specials that you can run all night. Either don’t hand out a specials list with three of the four specials that are no longer available, or come up with new specials.
This is the time to put our best foot forward. Let’s not make the easy and avoidable mistakes. Let’s communicate with our customers, let’s have them wait at the bar and not the tables, and, most importantly, let’s put our best staff on the front door.