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Restaurant service warms up

Restaurant service warms up

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In the September issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed a visit to Chicago and how the level of service being delivered in restaurants there and around the country impressed him. Most restaurants don’t have a celebrity chef to get them noticed, he said, pointing out that a high level of service is what will get most noticed over their competitors. Are you stepping up your service game? he asked readers.The following are excerpts of some responses.

I am the beverage manager for a 243-room historic inn located in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I am essentially the front-of-the-house manager for three bar/restaurant outlets on the property. I have been training and drilling my associates on guest expectations and how to look for creative ways to exceed those expectations on a daily basis.

I used to hire based on past experience and a server’s or bartender’s ability to be proficient and efficient. I ended up with a staff of competent people, but with very little in the way of personality. I was once told that the most important factor in finding people to work in the hospitality business is to seek out those with a servant’s heart.

I was reminded of that recently and I took a hard look at my hiring practices. I also took a hard look in the mirror. How was I managing? Had I gotten complacent? Had the trivial become important? Had the ability to flip the room three times a night replaced the ability to make a guest’s experience a memorable one? The answer to all of my questions was that I had wandered off the path, taken my staff with me and would now have to lead them back to it.

I went to work immediately, working with my staff on guest relations, sharing “beyond expectation” stories with them. I reworked my training program to include more emphasis on the intangibles of their work. I also empowered them to take whatever action is necessary to create those moments for our guests. They know that if a decision they make is in the best interest of our guests, that I will always back them up.

I have hired my last few associates with a new list of interview questions and a new outlook on the type of candidates I want to bring onto our team. I look for the natural, resting smile. I look for that servant’s heart. Not to toot my own horn, but I can train and drill anyone to be a fine server, bartender, food runner or bar back. What I cannot do is teach someone to have the heart to serve.

I have discovered that my recent hires have had a positive effect, not only in their own interactions with our guests, but with their fellow associates. I have discovered that most of my staff want to have that heart. They want to exceed our guests’ expectations and they want to provide warm, friendly and inviting service.

I have seen a marked increase in positive comments regarding service in my outlets. The comment cards used to simply have a check mark for good or excellent next to the box for my outlets. Now, the cards have little stories, comments or just a single superlative. There is something else on the cards, though, something that was almost totally absent a few months ago: Guests can name their bartender or server and give them personal kudos. As a result, my guests are happy, my staff is happy and making more money and my outlets are looking at a nice increase in revenue.

Bingham Lawless
Beverage Manager
The Inn at Pocono Manor
Manor, PA

Every week or so I post an article that is required reading for all front-of-the-house staff. Often I add a question designed to encourage discussion as how the article relates to our restaurant. They are definitely talking points among the staff.

A recent memo contained the following quote, “You can’t just be content to merely satisfy our guests: You have to give them legendary service and create raving fans—guests who are so excited about the way you treat them that they tell stories about you.”

I followed that memo with one that posed the question to my staff, “What can we call servers that will elevate their status in the eyes of guests?” I selfishly wanted to encourage them to create raving fans.

A few days after the posting, my staff had several great ideas, all of which began with the word “culinary.” They suggested “culinary advisors,” “culinary specialists” and what we finally settled on—”culinary ambassadors.”

I’ve noticed since adopting this title that my servers are taking a keener interest in not only understanding the products they are selling, but how to achieve a superior level of service that creates raving fans. My guests are also responding very positively to the new title of our servers—culinary ambassadors.

I have often said that I have a fabulous staff that far surpasses that of my competitors. Now they are taking even more ownership of their positions and the fundamental qualifications needed to rise to the level expected in a fine dining restaurant. Seeing them extending themselves as they are has me asking myself, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”

Marie VonBulin
General Manager
Piazza Gavi

Service essential for long-term success

(Continued from page 1)

Your column this month on service is something that is so important in all of my restaurants, as we survive on building regulars. In major markets and vacation areas, customers change out regularly. In small markets we have to build customers who become like loyal family members.

I continuously preach to my staff that they are cast members in our production. As restaurateurs we truly are in the entertainment business. I think it was Rich Melman who said years ago that if you walk into a restaurant and see a lot of long faces, look for the longest face, that will be the owner or manager. It really is our job to set the tone for the staff.

John Heaphy
Old City Prime Steakhouse
Beer Barrel Pizza and Grill
Happy Daz Diners
Lima, OH

Efficient, effective and professional service is and has been the essential ingredient for a restaurants long-term success. In my opinion the sense that there is a renaissance of enthusiasm for upbeat, focused and snappy guest service is driven by the lack there of. Guest service statistics show that restaurant customers have very limited expectations when it comes to efficient and friendly service and, therefore, when receiving it are happily stunned by it. I agree that Garbriel Stulman’s idea for using his staff to expose his terrific food is a solid idea. However I would be greatly concerned and caution against any staff member drinking alcohol on the job. In most states it is against the law as dram shop rules specifically address this issue. A buzzed employee purveying spirits to a guest is a serious recipe for liability and bad outcomes that could have long-term negative consequences.

Steve Loftis
Harbor Restaurants
Grand Haven, MI

We live by the golden rule: Make sure your customers love you. This often means a comp drink, a meal on the house or a pair of Sox tickets. If you go the extra mile, the ride is always the best. A quick story: A customer we didn’t know had to pick his in-laws up at the airport. His car died in front of my restaurant. I gave him the keys to my ’72 Pontiac and he gave me the keys to his new Lincoln. I didn’t even know the guy’s name. Do you think he told all his friends about this experience? Yes, he did, for the next 30 years. Do unto others as you would have them do to you and you’ll always come out on top.

Bob McGovern
Packards Restaurant
Northampton, MA

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