Are You Doing This?
Does Your Favorite Restaurant Drop The Ball When It Comes To Superior Customer Service?
Does it seem that you rarely get great customer service or fail to get it consistently?
Well you may be surprised to learn that you are part of the problem.
When it comes to customer service, good restaurants pay close attention to methodology, training and delivery. They constantly strive to consistently over deliver and yet it seems customer service is the customer’s number one complaint.
When it comes to customer service, good restaurants pay close attention to methodology, training and delivery. They constantly strive to consistently over deliver and yet it seems customer service is the number one complaint. Why?
The problem is rarely enthusiasm, waiters are eager to do a good job.. at least at the onset, but often times the many, various and often the peculiar needs of others can overwhelm even the cheeriest and most capable of employees and push them to the brink of a nervous breakdown nightly.
The obvious answer is of course, “get another job.” The glib sentiment of besmirched customers who leave loose change, nasty notes and scathing social media reviews in the wake of perceived inattentive service.
Having some experience in the restaurant industry, it is far easier for me to see, understand and forgive the missteps of total strangers who’ve been assigned to anticipate my every whim, but others may not be as astute or even care that the new hostess has just seated my server two new tables in back to back and my order is going to take longer now as a result. While my busy server is greeting and taking drink orders for fourteen new people, she doesn’t see that the other servers have no tables but I do. New hostess error, vendetta, planning for a larger party later at the currently seated tables? We may never know. I am simply aware that I can’t get things as fast as before.
It doesn’t help matters that the chef is in a bad mood, has been known to passively aggressive loose tickets or throw knives and the new table of eight is asking to substitute virtually every ingredient for every other ingredient. I can see beads of sweat reminiscent of the movie “Airplane” materializing on my server’s forehead as she invasions the chefs angry face as he reads the new novel she wrote at the POS terminal while I patiently (Not really) wait to ask for another beer. In the blink of an eye things were not as customer friendly and it was all the fault of the evil hostess who dared to seat additional guests once I had arrived.
Why should I wait for my beer? Constantly looking away from my handsome boyfriend to see if I could catch my waitress’s eye. Nope. She was writing War & Peace, double and triple checking everything for any error that might send “Wolfgang *uck” into a knife throwing rage. This while one of her co-workers chattered on in her ear, trying to make her slip up, as she waited for her turn on the computer. Why should I have to wait? I had no substitutions. No “squeaky door” emergencies that send servers looking for managers because “the air conditioner is blowing near me.” Or “The music is so loud by my table. I can’t even here.” I didn’t have kids that needed “french fries EMEDIATELY! No, don’t even take our drink order, just put the order for french fries in and come back.” That’s two trips by the way for those of you who think there server is not doing their “job” for you, often there are doing it twice for someone else. Twice due to poor planning when it came to their “Little Chukies” dietary needs. Why should I wait for my beer because you didn’t pack a Lunchable for your little angel who is emptying all the sugar packets? Why is there no Heineken for me because of a condom shortage four years ago? Why If Chucky needs food or will go into a diabetic coma should my server do her job twice because of it? Because that is reality. This is the world we live in and it is special. Special order, special situation, special diet, special occasion friendly and if we are going to reap the rewards of switching menu items, feeding cranky kids, not freezing under an air-conditioning vent at some point in our own lives then we have to make allowances for the fact that others may be experiencing those moments right now as you dine.
That being said, how many times have you dined at a restaurant and loved the food but failed to get good service and never went back? Why would you have to? There are always new great restaurants to try so even though the food was spectacular; your server never brought the extra lemon wedge you asked for after she brought mustard for your friend (Two trips which cost another table time getting her beer by the way.) and didn’t smile when you had to remind her so why go back? Better to just get on the internet and write directly to her manager through an anonymous, scathing Yelp review which results in an employee review, new found job resentment and domino effect passive aggressive behavior for all subsequent customers. Customers who will vow never to return because their waitress didn’t smile when they asked for a wedge of lemon as she delivered mustard to their friend and didn’t smile again when they reminded her that she “forgot” the lemon.
Why go back? Why do things differently? Well you are reading this because this which has become standard isn’t working for you. You want better customer service. Well here is how you can get it:
Think for a moment that this way which has become standard really isn’t working for anyone. Not the customers who get treated like an afterthought, not the waiters who don’t know how nice you are and not the restaurants who never see you (or your wallet) again.
If you can see how the “standard” doesn’t work then you can see your part in its solution at least in as much as it applies to you.
Here is one solution which won’t require much effort on your part but will net you big results in the end: become recognized. It is the only way you can get great, personalized, consistently great service and it’s easier to accomplish than you think. Otherwise you are merely an anonymous person your waiter hopes to get a tip from.
First choose a restaurant you have been before or plan to make your regular “go-to” for great service. If you’ve been there before you know the lay of the land and know where you would like to sit and where you would prefer not to sit. If you haven’t been there and are choosing new place you would like to make your regular spot for great customer service then go on-line to look for pictures of the dining room and locate where you would prefer to sit.
Next call your “go-to” for a reservation.
If you have a “go to” for great sushi, a go to for great steak and a “go to” for great burgers why not add a “go to” for great service? With anything worth wild it will take some work on your end. As there are several variables at play, your mission will be to make a few of those variables as constant as possible. But this is a process and will take some effort and perhaps some extra cash on your part depending on how “recognized” you would like to be so now that you have chosen your restaurant, now its time to book your reservation. Make sure you dine early enough that your server is able to focus on you and isn’t swamped with diners. (Translation: If you are trying to become a recognized customer, don’t dine at a time when your server is so busy that he doesn’t have time to recognize you. You will be wasting your time. He will not be able to remember you.)
When you make the reservation, tell the hostess why you what your dinner will be for i.e. a date, business meeting, friends from out of town and ask the her for the best table for your needs and what that table number would be to request it in the future. (A table good for a date probably won’t be good for a business meeting and vice-versa but when you simply make a reservation there is no way of knowing which you prefer and you most certainly will be let down a certain percent of the time as a result.) You are a smart person. You are reading this page after all. How many times have you begun an evening with a table that was the complete opposite of what you wanted? How many times have you arrived to dinner during peak dining “rush hour” to find every other table taken? Well guess what? If you don’t tell your hostess you need something romantic she has no reason to hold the romantic corner table for you and will give it to the extremely persistent couple who just walked in before you. She still has a table for you after all, and that’s all you asked for. A little communication with her beforehand and she would have told dozens of couples that the table you are miserable at now was the only one she had available for them and they would have been thankful.
Instead, your night is off to a lousy start because the person on the other end of the phone was not able to read your mind. Now you are frustrated, you feel like “What is the point of a reservation!!?” things are off to a bad start with your waiter and he has absolutely no idea why.
So, you make your reservation, communicated your needs and desires with your hostess. Make sure to remember her name so you can thank her or if the table isn’t what you had in mind, you will want to use her name to request another one. Before you hang up, ask the hostess who is the best waiter and why. Some servers are more efficient and invisible, others have vast wine knowledge and others take pictures and videos etc. and make celebrations unique and special. If you just ask for the best server you won’t have a name to go with it and his style of serving may not be what you are looking for. The more you can give and get from conversations with your hostess, the better prepared your server will be. Now you arrive at the restaurant and are seated at a great table, you already know your server’s style and he already knows the theme for your dinner from what the hostess has told him and can better sense what you are looking for. Now, for something completely different: Say, “Thank you.” You will have his full attention because no one ever does it. They just take for granted that they should start telling a complete stranger what they want or that they aren’t ready to order yet or “What are your specials?” Try “*Thank you” instead. There is quite a bit of preparation that goes in to the table that you are sitting at and learning about the foods and ingredients your are going to be asking about. Your server has already been working for you long before you even arrived and it’s a nice, disarming way to start a relationship with a total stranger who’s table you are now seated at.
The rest of your dining experience should go as expected but when you are paying the check if you received everything you were expecting then tip more than usual. (I recommend 25%-30% of the total. Remember this is part of the process. You can go anywhere and have an average experience and leave an average tip but this is going to be your “go to” for great service and recognition. Here you are going to be known as above average, warranting extra attention because you are generous.)
If nothing went terribly wrong, your waiter seemed to sense your needs and desires, your personalities didn’t clash and you can see him as your regular server then thank him by asking to speak with the manager or owner. When he comes to the table make sure to tell him what a nice experience you have had and how your server really was in tune with what you wanted. Your complement will go a very long way for a server and he will really appreciate and remember you for it. Give the manager your business card and tell him why the restaurant and server is perfect for your future business dinners or get togethers. Be sure to send complements to the chef and ask for his name. Tell the manager that next time you come in you would like to meet the chef to thank him personally. Make your next reservation with the manager before you even get up from the table. Ask what table number it is or request a different one. It will be in the computer associated with your phone number every time you call. Thank your hostess by name on the way out. Thank her for taking the time to plan the perfect lunch or dinner with you and listen to what you wanted. (These things mean a lot and move you to the top of the list when it comes to priorities. Don’t abuse your recognition. Although it is effort on your end don’t mistake it for entitlement and start finger snapping or using a server’s name. There is a fine line between a “good customer” that the entire staff is happy to see and loves showering with V.I.P. perks because it is unexpected and an arrogant guest who uses the staff’s names and kindness against them to create additional work. Those guests will not be “Welcomed” for very long and all your efforts will be for nothing and you will only embarrass yourself.)
*If I have a really important dinner and don’t know the restaurant, when I arrive I ask the server to show me to the restroom and when we are out of sight of my guests I hand him $20 and say, “Thank you for your help in making this a special dinner tonight. My name is LeeAnne.” Then I ask his name, tell him about my needs or the theme or my guests needs so he doesn’t have to try to read my mind all night. The result is usually fantastic.
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As a hospitality / customer service consultant and trainer I teach restaurant employees to see their customers, their town, their restaurant, their section, their hostess, their co-workers, their chef, their manager, the restaurant owner, the food, even the building where they work as a goldmines to help them create everything they ever dreamed of in life.
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