What do you like about your favorite restaurant? I have a few personal favorites and the reasons are simple and I suspect they are the same as yours. I'm talking about casual dining, not the five-star, upscale dining experience. Most of us don't go to those establishments on a regular basis; we go to the casual to casual-upscale restaurant, where we know the food quality is consistent, the bar carries our favorite wine or brand of vodka. Probably the most important reason we go is for the consistent service. Of course we know the food is generally to our liking, but we also take for granted that we're going to receive the same service as usual, nothing outstanding, but they always manage to get our food to us in a timely manner and they aren't rude. And the atmosphere? Well, it's always kind of loud and we don't usually go there if we just want some peace and quiet while we eat. Sound like your reasoning when deciding to go out to eat?
Do you want your restaurant to be people's favorite place to enjoy dinner? Is your food consistently good? Is your wait staff truly interested in your guests' best dining experience? Or are they going to the tables and "taking an order?" How many times have you heard one or all of your wait staff say, "I'm going to take table five's order now…be right back." The answer is every day, of course. They are so used to just taking an order that they don't realize how much power they really have! Yes, power! They have, or should have, complete knowledge of your menu; they know the bar and the premium alcohol you serve. They have all this ammunition in their heads when they go to a table and they don't use it! Instead they "take an order."
Try changing the way they approach their duty as a server. Help them understand that they are an independent contractor/salesperson who has total control over his/her income. Suggest a cocktail or wine before guests ask about those things. Likewise, direct their thinking toward the appetizers and some of your most popular entrees, etc. Suggestive selling is not insisting they have one of everything on the menu; it is simply guiding their dining experience and making them feel comfortable and welcome. When a server suggests and asks questions about what guests like, the guests feel as if their best dining experience is in the interest of the server. And it truly is if the server believes him/herself to be an independent salesperson. It is a two-way street, of course. Guests will, more often than not, tip a server much more when they have been guided through their dining experience. As guests, we want to feel like our server has earned the tip. If he/she has guided us through the sometimes arduous journey of a menu, and found out our likes and dislikes and reacted accordingly, we feel good about leaving a bigger tip, knowing that our knowledgeable and caring server deserves it.