My observation of the restaurant scenario you presented [Editor's Space, May: Customers Who Just Won't Leave] provides good operators with a chance to “show and know” their professionalism and at the same time build a legendary guest service reputation with employees and guests. Specifically here is how we would handle the challenge:
We would not be inclined to have a “manager” or “hitman” handle the situation, as we would want to build confidence in our serving staff that we as owners and managers support and encourage their decisions.
The specific language may go as follows, “I have enjoyed serving you and would like to ask you a favor. We have become quite busy and I was wondering if you might allow us to utilize your seats for customers waiting to dine? For your inconvenience, I have a $20.00 gift certificate for you to come back and visit us.
One point overlooked by staff and management when in a tight situation is ignoring the guests who are watching your every move. However, when your staff competes with guests as to who has a stronger position, you can easily lose the guest you're dealing with and the observing guests.
The time, training and $20, in my opinion, are a great investment in building a service team of believers that the guest is always the guest, and unless they are doing something illegal, immoral or specifically infringing on the enjoyment of other guests, we must do all we can to exceed even the uncooperative guest's expectations. A comp beverage or dessert after dinner is another great investment to insure the other guests that were inconvenienced were not forgotten.
Should the guest say “No” to your offer, then we move on and let the rest of the evening flow without interrupting the positive mojo of the staff. In other words, write it off, move on and do the best you can with your other guests.
Vice Chairman , Michigan Restaurant Association
Owner, Harbor Restaurant Group
Grand Haven, MI
We run a 24-hour, casual trendy comfort food eatery that averages 5,000 covers a week, with 65 seats. So you can imagine how crazy it gets with wait lists and reservations.
I think you put it perfectly: “damned if you do, damned if you don't.” That said, the bottom line is that we're in the business of keeping people happy, and we are to do so at any and every expense. This is what separates the successful operators.
We have a clearly stated policy in our manual that under no circumstances are we to ask guests to leave when they are lingering, even if we need the table. We also have a policy of do what you have to do to keep our customers happy.
I'll take your story as an example of how we handle similar situations. The best solution is to make it seem as if there is no problem at all. It's natural for people waiting to see customers at the bar lingering with nothing in front of them and become impatient.
A sharp bartender or owner should spot this and be proactive. Buy the person/couple lingering at the bar a round of drinks or drop a complimentary dessert in front of them. Make them look busy eating or drinking something. By doing this, when the waiting customers glance over and sees glasses of beer, wine or dessert in front of them, they will just as quickly glance away. You can go even further and offer people waiting in line some drinks or just send over a tray of glasses with house champagne for them to sip while they wait.
A typical brunch wait for us is about 30-45 minutes for a table. When I see the line getting 10-15 deep at the door, I tray about 15 glasses of champagnes, mimosas and Bellinis and send them with a thanks for waiting. Everyone is very appreciative and drinks make the wait go by faster. And what did it cost me to keep everyone happy? About $5.
So in essence, what we are doing is trying not to let one customer look bad in front of another. Here's to peace, full diplomacy and a bit of charm!