Restaurant customers are back, with many restaurants reporting business close to pre-pandemic levels. And those consumers want the restaurant experience, according to a survey earlier this year by the National Restaurant Association. It reported that “84 percent of consumers say going out to a restaurant with family and friends is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up.”
Take a minute now and think of five things that you believe bring your customers back time and again. The first thing on that list shouldn’t be the food – it’s the service. Great service will make someone a regular customer who comes in once or twice each month. In my frequent travels, I have my favorite restaurants, and I don’t always go to the restaurant with the best food. I always go to the ones with the best service.
With all of our restaurant expertise, you would think that we could easily define what is good service vs. what is poor service. Here’s my take on making good service great.
It might surprise you, but for me great service begins before I walk into a restaurant. As I approach the front door, I put a lot of stock into how clean and neat the façade is. If there’s trash on the sidewalk, worn or torn signage, dead plants or burned-out bulbs, right away I am feeling like this restaurant doesn’t care enough about its customers. I want to walk up and think how great and welcoming everything looks.
The Host Stand
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The employee who is assigned to greet guests at the host stand has one of the most important jobs in the restaurant – perhaps the most important. Often, managers make the mistake of assigning a host or hostess additional duties, which keeps them from welcoming customers the second they walk in.
When I walk in, I would like – and I expect — to be greeted immediately. There’s no worse experience for a guest than to stand awkwardly at the host stand waiting for someone to take their name, check their reservation and seat them. To make matters worse, other staff often walk by and do not acknowledge the guest either. The guest is then questioning whether they should have even come to the restaurant, and they have not yet sat down.
Keep your greeter – the employee with the most welcoming smile – at the host stand, and instruct other staff that if they see someone waiting, acknowledge them and let them know the host will be right back.
The Server’s Greeting
Many restaurants train their servers to greet a new table within one minute of their being seated. The intent here is noble, but it is a bit misguided, especially now that servers are taking care of more tables because of lack of staff.
When the restaurant is busy, servers may be tied up and they can’t get to that new table to do the formal welcome right away. What’s important to the guest is not the standard welcome; what is most important is that they want to be acknowledged.
When I train servers, this is what I tell them: When you have a new table seated but you can’t come over immediately, break away for just 30 seconds to go to that other table and let them know that you will be with them quickly. As a guest, once I have been acknowledged, I am much more comfortable. The sooner I am comfortable, the sooner I start looking at the food and cocktail menus. The sooner I look at the menus, the sooner I’m ready to start spending money.
Slow Service Can Still Be Great Service
There are many reasons for slow service, and no restaurant is immune. It’s one of those make-or-break situations for a server, a manager and their employer.
When a guest is waiting and waiting and waiting, they start to get angry. This is not the time to avoid that table because you’re afraid of what the guest will say. Once you see the kitchen is backed up and orders are taking more time, rather than avoid that angry table, the server or manager or both should immediately come over and let the guests know what’s happening and what to expect.
You might need to comp a cocktail or a dessert to smooth ruffled feathers, but the most important thing is to make those guests feel appreciated.
And feeling appreciated, more than anything else, is what brings me back to my favorite restaurants.