The Service BLOG

Here we will share with you weekly fun things we’ve found that make work easier and help talent really find its groove.

A dear friend of mine, the legendary Adly Gawad, a master of the craft of being a waiter with many years of experience (and a time as a former professional clown) says that great hospitality goes beyond being efficient.

Great hospitality is more than exchanging goods for services at pre-ageed upon terms, not just a mercantile exchange that leaves us satisfied somewhat but empty.

Great hospitality he says, is in many ways, “the difference between just having sex or making love. And that is what we should aim for”. You want your customers to walk away from an interaction glowing and raving about it. Thrilled. Happy. You’ve changed their lives for the better even if its an ephemeral experience.

Is it hard to do? Not necessarily. Like other fun activities, it takes practice and a certain framework that can bring out the best in everyone.

So what are things that we can do that will bring out the best of an interaction? can this be applied universally to service interactions? We certainly think so. However much we’ve tried we have not really seen a concise and easy to use guide that can lead us to that promised land of smiles and glowing reviews.

Here are a list of what we consider great leads for, and indicators of a quality service interaction:

  1. Prompt (fast is best, time is money)
  2. Helpful (pointless to be fast and nice if you can’t really help, eh?)
  3. Meets the mark of the guest / client (and exceed those needs)
  4. At expected / stated cost or reasonably close (time is money but money is also money)
  5. Mindful of the client expectations (being seamless about touchy issues like cost and timing)
  6. Smooth interaction (all complexity either explained beforehand or eliminated, from A to Z)
  7. Pleasant (you want to see the people that served you again and again, and you would send your friends to them too)
  8. Delights and it’s FUN! (It’s what makes it personal and brings people back)
  9. Anticipates needs of the client or guest (they’ll seem like mind readers)
  10. Seems effortless and gracious (but may be lots of moving pieces for this)

Ultimately the human factors of attitude and aptitude collude against or with this list to bring about great experiences. #makeitnice is a mindspace that is worth exploring time and time again. Good service is good service, and we believe what we have listed are universal indicators.

But how would you know if someone in your staff has these graces? Currently you don’t. ‘Soft skills’ are considered ‘unmeasurable’.

So we are proposing a simple way to find out if the staff is really performing as you would hope for: have customers tell us directly when they come across someone talented at their job. It doesn’t matter what capacity, what level of interaction. What matters is talent and aptitude.

With a bit of gratitude (and an entry in our platform) we can make a major impact on service staff by acknowledging their contributions in ways beyond monetary gain, offering respect and recognition. Money alone won’t fix a toxic work environment and a thank-you is nice but respect is the defining factor, as a well known anthropologist (Philippe Bourgois) would find out, between selling crack in el barrio or trying to find legitimate work.

In sum, we have an ask: Help us help talent rise. We are collecting data of those whom are great at their job, and do it with heart. Ideally this record will serve as a reference of skill, and be part of the staff wherever else where they may go. We’ll vouch for their talent so that they can find other opportunities or training or even loans and access to credit otherwise unattainable.

Enterprises will gain better insight of the performance of their teams with more granular data and customers will be able to express gratitude in a simple way, where they can help others help themselves through their talent.

Sounds sensible? we think so. Please vote in the talent you know : www.agaru.me

Yours,

Adrian Marquez

Sommelier, Anthropologist, Founder

Agaru

8 Components of service philosophy

  1. It takes a lot of empathy

Your ability to empathize and relate to another person’s situation or condition will make  the difference between an enjoyable shift and a nightmare that makes you hate every minute of your job.

The mindset I like to keep is, “would I treat my grandma like this? Would I talk to my mother, my best friend, or my child like this?” Treat your customers how you would want your loved ones treated.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how the world quickly changes.

Hospitality is very challenging in this regard. But once you learn to let go and accept that:
a) ‘people is people’ as they say, and b) nobody is perfect, you may find that you will live a much longer and stress-free life.

2. Learn to LISTEN!

This is obviously related to the first point… Most people hear, but don’t listen. This distinction is subtle but it makes a world of a difference.  
When you LISTEN you are paying attention not only to the words, but also to the inflections, tone and other nonverbal cues, all the stuff between the lines, in addition to the choice of words, volume, and the tempo. Most importantly, when you listen you are interpreting  what the person is trying to say from the heart. Ever met someone that is a good listener? You may not be able to tell how they are doing it, but somehow you just feel very cared for. That’s the difference between being listened to, and simply being heard.  

3. It Takes a Big Heart 

One must learn to be genuinely gracious and generous because it’s very hard to fake.Try to imagine that your clients are old pals, that want to have the best time possible. You, as the navigator, will help them with choices and ideas to make their party the best time EVER!. Doesn’t that make it seem easier and less daunting? Doesn’t that make you smile? 

A giving and generous heart will make work (not to mention life) much easier. 

4.Good energy counts!

Sending out those good vibrations is very important for a few reasons: 

1. People both react and feel better towards you when you have good spirits 

2. Co-workers will feel them and follow suit 

3. This will help keep you sane and work will not feel quite so demanding

Sure, the job can be done with a scowl in your face, but the day will move much slower, I can guarantee you that. Plus, your tips will not be as high and your shift will feel more stressful. Keep emotion within positive lines and amazing things will happen. This may all sound very wishy-washy and ‘new-agey,’  but just give it a try. Good spirits make for good ‘spirit de corps,’ and that makes for better service and returning patrons. Win-win!

5. You Must Keep Learning about both Food and People 

Learn the menu inside out: all the ingredients, all the possible combinations and even cooking techniques. This is your bread and butter, your ammo, the foundation of  the stories you will tell people. Sometimes, a dish must be broken down for people to understand. You must be able to give them the highlights and a general feel for the dish as a whole. The more precisely your pitch is tailored to the guest, the easier the sale will be. The same applies to the  wine, desserts… 

I don’t expect you to become an expert in food. You should be, however, an expert in knowing what’s on the menu and why.
More on this and why it is so important later. 

Learning how to effectively communicate with people should be part of everyone’s everyday existence. As a Finnish proverb wisely states, “the ability to communicate with others is one of the most important abilities a person can learn.” Life experience has shown me this is very true. 

6. Think like an Entrepreneur and Keep Your Mind on the Green

Think of yourself as your own boss: You have a supplier (the restaurant), a client (the guest) and you are the middleman. The approach you take and the techniques you use will have a direct impact on your bottom line. There is no way around this fact. 

As long as you work for tips (or in service operations), you are basically a small business, with a good setup too. You’ve got no overhead, no need to pay salary, and little risk with inventory or cash flow. Heck, they pay you to show up and service the client. Not a bad start at all! Now, some days will be better than others, but again, such is life. 
All that being said, if to have a certain pay level everyday is a requirement, if that is what you want, waiting tables is not for you. Those of entrepreneurial disposition will get it.
Since the model of work compensation in North America is moving towards tip-less, what would be your interest in going above and beyond? a vote in Agaru, of course. With this vote you can be sure of your skill, and many possibilities may open. . .

7.Be Kind to Yourself

The job will be hard. Long, sometimes boring, often hectic hours. It’s easy to go overboard on the earthly pleasures, all too easy to slip into the dark side. Opportunities for alcohol, overeating, drugs and  luxury buys are never too far away or they are readily accessible. I’ve seen many cases of people who just go too far. You have cash, you are hungry or stressed, and all those wine bottles are giving you the comely eyes. . .

At the end of the day, you will have to  to answer to yourself. And who are you gonna cash against, when all the cards are dealt, if not yourself? 

You owe it to yourself to keep those demons in check. I’m not advocating total celibacy (ha!) or sobriety (ha ha!)  but aim for a balance. The Romans had a good expression,“sobria ebrietas,” that is, “use the gifts of altering substances to improve your character and soften your own rough edges.”  Do not abuse, but rather, enhance the joy of life in small doses ― or don’t at all if you have a really addictive personality (and either way please do it outside of work).  Eat healthy, get out and shake your bones, it will pay back in your later years.

8. Keep it together!

Leave the party at home― “self-inflicted malaise is not an acceptable excuse to miss work,” said a manual of a place where I once worked.

You need to stay sharp and keep your wits about you. A shit day in the weeds in December will be much easier to deal with if you’ve been eating right, exercising, and getting good sleep. Ever tried nursing a hangover and managing two stations at once? It’s just not fun.

A note on Kayfabe (‘ kai – fave’ )

There is also an element of what carnies call ‘kayfabe’ to every restaurant / bar / lounge.  And it applies more often than you think in business. It’s the idea that you must always maintain the illusion that in your establishment everything is perfect. Even when things get out of hand, the impression that everything is going great and we are all having a great day must be maintained. It’s a necessary illusion, and essential to professional service.  Kayfabe is the make-believe that makes food taste better, brings happy customers back, and keeps you employed. And YOU are an actor and active participant in maintaining this illusion . Now, is it lying? I prefer to think of it as pious white lies. Most of things in life are all make belief anyway. Like money.

Framing: A customer angry at life is appeased (True story) 

Here is a little true story that shows the importance of listening, while at the same time  not letting the customers rattle you (some will do it for sport or natural inclination), and framing the interaction in a positive way..

About 12 years ago, a gentleman came to the restaurant where I worked for brunch. He was probably in his mid-forties but looked much older. He had the demeanor and the kind of face that has seen many screaming matches and tough times. 

As soon as I approached, this is what he said:

“So you think I’m a wanker?” [Very tense and angry, ready to snap body language.]

Me: (Thinking: WTF?) “Good morning sir, would you like some coffee?” (Smile, reframe, Neo’s ‘Matrix bullet avoidance’ deployed). 

Him: “Yeah, you think I am a puffer eh? what’s your problem? you are a wanker!” 

Me: (Okay, It’s gonna be one of those days…) “I’ll bring you a coffee. Cream or milk?” (Reframing, agree and amplify, charisma).

Him: “Ah…ok… But you are a wanker!” 

(Me: (Okay… Someone is cranky, smile) “cream or milk?” (Defusing by refusing to engage, charisma).

Him: “Mmmmf…. cream please.”

Me: (Internally patting myself on the back) “sure thing sir. I’ll be right back.” (RUN to get his coffee).

The rest of the interaction was a fine balance between him trying to get angry and me just being the convivial and jolly type that couldn’t be phased. 

At the end of the meal he said, “You know, you are alright. You have great attitude for service.”

Me: (Okay dude, now you are weirding me out, but thanks. I’ll take the compliment) 

“thank you sir. Can I quote you on that? My boss would love to hear it, ha haha,” (we both had a chuckle).

His companion was a little horrified and she explained that he was a chef in London.

His name? Gordon Ramsay. 

He walked out of the restaurant smiling. Good vibes.

The lesson here: Don’t let customers bring your good energy and positive vibes down. Give ’em more love. Can’t make your day any worse, and with a little luck and good attitude you can make their day better.

I still think that he was pretty hungover that day, lol.

THE MEMES OF SERVICE

1. MAKE IT NICE

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IN THIS WHOLE GUIDE. The job in hospitality is about keeping the illusion that the world is an organized, neat, tidy place where everything happens just right to make it perfect. So do things with this goal in mind.

+ Guest gets up? Fold the napkin, tidy up a bit (straighten things at the table), make it nice.
+ It’s raining outside? Give them umbrellas (as they do at Gramercy Tavern). 

The point is this: If it’s dirty, clean it. If it’s messy, make it tidy. If it’s cluttered, declutter.

Sometimes you will have to get in front of the guest, or into their personal space. Remember that being smiley and gracious will let you get away with more intrusion. ‘Make it nice’  is also the motto for the best restaurant in the world (11 Madison in NYC, multiple years running). Should be good enough for you. 

2. LEARN THE DANCE, BE A BALLERINA

Every workplace has a flow of sorts. There are all kinds of steps to service that you need to learn. Greet, drinks, etc. You should know all the steps that make the guest experience forwards and backwards. This is useful for yourself, but also very useful for the team. Ideally everyone should know or at least sense where everyone is at in a particular night. Even better, you should be able to (and trust) that the team knows where you are as well. Make your every move count. When everyone is in tune, and the gears are turning, service becomes a beautiful ballet. 

More on this will be elaborated on the algorithms section, but for now you can practice these steps  when the place is empty. ‘Dishes go where, where is the bar, where is the coat check.’ And then improvise steps along the way:

+Going to the kitchen? Bring something in along the way (and something out if you can).
+ Comrade is buried? Help along the way.
+ Hostess is crushed? Go greet guests at least.  Contact = comfort.
+ Bar is crushed? Suggest wine or beer, not cocktails !

All little things that can add up to a smoother service and easier day for you.