See what your customers see...
From how your team greet customers – ‘Good evening sir, madam,’ ‘Hi guys,’ ‘Wotcha, Fred,’ to the way the food is delivered to your customer – silver service, self-service or somewhere in between - there are aspects of how you, and your staff, serve your customers that will improve your chances of success – whatever your style of food business.
Make sure your team understands what good service in your individual outlet looks like.
Whether it’s casual and informal, make sure your team are empowered to use greetings and words appropriate to, and expected by, the customer. For example, it won’t go down too well in a high-end restaurant if the staff plonk plates down with an Aussie ‘Here you go, guys!’
When employing waiting staff, get them to understand your service culture by treating them as guests, from the greeting when they come in, to serving them food and drink, then the farewell and thank you. Ask them to note how they felt throughout the process; they may even have ideas on how things could be improved.
To understand the impact your waiting staff have on the success of your business make sure they are aware of the tiny things they do that customers notice. Ask them to put themselves in the customers’ shoes and view themselves as customers do.
- What are your hands doing? - be conscious of your little mannerisms – I’m a customer and I’m watching you rub your eyes, nose, mouth, ear and then using those same hands to pass me my dinner plate. You probably are a very clean person, but I simply don’t want your germs on my food.
- Leave your hair alone – I really don’t want to see you running your hand through your hair, or tucking it behind your ears to keep it from falling forward in your face.
- Touchy-feely - there is really no need for you to touch me as one of your guests. Placing your hand on someone’s back to guide them to their seat is just not necessary. Contrary to popular belief, touching the customer, in an obviously non-sexual manner, doesn’t build a connection or attract a better tip. A lot of people think it’s plain creepy.
- Get off your mobile - I don’t care if you’ve got a moment where you can check your texts, tweets and posts, I’m the customer and without me you wouldn’t have a job, so the least you can do is to be more interested in me than your mates when you’re at work.
- Spit out your gum - just no, no, no! Chewing gum is utterly unprofessional.
- Pay attention to where you place your fingers -please don’t hand me my drink with your fingers touching the rim of the glass, or leave your thumb print on my dinner.
- Don’t sniff - please don’t arrive at the table and ‘smell’ a drink if you can’t remember which similar looking dark liquid belongs to what customer. A more professional option is to own-up to the confusion, take the drinks back to the kitchen and start all over again.
- Don’t lean on me – I haven’t read any rule book that says English etiquette is to always set down to the left (using left hand if possible) of an individual and clear from the right (using the right hand if possible). What I want is for you to serve me in the least obtrusive way – not leaning over me, sticking your shoulder (or worse) in my ear or friends and colleagues at my table.
- If you’re ill, please go home - rather than sniffling and fighting back a cough, the courteous thing to do is find someone that can switch shifts with you until you are feeling better.
- Don’t take a cheeky taster - you may think you are safely out of sight as you take a taste from a plate coming out of the kitchen or going back into the kitchen…you will be seen.
- Don’t ask if everything is ‘OK!’ – OK? OK is not OK! Since when is ‘OK’ good enough? I paid hard-earned money for this food and I want it to be the best and most delicious food your establishment can muster, not something that is ‘OK’ (if you were the customer, and I the server, and you asked me about a particular dish and I said, ‘it’s OK’, would you think that’s a good answer. No. You wouldn’t. So using OK in a question isn’t good, either).
Ask me an open-ended question, such as, ‘how is your meal?’ I’ll respond accordingly: ‘delicious’ or direct you to any problems such as ‘we’re still waiting for the sauce,’ or ‘everyone’s is lovely but mine’s a little tough.’ And if you say it – say it like you mean it and not in that glib “I couldn’t care less” tone! Even if you don’t mean it act like you have genuine concern or interest in my satisfaction.
- Bring back my change - I know it’s only 50p but, unless I tell you otherwise, please bring back every penny.
- Know the menu - you don't have to have eaten everything on the menu, but you should have a good idea of the important ingredients in every dish that may affect customers (see Chapter 4 allergies) and what other people say about it, and you should be able to answer my questions about it. If you don't know the answer to a question, I would much prefer you ask someone instead of making something up or, worse, saying, ‘I think so’. We don’t do ‘think’ so. We do ‘know’ so. Be willing to give a recommendation, but for the love of God, don't tell me everything on the menu is a masterpiece.
- Tell us the specials and how much they cost - even if there's a big sign listing the specials, it would be great if you could go over them with my friends and me. I am notorious for neglecting to look at those specials signs and missing out on good food because of it. I'm just not always that observant. So tell me about it.
- Smile and be polite or get a different job - part of the job is customer service, and it's difficult to give good service if you seem like you're in a foul mood. So put on a smile! Act happy! Frankly, serving customers is theatre. You’re on show, whether you like it or not. Sometimes, pretending to be happy actually improves your mood. And I promise you this: being smiley, happy and friendly will improve your tips.
- Listen to me and watch me – more than 50% of communication is non-verbal - you need to know this and be bright enough to understand what I’m telling you with my non-verbal cues. If you’re good at this you’ll soon pick up on my vibe and understand the role I want you to play in my experience of visiting your establishment. I may want to have a laugh and a joke with you, I may want you to be invisible, I may want you to chat to me while I wait for my friend and then back off when she arrives. What I want is for you to make me feel comfortable – and this will be different every time I come in.
- Don’t call me ‘darling’ – or maybe, do call me ‘darling,’ it depends on circumstances: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s easy enough to judge. I need you to speak to me in a way that doesn’t embarrass me or make me feel foolish or uncomfortable.
The success or failure of your business is in the hands of people paid not much more than the minimum wage. Create a work culture and learning environment for your team with customer service at it's core!