Are Your Servers Driving Away Your Customers?
Your restaurant’s service is arguably just as important to the getting and retaining customers as the food is. Yes, it’s important to have great kitchen talent who knock it out of the park in terms of quality food and presentation. You could argue that it’s equally necessary to have the clientele be completely content (maybe even overjoyed) with the experience of dining at your restaurant. The keyword here is experience. People can find sustenance in many different ways, including going to a fast food joint, hopping on a line at a food truck, or even preparing food at home through groceries that they purchased. What, then, is bringing them into your place and keep them coming back?
That’s where server-to-customer interactions come into play. Your wait staff is the direct line between the great food at your restaurant and the people who wish to enjoy it. Believe it or not, people often care more about the price of the food, the quality of service, and the atmosphere in the restaurant than they do about how tasty the meal is. That’s not to say that the food itself is not important, but the most common complaint toward a restaurant is the bad service. To the customer, it’s all about how your restaurant as a whole treats them.
What do you do if your restaurant is receiving any troubling complaints or poor reviews? 9 times out of 10, issues can be traced back to something that a poor server caused or something that a great server could have prevented.
What Does Your Server’s Approach Look Like?
Customers who enter a restaurant wish to be placed on a pedestal. They chose your restaurant out of anything else in the entire city, and expect great things because of that choice. With that in mind, nobody in your restaurant should be actively seeking ways to give your customers a hard time. It’s the little things, however, that can cause that second glance.
How your server chooses to address the customer, for example, can have a marked impact on their perceptions of your establishment. The server’s body language, speed of speech, eye contact and choice of words are all subject to scrutiny by the customers. Many servers approach the customer in a nonchalant and colloquial manner in order to establish comfort and friendliness. Although this approach may work for in certain restaurants, it’s important to also read the table and understand the customers. Your restaurant patrons aren’t always going to be happy-go-lucky. It’s important that your servers know the proper fine dining etiquette for those situations where your customers are a bit more by-the-book.
Now Sell It Right!
Your server is the one selling your restaurant’s products to the customers for purchase. Make the customer believe that everything you sell is worth their while. Ensure that your servers refrain from addressing customers as “we” or “you guys” when approaching a table with more traditional customers. Teach them to serve from the left and clear from the right. Always have them greet the customer as quickly as possible with water and a kind smile. Have the server present food and drink to women before men as per the rules of proper etiquette (aka ladies first). Above all else, make sure your server is attentive and on top of the needs of the customer throughout their dining experience.
Thinking Like an EMS Dispatcher
Even if your servers are all perfectly capable with fine dining rules, it can at times be difficult to understand the things that would truly matter to the customer. In order to better work with the customer and individualize each experience, let’s look at a study conducted by the Department of Statistical Sciences & Operations Research and Clemson University:
It can be helpful to look at server-to-customer interactions through the lens of emergency medical service (EMS) systems. In an EMS call, a decision needs to be made to best dispatch an ambulance to priority patients. In order to improve both response time and patient outcomes (i.e. reduce the amount of injury and death), each call is prioritized as Priority 1, Priority 2 or Priority 3. Priority 1 calls are life-threatening and need to be taken care of the fastest. Priority 2 calls are potentially life-threatening and priority 3 calls do not appear to be an emergency according to the operator. With the current system, the closest ambulance is sent to priority 1 distress calls, and it trickles down from there.
What Does That Mean For Service?
How does this apply to servers and customers? According to this paper, it’s not always best to send the closest server or the one who is next in line in the que. In reality, your best servers should be sent out to customers who are perceived to require more effort. That way, you keep even the stingiest customers happy.
It’s also important to realize that some customers are not always going to need much attention. A good host/hostess can use their powers of observation to determine which server is best suited for which table. The server can then use their own skills to make sure that they spend their time wisely and tend to the customers who need the most attention. At the end of the day, if you ensure that your servers all still get their fair share of tables, then the customers are happier and the restaurant runs significantly more smoothly.
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