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Service 101: Tips for customers and waiters
July 21, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
When dining out, my diet-conscious friend requested her salad without the sprinkled cheese. The waitress responded, “We don’t do that” and walked away.
“Don’t do what?” I thought. “Don’t put cheese on the salad? Don’t make the salad first before adding the cheese? Or don’t honor customers’ requests?”
Service in a restaurant has much to do with what is said. It has much to do with how it is said and it has much to do with the actions take when saying it. Communication between the wait staff and the customer is paramount to the customer’s experience.
As a teenager, I remember my annoyed mother saying, “It’s not what you said, it’s your attitude!” All forms of communication can transmit directly to the customer. As with all relationships, the customer/server relationship is personal. As humans, we take all human interaction personally. We are affronted by rudeness, we hate being ignored and we flourish under personal attention.
Oh, busboy, that is all a service person really needs to know.
But it isn’t entirely that simple.
The customer and the service person do not always relate. The wait person is serving many people at a time, day after day. The “people” they are facing might lose their personal faces as the day or evening wear on. Sometimes the wait person is dealing with his or her own personal issues — the babysitter arrived with her boyfriend, or the in-laws are coming for the weekend.
Sometimes it’s very crowded, so speed and efficiency take priority and the personal aspects of service get lost. Sometimes, it is difficult to keep up and personally care about each person as they sit at one’s table.
Direct personal contact is what serving is all about.
Customers, however, arrive with certain expectations. They are paying for a pleasant evening. They are paying for good food and good service. This meal alone is what is happening to them at this time. It’s not that they are demanding, it’s the way it is. The customer has a single focus; the wait staff is focused on a lot of customers, activities and, sometimes, their own lives.
So what? Well, I have a few suggestions for the restaurant, the wait staff and the customer to ease this personality gap:?
The restaurant managers should hire warm, friendly people who naturally care about helping others. It’s very difficult to “teach” people to be warm, friendly and caring. If Mom and Dad couldn’t teach it, you probably won’t be able to. There are “naturally” friendly people.
Train the wait person very well. A wait person who is comfortable with the system, the techniques of service and the timing can focus more on customer relationships than worrying about the “how-to” of the job.
Hire enough wait staff for busy periods. To give attention, one must have time to give that attention.
The customer must be reasonable. You are not the only one in the dining room. There is no excuse for rudeness. The wait person is a human being just like you and he or she is not perfect. Treat your waiter or waitress with respect. Tip well for good service — it sends a very strong message.
The service person must be prepared. Know where needed items are ahead of time. Know the menu and know the ordering system. Make sure the sure the table is complete. Pace yourself.
Practice your good attitude and manner at home so that it comes easier at the work place. Who knows — this could improve your relationships with your spouse, family or your friends.
When at a table, block out the others. Focus on one table, one person at a time. Gently look the customer in the eye and try to make a personal connection. When walking, survey your tables for needs.
You are being paid to be nice, so try to leave your troubles at home.
Pretend that a difficult customer is your beloved “Aunt Millie” having a bad day. Who knows, it might work.
Don’t blame coworkers or complain to customers about how the restaurant is service is slow. It might allow you to temporarily feel better, but it really makes you look worse. It also keeps the customer from returning, hurting your job security.
Help other people on the staff; you might be in that spot some day.
Perhaps my advice is not earthshaking. But sometimes simple changes or thoughts can make a difference. What a difference it would have made if the waitress had stopped and leaned to my friend and said, “I’m so sorry, they make the salads early and the cheese is already on them,” or, if she was too busy, she might have said, “I’ll be right back to find you an alternative.”
Restaurant Watch: The next time you are in a restaurant, check out how service and the customer relates.
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