How to Train Your Staff to Communicate Effectively with Guests

A great menu or location will bring customers into your restaurant, but stellar customer service is what will keep them coming back. Providing excellent service and a friendly atmosphere will earn you regulars – and those sought after five-star customer reviews. So how do we develop vital customer service? With a thorough and well thought out training plan. It’s easy to rush training and skip past essential topics when you’re short-staffed or in your busy season or during the pandemic, but investing time in training can save you time and earn your business more money in the long run.

Start with The Basics of Communication

Do not assume that your new hires will already know how to give the kind of customer service that you are looking for. Even seasoned restaurant professionals can use a refresher! Without training, the employee will revert to the practices learned at their last place of employment. As we know all too well, all restaurants are not created equal, so that could mean that new staff members have learned some bad habits from past jobs that can carry over into their work with you.

1. Listening

Train your team to listen to your customers – the right way. Often, when it is busy, we will find ourselves thinking about other things during conversations – what will I say next? Does my table over there need anything? That table has been waiting for their food for a while… Make sure your staff give customers their undivided attention and show that they are listening. They can demonstrate that they are actively listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, providing affirmations such as “yes” or “I understand,” and asking relevant clarifying questions. Listening is particularly important when customers are expressing concerns or have special requests. The key is not to rush, even when you are rushing. Employees should keep the speed of service and efficiency in mind but avoid making customers feel rushed or not listened to.

2. Verbal Language

Often when it comes to customer communication, it is not about what you say but how you say

it. Train your employees to use positive language, especially when declining a request or letting them know that a menu item or special is unavailable. Encourage them to focus on what they can do for the customer, rather than on what you cannot do. 

 Instead of saying, “I can’t do that” or “we don’t carry that,” they should be putting a positive spin on it and suggesting an alternative!  Positive language and a problem-solving mindset will allow customer service employees to give the customer a positive experience even if the customer does not get precisely what they want. Coach your new hire on some relevant examples of this. Teach a hostess how to let someone know about a wait or a lack of availability in the customer’s desired seating area. Train servers on what to suggest instead if someone asks for a particular item that is no longer offered or not offered on the day that they came in. 

3. Body Language

Make sure that your customers understand body language – both the customers’ and their own! Employees must know how to read nonverbal cues and be aware of how they deliver nonverbal cues. Body language and facial expressions can communicate what a person is feeling. Remind employees to use open body language when interacting with customers. They should avoid crossing their arms during customer interactions. Slouching or crossing arms can be a natural stance for many people, but it can communicate that you are defensive, closed off, hostile, offended, or otherwise irritated with the conversation. They should also know to watch out for a customer crossing their arms mid-conversation as it may be a sign that they are becoming irritated or unhappy. 

Give Them the FAQs

Prepare employees to answer common questions. If you get a lot of tourists, your staff may frequently receive questions about local attractions or how to get around the city. Make sure that the team knows what to recommend for common dietary restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan. Of course, they can come to you or a coworker for answers if a question comes up that they aren’t sure how to answer – but having answers readily available will boost your new employee’s confidence and provide a more seamless experience to customers. 

Problem Solving with Customers

Dealing with disgruntled customers is most people’s least favorite part of the job. However, it is something essential to prepare employees for. Ensure that your employees understand that customer complaints are not personal and that you are there to help them problem-solve with unhappy customers and de-escalate situations

Make sure that your employees know what solutions are available and when to offer them. Can they comp a customer’s meal, offer a coupon or gift certificate, free dessert? Empowering your employees to make judgment calls where possible will produce the best experience for the customer, your employees, and you! It can be frustrating to have to wait for a solution or to be passed around to different people to resolve an issue. If the individual employee is not authorized to offer such solutions, make sure that they know to actively communicate with the customer and keep them updated while waiting for a solution.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once your employees understand what to communicate and how to communicate, it is time to practice! You can start by roleplaying common customer scenarios with them. You can also pair the new hire up with a more experienced employee so that they can get comfortable with customers but still have someone there to ask for help if they get stuck. Have this start as job-shadowing, and then have the employee start taking the lead. This allows them to get real-time feedback from an experienced employee. Encouraging your employees to practice will also give customers a better experience as they won’t get stuck as the new employee’s “first table” with slow service.

Continuous Training

While the above steps will take time, they are absolutely essential when it comes to training your team. They can even be accomplished in as little as one shift if you train efficiently and have a great mentor there to help guide