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Author Archive | Susie Ross

Listen To What Customers Aren’t Saying

Restaurant Customer ServiceSome of you put customer comment cards on your tables and ask that guests fill them out and let you know how you’re doing.  I could put money on the fact that you receive more complaints on those cards than praise.  Unless someone was given absolutely outstanding service or the food was just phenomenally prepared, your guests aren’t going to take the time to tell you some of the things you really should know.

They might tell you that the potatoes were cold or the salad was wilted, but do they ever mention how the server handled the situation?

Probably not; the server is usually only mentioned as an extra in the bad scene.  That is because servers sometimes act as if everything that goes wrong is the kitchen’s fault.  If we really think about it, they are the last pair of eyes to see the food before it reaches the table; they should have the final say in its appearance.

At the risk of seeming pessimistic, I want to caution you if you don’t have many guests filling out those cards.  It isn’t because everything is always great.  Most of us feel that our comments won’t be taken seriously and nothing will change as a result of our taking the time to fill those cards out.

We have become accustomed to mediocre service at the hands of a young, inexperienced person who thinks that serving food is a better way to make money than selling clothes in a trendy store at the mall.  We have become accustomed to asking for another drink because our server is busy chatting with his/her friends and wants guests to move quicker and leave more money.

We have become accustomed to our servers not having any suggestions about some of the highlights of the menu, in fact, not knowing much about the menu at all!  All of these things we have become accustomed to and therefore we don’t even think about asking for a change.

Most of us don’t know it could be so much better!

Guess what? Your servers don’t know it could be so much better, either.  They are getting the kinds of tips they deserve for their lack of attention to guests and the details that go along with them.  Your guests are giving what they think the service is worth.  When they walk out your door they might tell you that the food was great, or maybe the food was a little less tasty than usual, but they will never tell you that the service was only ok or even bad.

Understand that we live in a society where it isn’t ok to be confrontational and tell someone that they aren’t performing well.  In our politically correct society, if you tell Bob or Jane that you don’t like the way he/she is serving you, you are being rude and demanding.

What guests will do is tell you about the food because they never have to meet your kitchen staff.  They know they may have to deal with the same server again.  We don’t feel like our comments are going to be heard and treated as a comment.  We feel like we’re going to be labeled a nasty customer and treated worse.  Most customers are forgiving and will give you another chance and return.  If, however, they receive the same lack of care in service, they will quietly go away.

Who do your guests tell about their bad experiences?
They tell their friends, family and neighbors.  Sometimes they tell your competition.  And when they find out what I do, they tell me at great length and they insist that I go to you and train your wait staff.  They want to continue dining in your restaurant.  They want it to be more pleasurable than it currently is.  What you see is that your staff is taking orders and getting the food out in a timely manner.  Your guests see that, too.  They want more from a dining experience and they are willing to give more tip money when they get it.

When a server suggests wine or particular dishes and sides to go along with them, your guests don’t perceive them as being pushy.  On the contrary, when done in a professional manner and with some charm and class, they perceive it as great customer service!

Guests may not be able to articulate these ideas to you.  They just know that something is missing.  Ask any businessperson who frequently dines with potential clients and he/she will tell you he/she knows the best places to take someone for smooth, seamless service.  Your staff deserves to know that they could be earning more money.  You could be earning more money because they earn more money.

You can bring these issues up at your next employee meeting, but most servers never think you are talking about him/her.  Another shameless plug for my business!  Allow me to come in and interact with them in some role-playing situations.  They don’t need to be accused of being guilty of bad customer service; they will figure it out for themselves through the course of my class.

Training and information is the key! Contact me, Susie, at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  My business number is (720) 203-4615, and email address is  Web address is

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Suggestive Selling Sells Itself!

Server Training TipsWhat do you like about your favorite restaurant? I have a few personal favorites and the reasons are simple and I suspect they are the same as yours. I’m talking about casual dining, not the five-star, upscale dining experience. Most of us don’t go to those establishments on a regular basis; we go to the casual to casual-upscale restaurant, where we know the food quality is consistent, the bar carries our favorite wine or brand of vodka. Probably the most important reason we go is for the consistent service.

Of course we know the food is generally to our liking, but we also take for granted that we’re going to receive the same service as usual, nothing outstanding, but they always manage to get our food to us in a timely manner and they aren’t rude. And the atmosphere? Well, it’s always kind of loud and we don’t usually go there if we just want some peace and quiet while we eat. Sound like your reasoning when deciding to go out to eat?

Do you want your restaurant to be people’s favorite place to enjoy dinner? Is your food consistently good? Is your wait staff truly interested in your guests’ best dining experience? Or are they going to the tables and “taking an order?”

How many times have you heard one or all of your wait staff say, “I’m going to take table five’s order now…be right back.”

The answer is every day, of course.

They are so used to just taking an order that they don’t realize how much power they really have!

Yes, power!

They have, or should have, complete knowledge of your menu; they know the bar and the premium alcohol you serve. They have all this ammunition in their heads when they go to a table and they don’t use it! Instead they “take an order.”

Try changing the way they approach their duty as a server. Help them understand that they are an independent contractor/salesperson who has total control over his/her income. Suggest a cocktail or wine before guests ask about those things. Likewise, direct their thinking toward the appetizers and some of your most popular entrees, etc.

Suggestive selling is not insisting they have one of everything on the menu; it is simply guiding their dining experience and making them feel comfortable and welcome. When a server suggests and asks questions about what guests like, the guests feel as if their best dining experience is in the interest of the server. And it truly is if the server believes him/herself to be an independent salesperson.

It is a two-way street, of course. Guests will, more often than not, tip a server much more when they have been guided through their dining experience. As guests, we want to feel like our server has earned the tip. If he/she has guided us through the sometimes arduous journey of a menu, and found out our likes and dislikes and reacted accordingly, we feel good about leaving a bigger tip, knowing that our knowledgeable and caring server deserves it.

Training and information is the key!  Contact me, Susie, at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  My business number is (720) 203-4615, and email address is  Web address is

Excellence is an act won by training and habituation.
We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence,
but rather we have those because we have acted rightly.
We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

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Should You Allow After-Shift Drinks in Your Restaurant?

Some restaurants allow an after-shift drink, after which the staff is allowed to hang around and become regular paying customers.  The issue has come up in my trainings and I have a definite opinion on it.  I prefer that employees do not sit at the bar and drink after their shift – at all.  If they want to come in on a day off, absolutely great.

I have worked with owners who feel that it is a good morale booster for the staff, but they are wary that less than desirable behavior, including language, will ensue.  Accordingly, we have usually come to a mutual decision that rules must be adhered to in order to make it palatable for staff and guests.

Staff must be clocked out and change into clothes other than their uniforms.  And their clothes must be of a business casual style.  They are allowed one free shift drink and then they must pay as if they are regular customers.  Some owners have decided to not give a shift drink, but staff is allowed to stay and drink.

I have never seen any of these policies as a benefit for the image of the restaurant.  Inevitably, someone drinks too much and talks too loudly and inappropriately.  I have seen otherwise polite and charming staff members become loud, embarrassing drunks at the bar.  Even worse behavior has occurred at the horror of owners realizing they should not have allowed alcohol to flow as freely as it did.

For whatever reason, kitchen staff isn’t usually held to the same appearance standards as the service staff.  Chefs who have long, unruly hair and scraggly beards might keep them in check while working, but they often pass through the dining area where guests can see them.  And then they might see them at the bar later, hair flowing freely and language and subject matter being discussed that most guests feel is inappropriate.  It makes them wonder what is happening in the kitchen.

This isn’t exclusive to kitchen staff.  It is merely an example to point out that just because your position might be in the kitchen, where you feel you aren’t ever seen, may give you a false sense of obscurity.  Servers have an obligation to appear clean because of their constant and close proximity to guests.  I have seen servers and kitchen staff alike abuse the privilege of sitting at the bar and drinking.

Personally, just a couple of nights ago, I went out to dinner with a friend and witnessed this behavior.  I wasn’t working; I was out for purely social and fun reasons.  I was in the position of the guest, watching the staff lounge around.  Our waiter was wearing a chef’s coat and his hair was long and in a ponytail under a turned-around baseball cap.  It looked as if all the workers were at the bar.  One young man came shuffling through with his apron tied haphazardly across his body, his hair was long and barely contained in a ponytail and his beard was scraggly and unkempt.

Shortly after, we saw him sitting at the bar.  I don’t know if he was drinking or just hanging out.  Either way, it didn’t look professional.  The only thing that changed about his appearance was the loss of the apron.  His street clothes were sloppy and dirty looking.

Let me get even more specific, in case anyone is thinking of the atmosphere argument.  All of the places I used as examples are in a price point range where this kind of behavior should not be allowed.  There are dinner plates on the menus above $20; in my mind, guests shouldn’t have to witness the staff after work, complaining about work, making fun of each other and talking about their personal lives in front of people who are essentially responsible for their paychecks.

The exception to this rule, outside of the owner saying otherwise, is the very casual bar environment.  I have worked with restaurants who are primarily bar establishments with bar food as a secondary profit.  A very casual environment like that is very different than the other establishments mentioned.  It’s ok and sometimes even expected that staff will hang around and drink with the locals.

The point is this:  what image are you projecting to your guests?  You might be ok with tattoos, long hair and piercings, and personally, what people choose to do with their bodies is their business; however, when you’re dealing with the public at large and especially the preparation of their food, you might consider asking your staff to put their long hair into a neat ponytail or bun, cover up the tattoos and take out the piercings.  Health codes dictate length of nails and specific cleanliness details of food handlers – chefs and servers alike.

Just think about how it looks.  I’m not suggesting that people change who they are; I’m a big fan of individual characters and quirky personalities.  I encourage them!  But we’re dealing with food; the perceptions of our guests should match the reality.  That means that no matter your personal style, you should also appear and be immaculate.

This is a sensitive topic and I welcome comments and feedback.  If anyone has a unique perspective and/or a successful rule about this subject, please share it!

Training and information is the key! Contact Susie at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  The business number is 720.203.4615, and email address is  Web address is

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