Listen to What Your Customers Aren’t Saying

Some of you put customer comment cards on your tables and ask that guests fill them out and let you know how you’re doing. I could put money on the fact that you receive more complaints on those cards than praise. Unless someone was given absolutely outstanding service or the food was just phenomenally prepared, your guests aren’t going to take the time to tell you some of the things you really should know. They might tell you that the potatoes were cold or the salad was wilted, but do they ever mention how the server handled the situation? Probably not; the server is usually only mentioned as an extra in the bad scene. That is because servers sometimes act as if everything that goes wrong is the kitchen’s fault. If we really think about it, they are the last pair of eyes to see the food before it reaches the table; they should have the final say in its appearance.

Employee Incentives

Be creative with your employee incentives! Think about the things that really excite them. Maybe feeling like they own a part of the company is one way to make your staff get motivated and really sell! Maybe you have a younger staff and some freedom of scheduling would be a nice way to boost morale.

Whatever the goal, contests between your servers create healthy, competitive spirits. Keep your contests short and the goals attainable. Thirty days is a standard time frame in which to keep a contest. You can always start fresh after the 30-day period is over. Rotate contests and bring the popular ones back when you feel boredom is setting in.

Up the ante! Many of your servers may reach the goal of selling five bottles of wine in one night. Raise the bar and make it 7 or 8, even 10! You don’t want to alienate your servers who aren’t reaching the goal of even five bottles of wine per night, so keep some other contests going in which you know they can do well. I’m not talking about feeling sorry for them; I’m saying they need more time to build up their confidence. They’ll get there. Build your sales team slowly and steadily. If they never get the opportunity to build their confidence, they will just leave and you’ll be training another new person.

Reviews and Evaluations

Reviews and evaluations are something that few managers seem to have time to do. Ideally, you know you should be conducting these employee benefits on a regular basis. Why don't you just make the time?

Many employees want to know if there will be periodic reviews and/or evaluations of their performances. Even if they don't ask about them in the interview process, you should mention them. Then you have to live up to your statement and conduct regular evaluations. What it does is convey the message that you run a professional organization and you expect them to have the same professional attitude about their careers.

I tell them in their training class that if they present themselves as professionals, their customers will see and treat them as professionals. You must start the professional image from the interview process forward. Holding regular evaluations shows that you are truly concerned about their performance. Even if they are not concerned, they are aware that you are and that you are monitoring their performance. I don't mean that you have to be "big brother," I simply mean that you have to let them know that you care about the image your staff portrays to your customers. They will either perform better because they are aware of your evaluations, or perform better because they know it is in their best interests or they will decide they don't want to be a professional and they will soon leave. You don't need those people anyway. They would have presented a bad image to your customers.

The Interview Process

There are so many things you want to know about a person when you interview them, the most important being his/her work ethic. There are ways to find that out with proper questions and review of a resume.

If an applicant submits a resume, take advantage of it! Do the research that others perform to make sure a candidate is a good fit. Ask the legal questions of a former employer.

You want to set the stage from the beginning that you operate a professional business. It isn’t just a café, diner, restaurant or deli. It is your business and, if you want to take an aggressive approach, ask questions of your applicant that will reveal the salesperson in him/her. I might suggest a simple test for starters. Give him/her an example of a regular guest check that you see on a daily basis. Ask him/her to take five or ten minutes, go over the menu and respond to you with ideas on how he/she might increase the check amount. Ask him/her to say to you what he/she might suggest to the guest to increase the amount. Simply listen for words used. Keep your request simple and see how far he/she goes with it. Set up a role-playing situation. You don’t even have to get up out of the seat. There is no need to make them more uncomfortable than necessary. More experience people will have a better idea of what you’re looking for and will either go along with you or decide this is not the job for him/her. Body language will tell you that decision instantly.

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.