Do You Serve Guests or Customers? Increase Loyalty by Serving Guests

When I worked as a server and bartender in a New York City upscale restaurant, my co-workers and I attended many Guest Service Trainings. Those we served were our guests, and not just customers. At the time I found this inaccurate – (I didn’t invite them. I don’t even know them) – and somewhat confusing. How is this different from customer service? The training was essentially the same as what I experienced in my prior restaurant jobs, where it was called customer service.

Looking at this now, I see the purpose for using the word guest. My guests will be welcomed and treated well because I have a relationship with them – I have invited them to the restaurant. None of this is technically true, of course (thus my confusion), but the implication and directive is clear: Build a relationship and authentically welcome guests.

That sounds great, but how exactly do I accomplish it? Trainings never really tackled this question – sticking mainly to directives: smile, learn guest’s name, and accommodate special requests. The fact is, in order to build a relationship with guests, I need to use myself – (personality, humor, values) – to make an authentic connection.

This also sounds great, but how can managers teach or train their staff to use themselves? Start by ensuring that workers feel comfortable and confident. This is key to workers being themselves and using their personality to connect with guests. Here’s how to get to comfort and confidence:

Check In

Before each shift, gather workers together and do a quick check in. Share information with the employees (inventory and supplies, changes to menu) as well as your expectations for business (weather or local events may effect). Encourage workers to ask questions and share concerns and feedback. Here, you want to tune in and trust your instincts. For example, a worker may feel ill, but doesn’t say anything. State this – Jane you look a little pale – are you ok? If she’s not ok, you may want to ask staff members to help cover her and alert you if Jane needs to step off the floor. This puts the group at ease and sets the tone for a strong service. These interactions build confidence and connection. Workers are prepared and supported- comfortable and ready to welcome customers.

Set Clear Expectations

Be specific when explaining policies and protocols. If you direct your staff to “accommodate guest requests” state exactly what that means. For example, the chicken dish is served grilled – (the customer wants it baked with a special sauce) – is this possible? If so, be sure the chef and cooks are on board and that this won’t delay other orders in the kitchen. Think through how this will work – will the server need to take time off the floor to explain to kitchen staff (another disruption to service)? Tell your staff how you want these requests handled and be specific. Staff feels secure, and then comfort and confidence follow.

Practice and Support

Guest service is not always smooth sailing and pleasant. Workers need to know how you want difficult situations handled – specific steps to take and where/how to reach out for help. Practice is important – play out scenarios and guide workers in how to manage strained interactions and demanding guests. This role-play and instruction fosters a sense of empowerment and security in workers. Follow it up with a strong support system. This means you take a close look at complaints and find ways to manage guest upset and stay loyal to your staff.

Follow these steps to foster comfort and confidence in your staff. You’ll notice your workers more at ease, using themselves – (personality, humor, values) – to connect with guests. These connections become relationships – the key to effective guest service and guest loyalty. Your guests will return because they feel authentically welcomed and valued.

Author photo by Joe Henson