I was recently talking with a chef friend who gets it. He’s owned his own fine dining restaurants and one of his secrets to success was treating every guest as if they were the most important guest, even when his restaurant was full. I had the same philosophy for all the years I owned and operated restaurants and as we were chatting, we suddenly wondered why so many restaurants in the hospitality business are missing the hospitality.
True hospitality is in many cases a lost art. Generations ago, gas stations would wash your windshield and check your oil and restaurants would thrive by providing exemplary service. You would be greeted at the door by name, the host would take your coat, seat you at your favorite table and the owner or maitre’d would make sure that every aspect of your dining experience was unforgettable. This approach began with one singular mission: Treat every customer like they were your only customer and train each and every staff member genuinely to care about making each experience everything it could and should be.
If you are an owner, manager or front-of-house staffer, I am certain that whenever you dine out in a restaurant you see and experience what I’m talking about. The type of concept makes little difference. More often than not, the service provided will have missed many of the important details. You may enjoy the food and atmosphere, but your overall experience may have been negatively overshadowed by the service. This happens to me all the time.
I believe the answer lies in the basics of hiring and what we do with new staff once we’ve hired them. Restaurants are very much transient employers. People come and go and, unfortunately, service is negatively affected by turnover. Unless you have figured out that regular and consistent training is the absolute foundation of your restaurant and your first priority, your guest experience will be inconsistent at best.
The key in hiring is to look for approach, attitude and true desire to serve over prior experience. If these core values are present and you take the time to develop and train your fledgling staff, your customers will notice and reward your restaurant with their business. Once you believe in and practice effective consistent training and recognize and reward your standouts, your restaurant will have a lasting powerful advantage over your competitors. This is a simple concept, yet too often overlooked with all the other important details in running restaurants.
As we continued our chat, the chef and I recalled early mentors in this business who imparted the basics of hospitality and the true meaning of that word. I learned long ago that hospitality is present when something happens “for” us and is absent when something happens “to” us. It’s an important distinction.
Why not start with a fresh perspective and look at your restaurant from your guest’s point of view? Make it a habit to dine out at least once a week in your restaurant. Experience everything your customer experiences, from the greeting at the front door, to the interaction of each front-of-house team member who serves you. And yes, I know that staff may treat your differently as the owner or manager, but you will see, hear and learn just as much from watching your staff interact with other guests nearby as from your own experience.
Don’t let hospitality be a lost art in your restaurant. Develop a new game plan that begins with your staff understanding and practicing the nuances of what service really means and what your guest seeks. Train consistently, overdeliver on each guest’s expectations and take pride in sustaining the magic.