A restaurant’s concept is built on three major pillars: its offering, environment and service. While much attention is often devoted to the food and drinks served, and the location and design of where you serve them, service often takes a back seat in the planning process.
The idea of service quality may seem hard to define, but as a restaurant owner or manager, thinking through your unique hospitality promise is an important step to creating satisfied customers. As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s critical to ask yourself: does my guest experience live up to my customers’ expectations?
Here are four guidelines that will set you up to deliver on these expectations:
1. Hire Smart
Smart hiring is crucial for front-of-house (FOH) success. You may require a certain number of years of experience within a job listing, but the necessary emotional skills go well beyond the written job description.
The ideal hire is someone “whose skills are 49 percent technical and 51 percent emotional,” according to the book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, written by famed restaurateur, Danny Meyer. When you interview candidates for the front of house, Meyer recommends looking for these five attributes:
Optimistic warmth: genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full
Intelligence: not just “smarts,” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning
Work ethic: a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done
Empathy: an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how their actions make others feel
Self-awareness and integrity: an understanding of what makes the candidate tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment
With time, training for technical skill is nearly always possible, but training for emotional talent is next to impossible. Smart hiring is the foundation on which outstanding service is built.
2. Put Your Service Standards in Writing (And Get Your Staff to Read Them)
Take the time to create a service handbook or manual, and be clear about what great service looks like in your specific environment. Define it, but more importantly, write it down. Stated goals and steps of service set a standard by which all employees will be held accountable. These are mechanical skills that can be taught, and are not influenced by an individual worker’s strengths and weaknesses.
You can only achieve consistency when your staff knows what’s expected of them each and every time they’re in front of a customer. Service standards will match your restaurant segment with height of service and productivity in direct opposition to one another. Better service requires more time and attention paid to guests. Speed and efficiency are central to fast food and fast-casual environments, but not the full service setting.
You should also extend your service standards to the upkeep of your physical environment. Tangibles, such as spotless flatware and restroom cleanliness, also lend to the overall customer experience.
3. Identify Metrics to Evaluate Your Standards
Now that we’ve defined standards of service and operating procedures, there are a few ways you can evaluate server productivity. Advanced point-of-sale (POS) analytics can easily help you pull labor reports on a daily basis. Here are a few metrics that you’ll want to keep your eye on:
Full Service Restaurants:
Tipping percentage: tips are a helpful indicator of service because they help reveal how a guest perceived the experience, and they motivate servers to perform at a high level.
Per person check average (total server sales/# of guests served): the operation should achieve its targeted average check, with every server aware of when the full team is optimizing sales. Check averages will vary based on the meal period.
Table turn times: servers need to balance providing adequate attention and hospitality with timing. For example, seating a new four-top table on a busy night is more important than upselling on a single dessert for the table.
Fast Casual Restaurants:
Even though it’s more difficult to single out individual employees in the fast casual environment, both average speed of service and guest count are a reflection of a collection of efforts.
4. Keep Employees Engaged with Ongoing Training
It’s not enough to hire smart and set up standards of service - managers are responsible for keeping employees engaged and maintaining team morale. Great service is grown and developed, as high standards of hospitality require daily attention and coaching. The tactical side of management requires ongoing training to support internal processes.
Just because a skill was taught during your initial staff training period, doesn’t mean that it will be accurately transferred to new employees in an organic fashion. Ongoing training is necessary to maintain standards established in your service manual or handbook. Apart from training managers, staff coach, mentor programs and role playing are a great way to expose young employees to service situations.
The ability to transfer responsiveness and empathy to customers starts at the organization level. High team morale requires a climate of trust and respect. Keeping open and honest lines of communication helps to build an environment where staff can and will work in a productive manner. Exceeding customer expectations begins with a commitment to your employees.
About the Author: Lauren Keiling
Lauren is a graduate of the Restaurant and Culinary Management Program at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her culinary experience ranges from prep cook and front of house, to catering and food delivery. Lauren has lived, worked, and dined in NYC for the past 8 years.