Get It Right at the Beginning
In the restaurant business, your front of house staff is your vanguard. If everything is going according to plan, the host/hostess sets the cogs in motion and server takes care of the rest of the customer-facing work. If customers are your primary source of business, and your servers are their main interaction for their restaurant visit, then make sure they are fully prepared to serve.
There should be no errors in the server process. There’s no going back after a customer is disappointed, so it’s important to avoid upset diners at all costs. Have hosts properly greet your customers as soon as they come in and get the ball rolling. Make sure servers use proper titles to maintain a certain level of respect with the customers. Teach wait staff to interrupt your clients as little as physically possible; they should only interject when listening about something you could/should do for them. Ensure that every server you employ knows server etiquette and knows how to use it where it counts (i.e. serve/clear from the left, drinks from the right, ladies first, etc.) Streamlined server protocol is extremely valuable and will make a marked improvement on your restaurant’s service as a whole.
Understand and Manage Customer Expectations
This one is completely dependent on the individual client. Your wait staff should be fully prepared and ready for any type of client that rolls through the door. Some folks come right out and say that they’re in a rush and would like to be in and out as quickly as possible. Others aren’t going to be as forthcoming about what they want out of the dining experience, so it’s up to your servers to make educated guesses. If the people you’re serving seem to be anxiously awaiting their meals right from the start, then make sure they’re given prompt service. On the other hand, if they’re clearly in it for the long haul, your servers should know to use their time wisely and leave these folks alone.
Every server needs to be attentive, but they should also know when to approach people and when not to. Expectations are a strong driving force for your clientele’s overall happiness; they can make or break business if you’re not careful. You’ll get the restaurateurs who want to ask every little detail of the menu. Just the same, you’ll have restaurant goers who clearly do not want to be disturbed (you’ve surely seen a couple fight more than once). Servers should be flexible and individualize their approaches to customers. No server robots! If the customer wants to speak, then lend an ear. Otherwise, your server should get out from their shadow and go do the rest of their sidework.
Give Your Servers a Taste
It’s a server’s job to know your restaurant’s menu from front to back and from left to right. They need to know what every dish is, what it comes with, potential substitutions, etc. to be fully competent when a customer asks questions. It’s unbelievably frustrating when a server doesn’t have the answer to a simple menu item question. The more of these situations you can avoid, the better.
Improvements in this case should certainly come from the server’s end, but you could facilitate these changes yourself as a restaurant owner. Whenever possible, ask the chef to set up tastings for new menu items. Not only does that give your servers a sense (or a few senses) of what’s being prepared in the kitchen, but it gives your kitchen staff some new perspective on the food. Your front of house will have much more drive to sell menu items that they also genuinely enjoy. It validates your server’s opinions on the meals they serve and strengthens the feeling of belonging.
Build a Sense of Community
If your service staff is content with where they are, they’re likely to stick around and work hard. Try to minimize hostility in the work environment. Restaurant work is stressful for any and all employees involved. As the owner of the establishment, you set a precedence for how people are expected to behave with one another. Realistically, you don’t have the same impact on server morale as other servers do. You can still contribute to the overall morale of the restaurant by maintaining positivity. Little things, like saying “please” and “thank you” when you ask for something really do go a long way. Allow your front of house to talk amongst themselves during downtime (provided things still get done) to make them feel welcome. Foster a community where the servers help each other out, so that the restaurant clientele is always in the hands of employees who care.
Can you think of anything else that you could do to improve restaurant service? Let us know in the comments section!