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How to tweak server habits for the Baby Boomer crowd

How to tweak server habits for the Baby Boomer crowd

Baby Boomers, who wield the lion's share of disposable income, pay closer attention to service. Here's how to make them happy. • See more Operations articles

Baby Boomers represent 44 percent of the population. But they control 70 percent of disposable income spending and have larger restaurant check averages when compared to Millennials and Gen Xers. These older customers are also more likely to dine in as compared to the other segments. So if you want to identify the largest audience in your restaurant, think Boomers. They often dine without the distraction of kids at the table, and are happy to watch (and evaluate) the performance of your staff.

If you want to keep these value-conscious and big-spending customers happy, pay attention to the details.

How do you "manage the message" and ensure the values of the restaurant and its management team make it all the way to the table? Simple training, brief and direct, will focus your service staff on the things that your boomer guests value: attentiveness, respectfulness and courtesy. The following five activities are practiced in the Greenway Restaurant in the culinary school on the main campus of Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC. Students in the dining service class model these practices, then discuss them in the daily debriefing after lunch.

Drop the "It's not you, it's me" attitude.

While nearly every restaurant server greets a table by telling them their name, few inquire about the guest on that pivotal first visit. Instead of telling the guest who you are, we greet them by name and welcome them to our restaurant. A quick dose of curiosity on our part shows the guests we are more interested in their well-being than writing our name on their napkin. Besides, if they want to know the server╒s name, they can read the nametag.

Avoid the mystery drop and run.

Because our dining room is attached to the culinary school, customers are mighty interested in what╒s going on. They often comment about the good aromas they experienced before even walking in the building. Our customer base includes a large number of foodies, and they are not shy about asking about food prep methods and ingredient origins. Therefore, everything delivered to the table, including the bread basket, compound butter or plate of appetizer spreads, is explained in detail upon presentation. Our customers are here for lunch, not a mystery meal.

Ask first, grab second.

Few things are as annoying to a diner as a disinterested server going through the motions. Customers demand value and deserve courtesy and attention. One unfortunate practice too widely seen is the "grab while asking" method of clearing dishes from guest tables. This is supposed to be a two-step process. First: ask them if they are done. Second: if they are, remove the dishes. Servers who simply snatch plates while announcing, "Let me get this out of the way" miss an opportunity to bond with the guest through professionalism and courtesy. Our students ask if diners are finished with the plate (while standing straight, arms down, making eye contact), and reach for it only when they get an answer. If your servers are grabbing without asking, they invite the customer to say nothing. Bonding opportunity missed.

Pulling off a successful experience

(Continued from page 1)

A world full of men?

Watch any group of Millennials interacting, or tune into a reality TV program and you are sure to witness the grating (for some) and half-wrong use of the pronoun "guys" to address a group of any gender. This phrase has become so commonly accepted that when we point it out to our students they stare at us like we are lunatics. One remedy is to spend an entire day calling all groups of students "girls" until the students give in and start to recognize the problem. Depending on your location, reasonable substitutes for "guys" abound: "folks," "y'all" or the more formal "ladies and gentlemen." Using these phrases is a learned behavior, and no group will appreciate it more than the boomers.

Are we done yet?

Pulling off a successful dining experience in a restaurant is no small feat. It takes numerous visits to the table, accurate preparation by the chef and bartender, an enjoyable atmosphere and a perception of value by the guest. Properly done, it can set the stage for a return visit and help encourage loyalty.

As important as the initial greeting, the final steps offer opportunities to impress. Too often, servers will pick up the check folder or tray from a table and ask, "Are you done with this?" or "Do you need change?" While the intent is admirable, as the customers may need change or their credit card attended to, the message can be misread. Some guests hear "Am I done with you yet or do I have to come back another time to bring you change?" In the Greenway restaurant we "manage the message" by simply saying, "Please allow me to process this payment; I will be right back." If the tip is included, the guest will say so, and the server need not return. Same outcome, more courteous response, another detail attended to.

Richard Spellman is chairman for hospitality management at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC. His hospitality management career includes leadership roles in private clubs and luxury hotels.

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