Lend Me Your Ears!
(The Art of Listening)
Some might sum up the “art of listening” in two simple words: SHUT UP! While I think that is definitely a major part of listening, I think it is only part of the art when serving guests in a restaurant. Servers must listen not only to what guests are saying, they must also listen to what guests are not saying. Servers have to know what questions to ask in order to find out how to best serve their guests.
People will tell you when they are in a hurry. If it is lunchtime, they may have to get back to work within an hour or less. If it is dinner, they may be trying to get to a movie at a certain time. Sometimes people won’t tell you and that is why, especially at dinner, a server should ask if guests are pressed for time or is they are wanting to relax and take their time. I think it is safe to assume that lunch is usually a shorter frame of time in which to eat and get back to work.
Some wait staff have a natural way of asking guests if they are out celebrating or just out to relax and have a good time. The response is important. If they are out celebrating an anniversary or a birthday, the server has a reason to suggest, suggest, suggest! A good server will do that anyway, but it seems a bit more impressive when he/she remembers what guests are celebrating and uses it in the selling of appetizers, wine, desserts, etc. If guests are simply out to relax and have a good time, an excellent server can make sure they do! He/she can suggest wines, desserts and sides to go along with entrees. Generally, a server can just make the evening great for his/her guests and make them glad they chose your restaurant over the one across the street.
The real art of listening may come in when a guest has certain food/diet requirements. Just because someone is on a diet or has special requirements doesn’t mean they should stay at home while everyone else goes out and has a good time. Listen when a guest says he/she can’t have any meat or dairy products, for example. If he/she orders the vegetarian burrito plate with those specifications, the listening server will point out that the refried beans are made with pork fat. The listening server will also remember to leave the sour cream off and make sure the cook doesn’t sprinkle his/her usual garnish of cheese on top of everything. Believe it or not, there are restaurants that claim certain foods are vegetarian, yet are made with a pork, beef or chicken stock. Servers should know these items and be prepared to steer such people in a different direction on the menu.
What it comes down to is the little things. Pay attention to your guests and what and how they order. If they are having a difficult time selecting from your menu, be prepared to offer suggestions. Most importantly, if they tell you they are in a hurry, give them your awesome suggestive selling service. Give it a little quicker and keep in mind their time constraint. Let them know what will take a long time to prepare and what they might order that will be satisfying and quick. You will always gain repeat customers when you give them five-star service in a fast food time frame.