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Don't Overpromise & Underdeliver

Don't Overpromise & Underdeliver

By Brian Sill

TEMPO MATTERS: An intuitive server knows when to slow down or pick up the pace of meal service.

Many companies are experimenting with new fast casual versions of their quick service or casual dining concepts. This means quick serve establishments will need to design a service system that employs more table service, while casual brands will need to get savvy about counter ordering and faster production.

By following these 10 rules of service design, operators in all categories can ensure that their service support structure does not err by overpromising and underdelivering.

Configure your service framework around three objectives:

  • the number of meal courses the guest will choose, which determines the duration of service time (i.e., how the guest will use the experience and the frequency and scope of service you must therefore provide).
  • the maximum cooking time for meal orders. Note that this is not the average time. It makes no sense to use a production target that is only attainable half the time.
  • the peak volume goal you wish to target in hourly sales or tables per turn.

Step one determines the length of the service cycle and the service labor required. Step two determines the length of the production cycle, breadth of menu you can handle, type of equipment and cooking labor required. Adjusting steps one and two to match the peak volume in step three will determine the optimum service delivery system as well as the facility, equipment and number of staff necessary to optimize service.

Coordinate service steps to determine the quality of guest service. Rhythm, tempo and timingñlike lines delivered in a playñdictate the smoothness of the performance and ultimately, the audience's enjoyment. If the tempo is too slow, the audience grows restless; too fast, and it jeopardizes their understanding and sense of participation. That's why it's smart to establish timing goals for each step of service. Common standards for full service include 1 minute to greet, 4 minutes to take the order, 8 minutes for appetizer and 15 minutes for entrees. By contrast, quick service processing times are one minute and fast casual four minutes. Counter order taking should not exceed one minute for both styles.

The guest's perception of time is essential to the positive fulfilment of every guest experience. Time is to be savored, and an intuitive server will stall runaway service to prevent the guest from feeling rushed. Time is also precious (and expensive!), so achieving the perfect balance throughout the service cycle provides the guest a seamless meal. A smooth ride engenders guests' feelings of enjoyment and, ultimately, the sense that they are in control.

Enable guests to feel in control by setting the scene for their benefit. By rehearsing their performance and orchestrating the setting, servers are, in reality, seizing and maintaining control for themselves. To achieve the perfect balance (guest feels in control/server maintains control), the server must have license to improviseñeither in response to a particular event, mood or guest, or when expectations are not met and service recovery steps are required. Creative license by the server is vital in creating the central illusionñthat the guest is in complete control.

Offering choices in the menu and service is key to helping the guest feel in control. The server presents each alternative, the guest acknowledges or dismisses it. When guests have the latitude to customize the service sequence to suit their needs, they feel in control of their experience. Guest perception of selfcontrol is directly correlated with guest satisfaction.

The service style must be structured enough to guide the server who enters the realm of “control” role play. By allowing the guest to assume control (making choices “outside the box”) and actively seeking to anticipate guests' needs (to exceed expectations), the server needs the security of brand boundaries. Servers only truly retain control when they fully understand how far they can goñand they must learn this in advance through training. Such an accommodating and confidence-building approach to service can only succeed when it is underpinned by the bedrock of service continuity.

Continuity of service will give both the server and guest confidence, and this state of mind is best achieved by building a relationship with a single server. This then becomes the basis for a reciprocal understanding between server and guest: guests know who and where their server is and feel reassured by this. The server, using his or her own insight into the needs of each individual table, is aware of their position in each stage of the service cycle and makes decisions accordingly. If the server is seen to be available by the guest and can also prioritize tasks with the bigger picture in mind (the section as a whole, the performance of other departments), the server can maintain control. In this way, service continuity will allow the server to provide anticipatory service and an element of subtle surprise.

To dilute this relationship (by using separate order takers, or an overreliance on “runners for everything”) confuses and upsets the status quo. Consequently, the security and assumption of control experienced by both parties is undermined. Additionally, continuity of service coverage has its own physical limitations and is only ensured when the capacity to offer service has been measured and understood.

Service capacity is measured based on the service style, the steps involved and the duration of the service cycle. Havingperformed hundreds of such studies, we note that service capacity is frequently misjudged and often the root cause of service failure. With accurate measurements in hand, however, the server is armed with the knowledge and confidence that help to define “what is my full potential?” This is important for planning the physical dimension of service areas: number of tables per section for full service, number of point-of-sales channels for quick service and both tables and channels for fast casual. This knowledge can then be used to clarify the realistic boundaries for server and guests. It becomes a valuable tool with which not only to meet, but to exceed expectations.

It's crucial to avoid the temptation to overpromise and then underdeliver. The rewards gained from understanding service capacity can only be reaped if the guest receives a consistent performance.

Consistency in role responsibilities and service method is paramount to consolidate the relationship between server and guest. Every performance must be as good as the lastñand set the standard for the next. The server has the knowledge, capacity and support to tailor the experience according to guest requirements, understanding exactly what role to play within the framework of the service delivery system. Control for the server is therefore ensured based on his confidence in the consistency of other team members and the structure within which they play. The result is a relaxed, intuitive performance in which the server can focus on exceeding expectations.

Meanwhile, guests are confident that any given service occasion will be consistently executed and will feel in control of their experience. Consistency and choice are enabled through a set of prescribed service steps, with clearly defined boundaries communicated within and between every department.

The power of communication cannot be underestimated. Without it, the success of the guest experience hangs on a knife edge, no matter how superb one individual's performance. Communication among departments oils the cogs-with the host (has the guest been waiting long for a table?); with the bar (is there a tab?); with the kitchen (does order timing reflect the guest's time restrictions, anxiety levels or requests?).

One-to-one communication between the guest and the server builds their relationship: the server, as a player within a well-designed and measured service system, is able to build time to solicit guest feedback. The guest is confident and, bolstered by the level of communication established, can be reassured, particularly when a problem arises. Service recovery in this case is straightforward: The server has the information and the status (in the eyes of the guest who trusts the server) to transform the situation. The relationship can even be enhanced if the guest, thriving on the camaraderie and “insider information,” actually enjoys a bumpy ride! Communication can also be improved with ongoing feedback outside the “real time” service cycle, gained from structured exit interviews and mystery shopping by off-duty staff.

Compensationñin the form of gratuitiesñis the reward for successful service delivery. While tips are positively correlated with good service, scientific studies have shown interpersonal gestures that put the guest at ease will bolster tips still further. Use of such “chummy” behaviors may appear patronizing and unnatural and requires careful judgement for appropriate use. Well-executed and received, however, they reinforce the bond between server and guest and include: introducing oneself by name, hunching down beside the table to take the order, gently touching the guest's shoulder when presenting the check and writing the server's name and a “Thank You!” on the receipt. Even the use of mimicry—in which the server repeats the order back precisely as it was delivered by the guest—has been proven to raise tips.

Celebrating a service culture and inspiring the team to excel day in and day out are key. Gratuities-provide a financial incentive, clearly, but rewardsfor good service also come in the form of the guest's request for a specific server, and a repeat performance. Such requests, combined with the sharing of sales success stemming from server sales contests and other motivational programs, provide the basis for celebrating.

From our vantage point on the dining room floor and quick serve order counter, we could argue that the proliferation of fast casual restaurants is in part due to the decline in service at quick serve and casual dining operations. Operators in all categories need a service support structure that does not overpromise and underdeliver. Careful implementation of these 10 rules of service design will ensure a service system is in place that delivers as promised and exceeds the guests' expectations every time.

Brian Sill is President of Deterministics, a chain restaurant consulting and design firm based in Kirkland, WA. The company's website is; contact Sill at [email protected] or 800-322-4146.