There’s no question about it, your servers are the face (and essentially heart) of your restaurant. They’re the windows through which your customers view how you run your business. This being true, it’s important to equip your servers with the skills and tools needed to make you money while leaving the best impression.
Servers can, and probably should, be some of the most well trained employees you have on staff. This doesn’t mean they should know the ins-and-outs of all your restaurant equipment, but the traditional “would you like ____ with that” is no longer the convention… and customers are catching on to this selling tactic. Plain and simple, they’ve come to expect more from their dining out experience. If you train your servers to follow a few simple concepts when making their rounds, and give them the opportunity to upsell without seeming pushy, you’ll be impressed by how well they assess the needs of your guests.
Evaluate customers individually.
Being able to approach each customer from a fresh standpoint, without a set routine that treats them all alike, can mean the difference between providing an enjoyable evening and coming off as inattentive. Are the customers in your section out on a romantic date, looking to be left alone, but well taken care of? A group of party-having friends wanting new drinks regularly? Or a familiar face coming in for daily breakfast and coffee? Servers should be able to actively evaluate the air and attitude of guests in their sections, adjust their serving style appropriately and provide the service that’s expected.
Is that gentleman sitting at the end of the counter a first-time customer, or has he been coming in every day for the past year? Train your servers to recognize the regulars and invite the newcomers to become regulars. Whereas your daily customers have heard your specials explained before, new customers need that information to understand what you serve, how it’s served, and if they’ll enjoy it when they’re plate comes. Again, being able to adjust accordingly can mean all the difference.
Going hand-in-hand with recognizing your regulars, understanding the different reasons why customers walk into your restaurant, in the first place, can give your servers an edge when it comes to making an impression. Some guests stop in for a quick bite before heading home, while others make a night of eating out (and are looking to spend hours in your establishment). Servers who engage with customers, and understand individual priorities, tend to provide the best service.
Go with the flow.
Servers need to know how to pace themselves depending on which kind of customer they’re serving. Keeping a customer waiting for their check, stopping by too often to offer drink refills, or simply interrupting guests when they’re placing an order are all ways servers can overstep and misjudge a customer’s needs.
Gathering information from guests, and evaluating that information appropriately, is a crucial part of the hosting process – its part sociology and part psychology. Creating a relationship with a customer that goes beyond the crass “here’s your meal, where’s my money” approach is often effortless, but building trust can be diligent work. However, trust lets servers be more helpful when providing suggestions, creates a comfortable atmosphere, and ensures a positive experience. Customers who feel comfortable and well served are known for ordering more from the menu, taking advice when it comes to dishes they haven’t tried yet and leaving bigger tips.
But avoid the flip side of the trust coin. Never let an established relationship be taken advantage of for the sole purpose of monetary gain. Twisting trust that’s been built up over time, even if that time is the course of the night, can leave customers feeling exploited. Exploiting your customers can be a quick road to bad business and bad word of mouth, and in this industry word of mouth can mean everything.