The restaurant industry is more competitive and challenging than ever before. Rent and labor costs have skyrocketed. There are over one million food and beverage outlets in the U.S., and delivery only restaurants, lowering grocery prices, and direct-to-consumer meal services make this one of the most difficult times for restaurant operators.
With social media, consumers always have a place to publicize both the good and bad. The bad can destroy a business. The good can make it, or break it if it’s your neighbor getting the digital love.
This is the age of the consumer. Guests have high expectations, and those expectations must not only be met, but exceeded. Owners and operators must ensure that their teams are consistently delivering exceptional guest experiences. And it all starts with service, which research shows has the greatest impact on overall customer satisfaction.
To deliver great service, three things have to be in place: the right team, clear service standards, and a system for measuring service performance. In Part 1 of this three-part series, we’re going to cover how to build great front of house teams.
Service is a group effort, and it begins with management and the culture management creates.
The experience of a manager is critical. They must have enough relevant experience that they can empathize with their team and command respect. It’s difficult for a team to take direction from someone who has never done the job before. And it takes years of service experience for a manager to thoroughly understand and communicate the expectations at every level of service to every member of the staff.
The ability to effectively communicate is one of the most important traits of a good manager. Managers don’t necessarily have to be the loudest person in the room, but every manager has to be capable of clearly outlining expectations and division-of-labor to their staff. Expectations of staff members must be clear. The entire team should know exactly what their responsibilities are and when and where they should be at all times. And every team member should know that they can ask a question when necessary.
Managers must also lead by example, knowing when to delegate and when to jump in. There is always an element of artistry to this, but a great manager should be able to see where the pieces fit together well enough to intervene without being overbearing or alienating their FOH staff on a shift. But when push comes to shove, if they are on the floor and see a customer in need, they have to be willing to roll up their sleeves and jump in.
One of the most important roles a manager plays is problem solver. The manager is often the one who is brought in to handle a major issue with a customer. Managers must always maintain their composure and act in a way that supports the notion that the customer is always right.
Managers must be willing to take the lead on anything and tackle issues head on, including personal and intra-team conflicts. When a problem presents itself during a shift, a great managers finds solutions and never points fingers. It’s the manager’s job to understand all sides of an issue before making a decision, and staff will always be more trusting of a manager who doesn’t jump to conclusions, and thinks before they react.
Hosts, Servers, bartenders and bussers are your front line. They are the face of your business and the ones interacting with the guests, so it’s crucial that they represent the restaurant’s brand and deliver on the values and standards communicated by management.
You need to recruit front of house talent that sincerely enjoy helping others. There’s a famous interview test where the interviewer drops their pen and sees how quickly the candidate reacts to pick it up for them. Candidates with hospitality in their DNA jump to retrieve the pen, while others remain still for several seconds. Look for individuals who have a deep history of hospitality, and it doesn’t have to be in restaurant settings. Experience in customer support and philanthropy are good indicators of someone with the potential to succeed in restaurants.
There is no better predictor of performance than past experience. Hiring experienced staff helps ensure you’re hiring someone who knows what they are getting into. It also helps reduce training time and costs, as knowing how to read tables, memorize specials, and carry trays are skills that take some time to acquire. But don’t be mistaken, a new server can quickly become great if they have the right attitude.
You need team members that have high expectations of themselves and want to continuously improve. Coachability is a key trait. The menu, service standards, and more will inevitably change, so you need a team that’s adaptable and willing to keep learning. You want to find people who are self-aware, interested in helping others, and who can stay upbeat when things get stressful.
In Part 2 we will discuss the service standards that need to be in place for management and their team to deliver great experiences to guests.
About the Author
Robert Edell is the CEO and Co-Founder of Servy, a next generation mystery dining and customer intelligence platform for the restaurant industry. Servy’s community of frequent diners and hospitality professionals use the Servy app to complete private, customized evaluations that help operators measure performance and increase sales and guest satisfaction.