Waiters: Spoil Your Customers

Simon Pierce restaurant
Photo by sfadden

Whenever I go out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it seems as if a good amount of  servers  don’t really care about taking care of their tables.  I often see other guests being ignored when lifting their hand to get the waiter’s attention and scanning the dining room impatiently waiting to pay.  It really surprises me because taking care of your tables should be easy – like second nature.

There are many little things that you can do to spoil your customers:

1.  Make eye contact

It seems silly really, but if you’re walking around the restaurant with blinders on, you won’t notice when one of your guests is trying to grab your attention.  As a customer, it must be extremely annoying when a waiter doesn’t acknowledge you.  Even if you’re in the middle of bringing plates to another table, scan your section.  If someone raises their hand, the least you can do is nod to let them know you’ll be going around to see them.

2. Refill water glasses / Ask if they would like another drink

Don’t wait for their water glass to be completely empty before refilling it.  Of course, you don’t want to top it off after only a couple of sips, but if the glass is half empty, top it off with some fresh water before they have a chance to finish it all.  Some people drink a lot of water, so try your best to accommodate them.

When drinks/beverages are down to 1/4 of the glass, ask if they’d like another.  I’m not saying offer it on the house or anything of the sorts, but if a customer stops eating and is looking everywhere for you to order another drink, it’s a waste of time.  Think of it, you’ll be satisfying your customers needs before they even realize it and up selling.

3. Learn regular customer’s likes and dislikes

If you have a good memory, this tip will really come in handy.  If you’ve been in a certain restaurant long enough, you start to get to know the regular customers that come in and out of the restaurant on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  Learn what they like and dislike.  If you notice that they always pick out the mushrooms from their pasta and you know it’s possible to make the dish without the mushrooms, suggest to the customer that next time they can order it without mushrooms.  Better yet, then next time you serve them try to remember to order the pasta without it.  It will surprise them.

For example, I served a couple once and they ordered the chicken.  I remembered them saying they loved it, so the next time they came, I remembered and asked “Will we be having the chicken this evening?”.  They smiled and said “How did you remember that?”.  I just smiled and made a lame joke, but they laughed and looked impressed.  Then I noticed that they ordered the same bottle of wine as last time.  I added that to my memory so that when they next time they came, I asked them right away if they’d like to start with that bottle of wine.  They were speechless and said that from now on they were going to ask to be served by me.  Honestly, it’s a win-win situation.  Learn your customer’s likes and dislikes.

4. Serve at the customer’s pace

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone out to a restaurant only to have the waitress run up to me and ask if I want anything to drink before I even have a chance to sit down.  That’s just annoying (“Can I at least sit down and look at the menu first?”).  Timing can be difficult, especially since there are some people who know right away that they want a beer immediately (you know – it’s been a hard day).  But at least give people a chance to sit.  You’ll notice that guests who want a drink asap will settle in much faster than a couple dining in your restaurant for the first time.

Do not rush customers who are taking their time eating.  Especially in a group, people will eat slowly while talking and enjoying their night out, so go at their pace.  Instead of rushing appetizers, give your customers a chance to sip at their wine a bit or enjoy those few first sips of an ice cold beer.

When it comes to the bill, invite them to take their time so they don’t feel like you’re trying to rush them out the door.  I understand needing to turn over your tables and that’s how you make your money, but most people won’t stay that long after receiving the bill unless they’re really chatting up a storm.  That can be a problem when it comes to making money, but there’s nothing you can do to change that without obviously trying to kick them out (which is inappropriate).  It’s annoying, but it happens.  Don’t rush your guests.

5. Think of the little things

All the little things you can do to make your customer’s experience even better than they expected is a bonus.  For example, let’s say you have a salad and the guest has 3 salad dressings to choose from.  They seem unsure of which one to choose, worried that they may not like it, so why not try suggesting putting it on the side of the salad so that in case they don’t like it, they can change it.  It’s a simple solution really and the guest will really appreciate the effort.  All the little things like that add up and make for a happy customer.

Waiters, really make an effort to spoil your customers rotten.  Give them the service they deserve and treat them with respect.  They’ll definitely come back wanting more…and even ask to be served by you.

The Waitress Confessions

True Story: The Horrible Hostess

[Hostess job description at The Hot Spot:  answering the phone, greeting and seating guests, bussing tables, and saying “Goodbye” to guests]

About a week ago, I was getting into work and had just put on my apron and was heading into the Front of the House when I saw the morning hostess rolling cutlery for the day.  For the sake of this post, let’s call her Cher.

The problem: she was blasting her own music from the bar’s radio at top volume and singing and dancing along with the song.  None of her Opening Tasks were done and she had her cellphone next to her and was texting.

The rules: First of all, cellphone are prohibited in the Front of the House at all times.  Waiters, bartenders, and hostesses are to keep them in the staff rooms.  Secondly, the restaurant was opening in 5 minutes and she seemed completely unaware of that fact and seeing as how she’s in charge of unlocking the front door, it didn’t seem like she was going to do that any time soon.  Also, the radio in the bar is for bartender use only, so not only was she breaking that rule, but also the volume level should be kept to a minimum so as not to bother other employees and customers seated nearby.

The story: The Ass. Manager was MIA so I assume she was taking advantage of the fact that our boss wasn’t there and was taking some time to do whatever she wanted before he came in to work.  So, I took it upon myself to walk into the bar and turn off the radio.

“Hey!” she said.  “I was listening to that.”

“Well, the restaurant is opening in 2 minutes so we need to turn on the regular restaurant radio and unlock the front door.” I explained.

“Oh….yeah. I forgot.”

Nice.  Way to do your job properly.

So throughout the day, other employees strolled in and started to work.  As soon as on of the bartenders, Lancelot, came in, the hostess left the front desk, went to the bar to chat with her back to the door, and continued on as if what she was doing was okay.  It was a Sunday so there weren’t too many tables at that time, but I knew customers would start coming in at around 1:00 pm.    At that moment, I noticed a couple walk through the door and glanced over to Cher chatting up a storm with the bartender, completely unaware of the fact that two people were now looking around for a hostess to seat them.  I waited to see what she would do.  She never even looked towards the front once.

“There are people in the front.”  I told her.

She dropped what she was doing and went to the front to seat them, only to come back and continue gabbing away.  Then four people came through the door and Cher still didn’t notice them.

“Hey, Cher!” I yelled at her. ” Get to the front, there are people there!”

This continued on like this for another…oh let’s say 4 times until I started having to answer the phone for her because she was too distracted to hear it ringing. I finally went up to her and said “Cher, I’m tired of doing your job for you.  Stay in the front and do your job.”  That lasted for all but 15 minutes.

Imagine you’re a waitress, in the middle of taking and order and have to say “Excuse me one moment” to your table so you can answer the phone for a hostess who is doing nothing that talking all day.  It’s infuriating.  You could say “Just don’t answer the phone”, but if the boss calls and no one answers, everyone is responsible for not answering.

If the hostess can’t answer the phone, then the manager does (if there is a manager present).  If the manager can’t answer the phone, then a waiter answers.  If they’re all busy, then someone in the kitchen has to answer.  With a limited number of staff on Sunday lunches, it’s a very short list of people able to answer the phone. Plus, with one cook in the kitchen, he can’t just drop everything and answer the phone while in the middle of cooking 6 table’s food, now can he?

How terrible will it look to customers if their waitress runs off to answer the phone in a middle of an order?  Well, I can tell you now it looks completely unprofessional, especially with the hostess standing there yapping instead of doing her job.

What I thought about doing:  Honestly, I thought that a way to get her to stay in front was to get my cellphone and force her to stay in front by continuously calling the restaurant, but with the amount of tables I had there was no time for doing something like that, but I have to admit that schemes like that did cross my mind (doesn’t everyone think like that from time to time?).  It would have been sneaky and a little bit evil, but may have taught her a lesson.

The solution: So, what did I do?  I told The Boss.  Yeah, I know.  I felt like a snitch, but seriously…enough is enough.  He was extremely unimpressed.  They took her off the schedule for Sunday lunches and put a competent, hardworking hostess who will do her job and do it well.

The importance of a hostess: This kind of “I don’t care about my work” attitude should not be taken lightly, because the first impression a customer gets is when they are greeted by a hostess.  There’s nothing worse than walking into a restaurant and having to wait for 15 minutes while staring at a sign that says “Please wait to be seated” thinking How much longer do we have to wait?  The hostess’ priority is The Door and any employee who can not understand that should be given the boot.

The Waitress Confessions

Restaurant Terms:

Front of the House – the front end of the restaurant, the dining room and bar where the customers are served and wait staff, bartenders,  and dining room managers mostly work.

Opening Tasks –  A list of tasks that need to be accomplished before the restaurant opens for the day.