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Jamie Oliver
<p> Jamie Oliver</p>

Teach your servers to get their way with words

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In a perfect world, you’d be able to hire servers whose verbal skills enable them to both charm irate customers and upsell specials like crazy. Instead you probably have to train your waitstaffers in these important skills. We’ve found a couple of sources that can help you out.

One is Renee Evenson. She’s the author of Powerful Phrases For Effective Customer Service: Over 700 Ready-to-Use Phrases and Scripts That Really Get Results (AMACOM, $15). This 294-page book shows service employees what to say and do when customers exhibit one of 30 different challenging behaviors (i.e., the customer creates the problem) or when one of 20 sticky situations (i.e., the restaurant or its staff messes up) occurs.

Her suggested phraseology conveys the message that the server (or manager) is on the customer’s side, even while he or she is enforcing the restaurant’s policies in a firm and fair manner.

Helping your staff learn this verbal jujitsu could make your dining room run a lot smoother. So could some version of the specific verbiage servers are required to use at British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s 34-unit chain Jamie’s Italian.

Internet restaurant sites blew up last month when a former waitress posted a picture of the descriptive words and phrases servers must use when describing specials at one unit of this concept. Scorn was heaped on Oliver for both the words themselves (radical, wicked, mega, slamming, awesome, outrageous) and the level of server mind control they spoke to. You can see the full 36-word list at

But there’s merit to this idea. Many servers could be better at describing their restaurant’s specials. Descriptive words from Oliver’s list like “lush,” “silky” and “classic” and more—or a similar list you come up with in-house—could help your verbally challenged staffers move more merchandise. Why not give it a try?

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