Everyone knows what it is like to go into a restaurant and have a bad experience. You had to wait twenty minutes before placing your drink order, you had to ask twice for a glass of water and on top of it all you were treated rudely. But aside from these obvious mistakes and oversights, what can a successful server do to rise above mediocrity and provide a great restaurant experience for the guests?
Here are seven tips on how to be an excellent server:
- Know the menu. When a customer asks you a question, they want a concise and instantaneous answer. To do this, you need to do your homework. Taste all of the dishes and beverages on the menu and if allergy or other dietary restrictions prevent you from doing this, ask a coworker for information and take notes. Always bee able to provide menu information when it is requested. Customers expect you to know more about the menu than they do, and appreciate a bit of guiding to make the choice for their preferences.
- Know how to pace a meal. You can’t control every aspect of a meal’s pace, after all if the kitchen hasn’t finished making it you can’t deliver it. However, you can ensure that guests get their drinks in a timely manner and that they don’t receive their entrées right on top of their appetizers. Resist clearing plates before everyone has finished, many patrons feel rushed when this happens. The customer should not be aware of how you set the pace, and if done properly they will leave feeling contented and relaxed by the end of the meal.
- Be attentive, but not intrusive. A server must know how to strike the right balance when attending to a table’s needs. Customers feel uncomfortable when they have to chase a server down for any reason, and they feel equally awkward when lingering servers hover around tables with water pitchers. Use your eyes and ears to notice when a customer needs something, but otherwise let your customers have their space.
- Be perceptive. If you’re going to be a good server, you must have a knack for reading people. Some groups will appreciate a few jokes and a little chit-chat; others will want you to make yourself as invisible as possible. Some will want everything to move quickly; others would prefer not to feel rushed. Look for body language and listen for verbal cues and cater to each customer's preferred dining style.
- Be adaptable. In addition to being able to adapt to the different personalities of your guests, you will need to adapt to situations as they arise. Although a server cannot control everything that happens in the restaurant, a smart server knows that quick thinking makes up for most unforeseen problems. Did the kitchen forget to leave out the onions from a guest’s salad? Offer a free drink or appetizer while they wait for the replacement to arrive. This will ensure the guest is still happy when it comes time to pay the bill.
- Keep your cool. Sometimes the kitchen makes mistakes. When this happens, a successful server should be able to keep a calm and collected demeanor throughout the ordeal. The key is to not allow the issue to affect the service of an entire section. You can’t win them all, but when things go wrong it is essential to not let them grow worse.
- Be courteous. Seems obvious, right? But what about if a customer is already upset when you approach the table for the first time? The quickest and truest remedy to this is using a few friendly words. For example, on an extremely busy night customers are likely to arrive at their table overly-hungry, out of patience and looking for fast gratification. Approach the table with a smile and acknowledge their disparagement with a simple “I’m sorry about the wait” and move on to collecting drink and appetizer orders.
Above all, customers want to feel that you actually care about their dining experience. Keep hospitality in the forefront of your actions and aim to create an exceptional experience for each guest.