Chef's Blog

January 23, 2018

Hard to Say "Goodbye": Waiting for the Check and Other Service Peeves

from Chef Christopher Britton

As a Chef, I have seen my share of service blunders. As a consumer, I now experience these missteps in a completely different light.

The sad realization is that most mistakes can be avoided by just paying more attention to the guest. When I was in operations 18 years ago, there were plenty of distractions that took the server’s attention away. Now, with the prevalence of social media and cell phones, it seems these distractions are everywhere, all of the time.

Below are just a few examples of poor service that can make or break a guest’s experience—and a server’s tip. How many of you see these same miscues, when you’re dining out or in your own operation?

  1. Saying “everything” when a guest asks, “what’s good?” – I know the place has great food; that’s why I’m eating there. This is an opportune time to delve deeper into guest’s needs by asking probing questions to find the perfect beverage or meal for the diner. And please don’t just recommend the most expensive item—unless it truly is the best thing on the menu. When asked for a recommendation, servers should find out what guests are in the mood for, how hungry they are, whether they like spicy food, and so on, and then offer suggestions accordingly.

  2. Bringing the entrées moments after dropping off the appetizer – It boggles my mind how hard this is to manage. I realize that servers are often at the mercy of the kitchen, but a cognizant waiter should be able to gain control over this process by better communication with the back-of-the-house. I have seen this miscue in all sorts of operations, from fine-dining to casual dining places, and it generally dissuades me from ordering a first course. Good communication with the kitchen (or expeditor) is just as important as it is with the guest, to ensure that a table isn’t fired too soon or too late.

  3. Making customers wait for the check – Nothing can ruin a great night of service more than a waiter that’s absent at the end of dinner. The universal sign of writing on the palm from across the room is useless if the waiter is in the back doing side-work or texting.

To quote a recent article I read in Foodservice Hospitality, “The outcome of great hospitality is a start-to-finish affair. It never ends until the curtain falls.” Servers should be on the dining room floor and ready to make eye contact with their customers.

These examples are not always covered in basic training; they are responses that are learned through experience and awareness. It’s hard for employers to maintain service standards with a “revolving door” of candidates every month, but regular meetings, gentle pre-shift reminders and strong policies against cell phone use during a shift are good ways to ensure that the diner’s “goodbye” doesn’t mean forever.

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