Just about Service …

Service is not just about standards!

Service is about a relationship.
The relationship between the Restaurant and the customers (through the waiter).

A Service is indeed such a crucial point, any respectable Restaurateur should be spending a considerable amount of time carefully designing their Service Standards.

Strict checklists, Mystery Diner Audits and various detailed SOPs will be used to ensure every waiter says and does the same.

But here is the tricky question. As service is relationship, can it be reduced to checklists?

Personally, I think Service Standards are very useful to ensure waiters’ productivity and efficiency but in terms of quality of service, they are nothing more than training wheels.

The following paragraphs are about sharing an overview of this vast subject of Service.

I will touch on many topics such as table reading techniques, service psychology, future of service, personality-based recruitment a.s.o. Hopefully it will entice you to deepen your research …

In order to reduce the length of this work, I will focus specifically on the role of the waiters / waitress as in most operations, they lead the relationship with the guests. Saying that, most of the coming concepts can apply to Bartenders and Sommelier’s work.

So, what truly makes great service?
Understand your customer / The beginning of the relationship.

Take 3 seconds to observe your customer

It does not take long at all to see if the guest at the table are on business, date or else. To see if they are relaxed or stressed.

In the 3 seconds it takes to approach the table for the first time, you can already assess how likely it is your guest will want to engage with you in long conversations or not; if they are likely to require extra attention or if they are likely to challenge you on your return times…

Find out who is in charge.

Get a feeling of who will be paying for the bill, who will be giving the tempo for the meal, who has most likely decided to bring the guests to your restaurant. That person probably feels responsible for the happiness of the whole table. Watch them during service as they will be the first to signal any issue directly or indirectly.

About watching for signals

As runner / busboy, I used to watch the kitchen pass and tables. As waiter, I mostly looked at guests’ faces.

I won’t go too far into body language as there are experts who have already written thousands of books on it… All I will say is that most of the time, you really should be able to feel something is wrong way before you get a complaint, or a guest asks to speak to the manager.We are not all equal when it comes to people skills but we should all keep working at it. People skills will help you in this job and probably the next.

Making the first impression

Remember service is relationship and in relationships first impressions matter.

First of all, I never suggest the waiting staff puts on “an over the top show”. I believe these days are long gone, at least in London. Instead, be confident which is the opposite of arrogant or “show off”.

Be attentive which means not showing your guests that you have a million things going on and make them feel you are not really with them or here for them.

Finally, be kind. Not every guest will be kind in return, but it does not matter. By being kind, you increase the chances of setting a positive base line for the relationship which will help you throughout the experience.

Different Guests, Different relationships. Adapt your service!

The volume theory.

You should never be expected to change your personality. You are who you are.Being yourself will make you come across as genuine.

However, you need to control the volume of your personality.Understand how much space there is in the relationship for your personality and give only the right amount.

The business lunch scenario

Let’s say a customer has chosen your restaurant to host a business lunch.

That lunch may be a friendly catch up with one of their colleagues or perhaps it will include very formal and deep discussions.The type of discussion will dramatically impact their need for focus and of course privacy.

When in an intense discussion, the last thing anyone needs is being interrupted by a waiter/waitress who wants to know if “everything is alright”.That interruption will be as well received as an advert in the middle of a movie.

Here are some tips on the business lunch scenario:

Maybe avoid:
  • Unnecessary questions
  • Long description of every single dish
  • Hanging around the table
  • Changing plates that don’t need changing
Maybe do:
  • Propose to leave the water on the table for guests to help themselves.
  • Tell your colleagues not to touch the table. The more people interfere, the more chances of interrupting unnecessarily.
  • Tell the guest not to hesitate to ask if they need anything.

Service is delivered by waiters/waitresses but built by management.

For now, humans are still better than robots

Too many restaurant managers or bar operators look for “robot waiters/waitresses”.

Service standards and duties checklists can be taught to most people, but real people skills and “humanity” are a lot harder to come across. Try recruit personalities and not CV. This will also give you an advantage on your competitors as you won’t be chasing the candidates everyone is already chasing.

I use open days and group interviews for screening a large volume of candidates in a short amount of time. This works well for the first stage in the recruitment process.

Let’s teach to think and not only to repeat.

Earlier on this article, I shared a “Business Lunch scenario” with you.You can create your own scenarios and role play them with your teams at briefing or short training sessions.Make it a role play followed by a short brainstorm and discussion and you’ll be surprised by how much you and your team can get out of it.

What are service standards?

In some cases, service standards are about quality of the experience and in other cases they are about increasing the restaurant’s profitability.

That’s absolutely fine, both matter very much but be aware of it and ask yourself the question “Are my service standards about service or money? Am I focusing enough on my customer’s experience?”

Here are some examples of standards that are designed to increase profitability: “Did you suggest a second coffee?”, “Did you suggest a dessert?”, “did you recommend an aperitif?”, “Did you try to sell chef’s recommendation?”…

Here are some example of standards that are about the quality of the experience: “Did you create eye contact with the customer whilst taking orders?”, “Where the starters served within 10 minutes after the food order was taken?”…

Also good to remind yourself that Service Standards do not replace training. They are a great starting point, a very practical structure but much more is required in terms of training to achieve great Service.As a manager you must also encourage role plays and short trainings that focus on human interaction (staff / customer).

Push back on certain excuses.

Let’s take the current UK recruitment market as an example; It is currently harder than it used to be to recruit due to 3 factors:

Lack of candidates due to possible changes in immigration laws (Brexit) / Generation Z workers are apparently different / We are all short of staff, so we fight hard to attract the best candidates and as a result the recruitment market is only getting tougher.

Few ideas / solutions:

  • Broaden the pool you are recruiting from and consider candidates from other industries
  • Make your recruitment adds attractive and exciting

Get creative and make the visually beautiful (worth the investment).Reduce words. Just briefly list experience / knowledge requirements for the job so you don’t scare candidates away. Generation Z candidates are less confident than they project.

  • Emphasize on showing what you are giving!

The pay & perks of course. Also talk about the job you are recruiting for and already the next “successful candidates will be given the opportunity to join intense training / fast track programs…”.

To conclude

The principles briefly mentioned above have been around since hospitality exists. There is no “new school / old school” when it comes to service. We just see new trends that come and go as well as new technologies that bring us new tools, but until now principles remained the same.

Please do react, comment, feedback…. we all have our own style of service….

© Alexandre Santamaria