Just There for the Paycheck? How to Teach Your Team to Go the Extra Mile for Guests

By Brian Murphy, Foodable Industry Expert

Help Your Team Realize The Importance of Guest Connections

The hospitality industry is a business of experiences and people, and the sooner all team members realize that, the sooner your guests and your establishment will see some growth. There is a rampant misconception about simply “getting people in the door” for young establishments, but the focus should be a bit more about retention.

The Team Philosophy

The act of going out for food and drinks can often be painfully predictable, to the point where you know exactly what servers are going to say before they even introduce themselves to your table. To be fair, there is a rather prescriptive order that must take place for guests to remain happy while the restaurant keeps moving, but there is room for deviation. Consider looking at policies, procedures, and training materials to see if these materials set you apart or if you are simply running with the pack.

Think about the establishment’s philosophies on guest interaction and the training that comes along with that, and look to see if the same spiel is being used by every server in the dining room. Staff should be trained from the start that the guests are priority. When each guest experience has been one that has been welcoming and positive in every way, only then has the staff been successful.

Building Unique Connections

Team members that understand how to build relationships with guests organically will be rewarded. Beginning introductions with guests and asking some questions about them to get them engaged instead of stating the obvious, “I’ll be your server today” is a great start. Finding out why a table has chosen to dine in your establishment is a powerful tool. This can help set the tone for what style of service servers need to bring to make a table happy, as not all guests are the same, nor should they be treated like it.

Hearing the same scripted greeting at surrounding tables in a server’s section can make a guest feel like a number, and can spoil any connection they have with the server, or worse, their overall experience. Perhaps the table is in a hurry because they have an engagement after a quick bite. Service needs to be adjusted to get these guests on their way, and they may not be in the mood for small talk. Servers need to recognize this and adjust, just as they need to adjust for the large group celebrating a birthday that camps out in their section all night.

Each guest is important and should be addressed just a bit differently. This mentality is not something all servers and team members know. The best are taught this in their training. Obviously not every scenario can be planned for, but if the broad strokes are presented to team members, and they know they have some room to personalize service within company guidelines, the better the experience will be for all. The guests will likely return and speak highly of the establishment, sales could be built up a bit, and tips are typically higher.

Leading by Example

The team will respond better and know you mean it when you are the first one to help build connections. During service, try to have everything as dialed in as possible so you can head out to the dining room or bar and touch tables, engaging in real conversations.

Lose the standard “Is everything okay tonight?” question, since you need to be better than “okay.” Find ways to casually inquire about their evening and be prepared to listen. Really listen, despite the gazillions of other things you are thinking about and seeing on your rounds through the dining room. When a table sees that they have the owner or manager’s ear, and it’s different from the usual drive-by style check in, they usually divulge honest feedback about food and service, and this is valuable information.

Encourage your team to introduce you to their tables, so they are on board with the practice, and aren’t thinking you are simply checking up on them. Break the mold and consider holding a conversation with your server and the table, and discuss whatever comes naturally. Introductions like this will help your guests feel as though they are part of the family and culture within your restaurant.

There is no need for drastic changes, just an awareness that you can bring to the team’s attention. Building connections with customers is an intangible part that will benefit your establishment in many ways. Happy servers mean less turnover, happy customers equate to return business. Everyone wins.