One proven method for insuring quality restaurant guest service is to transform mundane tasks into a routine. We do love our checklists, service cycles and the like in the restaurant industry. And for good reason. These routines create consistency, help frame a guest’s expectations of the way you serve and insure you are adding a system to that service. Unfortunately, these routines can also lead down the path of least resistance.
For example, every server knows they should check on a table after the guests receive their meals, but things can also be really busy. Consequently, we do a drive by check in and ask, “Is everything all right?” Phrases like that abound in our industry and at best they are a lazy attempt at fulfilling the mundane and at worst they are downright dismissive of the guest.
In fact at the San Francisco-based restaurant group Max’s Opera Cafe, if your server asks, “Is everything all right?” your meal is on the house. That’s a powerful commitment from an operator to eradicate this lousy shortcut. Ultimately, avoiding these types of shortcut phrases is a great way to improve service in a manner which guests may not identify, but will feel at an atmospheric level.
In the end, catchphrases are shortcuts which short change the guest experience. There are a myriad of phrases which should be trained out of your server’s lexicon -- and only you can do it. That’s why we developed a list of the worst offenders (only anecdotally, of course) and identify an alternative to make sure the mundane doesn’t damage great service.
1. “All set?”
How many times has a busy server asked a guest, “All set?” and prayed the guest either said yes or waved them off? It’s impersonal and dismissive.
Try this: “Can I get you anything else?” or a specific question about their meal experience. You prove you are paying attention and assure the guest gets what they need to improve their experience.
2. “How are WE doing this evening?”
Somewhere everyone has heard this phrase used. We is a first person pronoun and therefore presupposes the speaker is referring to themselves. This phrase comes off sounding very condescending. You can hear a headmaster saying this to misbehaving students, not a server saying it to a grown ass adult. Servers need to simply be friendly and normative.
Try this: “How are all of you this evening?”
3. “Hi, two?”
No, I’m actually 50, but thanks for asking. This is regular exchange that can be so much more personal, even if it’s crazy busy.
Try this: “Nice to see you this evening. How many are in your party?”
4. Phone answering with “Restaurant Name” followed by… nothing
There’s a reason chain operators mandate specific and planned greetings for guest phone calls. First, it insures a consistent guest experience and second, it conveys a message or mood about the restaurant.
Try this: “Good afternoon and thank you for calling (Fill in your venue name). This is (staff person name), how may I help you?”
Call your own restaurant once in a while and be honest with what it sounds like.
5. “I don’t know.”
It’s a clear sin to not know the menu as a restaurant server or bartender. In fact, in a recent Rail Hack we beseeched you to require all new employees pass a menu test to insure no one on your team can claim ignorance to the menu.
Try this: If a special or new item is available and the server isn’t sure, wouldn’t it be better to say, “I’m not sure, but I will check with the kitchen right now?”
6. “What can I get ya?”
Ugh. This is such a regular occurrence it hurts to even type it.
Try this: Here are a few for your servers to try: “Are you ready to order?”, “Do you have any questions about the menu before you choose?”, “Which of our great starters did you want to begin with?”
7. “Do you need change?”
Perhaps the most presumptuous catchphrase of them all, is the shameless troll to keep the change. It conveys a desire not to further interact with the guest and assumes whatever is left over belongs to you.
Try this: Go with something like, “I’ll get this processed and be back right away.” The guest knows if they don’t need change and will simply reply, “No, it’s all set.”
(yes, insert irony here)
It all comes down to training and actually listening to your team as they deliver service. You will be shocked what you see when you look. Whether you implement a self-penalty as Max’s has done or focus your training efforts to eradicate the catchphrases, it’s your guests that will win.
Got a bad server catchphrase of your own? Let us know in the comments below!