The Service BLOG

DEALING WITH ANGRY BIRDS (AKA Anti-zombie defenses)

Now and then you’ll get people that are just generally miserable or who have had a rough day / week / year / life. Or people who just like attention and complaining is how they get it. Their faces are long, they are tired or frustrated, had a long day or they look at  you with contempt (this will happen too).

Your best defense against this? Listen, empathize, and smile. Give them extra love. 

Smile. It’s so simple, it’s  stupid, and almost sounds too simple and  easy to be effective, doesn’t it? People cannot stay angry at you if you smile. It doesn’t have to be a full on grin ( that might make things worse), but a friendly smile will go a very long way.

How? 

Well, people develop their own techniques. I like to think of amusing newspaper stories. 

Try thinking of something funny that you remember, something someone said earlier on (Resto people are great for witticisms and snappy lines). The point is to keep your spirits up. Have a perma-smile and people will flock to you. In some contexts, this silly trick might be referred to as ”charisma.” 

Smiling works like magic —even the angriest patron will see a smile and might even start reconsidering their own anger. Try it with family or friends, you’ll see it’s true. A smile helps set the tone, you are unflappable; and don’t forget: things always work out in the restaurant. Remember the importance of the kayfabe element here.

KILL THEM WITH KINDNESS

Related to the above, someone I worked with once told me, “the best thing to do with mean people is to be extra nice to them. It drives them insane.” There is a lot of wisdom here.

If you do everything you can, if you are extra nice to them and they are still unhappy, there is the remote chance that they may look at themselves and reconsider their feelings. Nobody can stay angry forever in the face of kindness and an honest disposition. 

THE WADDAYOUHAVE?

This is the part where filtering clients into categories comes into play. You will notice that there are patterns to customers, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, gender, etc. . . Marketers call this ‘customer personnas’

Here is where  a combination of sharp observational skills and a subtle accommodation in your behavior can help you make  bigger sales. While there is a direct relationship between sales and tips, there is also a limit to how far that can go. 

As always, be subtle and firm, yet flexible.. Don’t argue, but encourage. Don’t push, but persuade.The ideal sale is where you meet the guests’  expectations  while finding yourself in a reasonable spot profit wise and making the place look great. Should be an all around win-win-win situation or at least it should feel that way. (remember the Kayfabe?)

The keys here are:

  • Increasing your sales
  • Increasing the edge of the house (look to push the most profitable items if you can’t push the sales up)
  • Make people happy with their choices
  • Make sure to leave something to intrigue and encourage a return visit.
  • Always encourage guests about their choices and remain positive. 

Ultimately, you want people to come back over and over again. Long term recurring profit > one time. AGAIN, LONG TERM RECURRING PROFIT IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN ONE-TIME PROFIT.

This above is a great lesson in business as well. Most times, you want the customer coming back, even if it is very occasionally. Small profits over time can become large sums over the years. 

HANDY LINES TO BUMP SALES

These are some of the most useful lines that I have used over the years. Simple, but highly  effective, and when used with the right crowd, they can make  the difference between a low sale and a grand night out for your guests. 

Classic lines:

 “I nearly forgot to mention . . . “

“The specialty of the house is xyz…”

“A great match for x is y… would you like to try it?”

“Have you tried our xyz..? It is Great“ 

“Choice is important, we are here to make you happy. . . “

“ If you like x, you’ll love y . . .”

Reading a table and choosing the most fitting service approach  is the second most important part of the job. The first one is, as we know, MAINTAINING THE KAYFABE. Dealing with people,their many desires, and shifting expectations can be challenging, but if we break it down by patterns  and ranges (as we have discussed above) we can identify and implement  strategic choices that  give our guests a better experience and service triage. Marketers call this “customer segmentation” and “customer personas”.

So how do you deal with a hipster crowd? What do they consider good service or desirable in the restaurant interaction? Can you go above and beyond to a generation used to so-so service? YES YOU CAN.

By their actions you will know them . . .

GUEST ETHNOGRAPHIC PROFILES

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the guest types you will encounter. Finally: ethnography put to use in terms waiters can use! These are the background stories of the characters you will meet. I’ll be describing how these types of clients relate to themselves and each other, and what their attitudes are towards food,wine, and service staff. Even if we consider ourselves as unique as  snowflakes, there are types of snowflakes and ways of cataloging them (seriously, there is a snow museum in Japan where the research focus is the study of snowflakes). 

The profiles are based  on years of careful observation about what different clients eat, drink, and chat about during their meals, how they approach the waitstaff, and how they interact with them. 

Since class and taste are debatable, best left for another date. Same for religion (but you can infer that the Singh’s, Goldman’s and the Smiths’ have very different consumption desires).

This guide is meant to give you an insight on what these groups hold as valuable in a restaurant experience , and on their preferences regarding manners and style of interaction with “the other”, meaning with you, me, and everyone else outside their table. 

The intent here is to give you tools to adapt your service style and approach to different kinds of clients, insights that come from  field observations and  many years of interactions in the restaurant setting. You will notice that there are categories that overlap with my other classifications, and it is your job to figure out what fits best with the table you are about to serve. See for yourself, young Padawan. And what gives me the right to write a goddamn ethnography? Well, I did my time at a fancy-pants school, and god damn it, I will max out that degree  as much as I can! 

WHO?PROFILE: AGE RANGE, EDUCATION, NOTES, SPOTTING THEM 
Campers25-55, broad range of education, much more noticeable in groups of 3 or 4, rarely more than 6 (the flow of conversation implodes). Usually after a meal tend to linger anywhere from 20 minutes after check to 2+ hours. Can be anyone. Telltale: flowing conversation from start. Overlaps with gabbers.   However, dates going well can be campers too (and don’t interrupt!). 
GabbersOverlaps with Campers. Education varies. Groups of 2-6, ages 25-40. There to chat. Rarely interested in food or the wine, there to chat and preen. Sales can target the instinct to compete, sales by popularity and consensus, ‘healthy eating,’ current food trends and ‘sharing’ of dishes.Staff will be indistinct to them. Telltale: indifference after table greeting.
PrincessesBaby Boomers heavily represented, upper-middle to upper-crust, college-educated, average to high disposable income. 22-55. Narcissist to the core, attention-seeking, the world revolves around them. There to be ‘seen’ and ‘hand-held.’ Often peculiar food fixations, imagined allergies are common, attention-seeking, disruptive requests, followers of food trends. May or may not read the menu. Important to allocate time dedicated to them, regardless of other factors (Saturday night snowflakes). Staff seen as ‘the help.’ Short, multiple to-the-point interactions will save you.Telltale: Peculiar fashion and loud accessories.
‘Foodies’Mid-class, average to high disposable income. Hipster. 20-45. Millennials and generation-Y heavy. Groups of 2 – 6, rarely 8.  Hunters of cool via proxy of food and savviness of food as culture; this makes a  status marker and creates ‘cool quotient’. Access to the latest and greatest food fad important. Game to at least order new and strange items and combinations of flavors, pursuit of new experiences always high on the list. Sales focus: whatever is cool at the moment, or has a degree of originality and daring. Rarely anything left after, lots of pictures taken (to document for proof of coolness), staff can make a difference, game for ‘magic carpet,’ since usually more travelled than average. Will study menu carefully, ask poignant questions. Game for sharing dishes and complimentary side dishes, multiple apps and mains likely. Telltale: questions about the food will be more in-depth, game to try unusual. Cameras at the ready too (lol).Can overlap with Indie Jones, but much tamer. 
Granola crunch25 – 45 (then seemingly most give up), then Baby Boomers. Educated, college and up. Average to above average disposable income. Healthy eating a priority and defining of self. Mostly healthy eater out of self-interest for health reasons. Self-denying and opposed to hedonism. Sporty, consumes food as fuel and medicine. Rarely will eat meat, sauce on the sides, fear of fat; local and organic important. Can be self-righteous or preachy about choices. Allergies and food intolerances (gluten, etc.) are common. May try to construct custom meals from menu without asking. Will lean heavily on staff product knowledge to make decisions. Sales should stress the health benefits of the menu items, gloss over the less healthy options, emphasize and push veg alternatives. Empathy and understanding of healthy eating will be very useful and beneficial here for kayfabe. Can overlap with Gabbers. Knowingly or not, shapes markets and influences others.  Telltale: Sportsy outfits, shoppers bags from farmers markets, distinctive ‘earthy’ clothing and jewellery. 
Status seekers25 & up, rarely younger. Broad range of education. Blue collar heavily represented. Groups of 4-12+. Above average disposable income, material spending seen as a sign of taste and wealth. Table full of food and drink idealized. Seeks recognition and respect by extravagant spending or moderate spending but demanding requests. Priciest items on the menu of interest, same for alcohol. Seek ‘known’ or recognizable labels, branding important. Food secondary to entertaining or company. Staff seen as little above servants, but if staff shows backbone and product knowledge may upgrade to ‘useful’ (and respectable). Telltale sign: Flashy clothing and accessories. Name-dropping brands at greeting, requests for large amounts of food.  
Suits30+ up to early Baby Boomers. College education and up. Average to above average disposable income (hard to know if company is paying). Groups of 2-6 common, rarely more (unless during the holidays). Boasting and showing off not unusual, but often measured. Proving to others provider capacity central to identity. Good deals are welcome, not as keen on what’s popular, but what is ‘good.’ Staff as co-conspirators ideal scenario but be there and invisible; military style welcomed. Will tip and prefer waitress > waiters. Red over white wine, seen as more masculine. Telltale signs: suit and tie on a Tuesday night. 
Indie Jones30+,  College education, extensive travel or exposure, high curiosity, high risk tolerance. Can be industry or outsiders, average to above average disposable income, groups rarely more than 4 unless a special event, lots of pictures and mementos expected. Showing off via social media possible, but often sharing the experience with each other is the goal, s. times share views with chefs. Extreme experiences sought in other realms, so can be a point of bonding with staff, game for new wines. Will tip equally, but competence is highly regarded. Telltale signs: Requests for obscure drinks or food from get go
Vanilla This one cuts a wide spectrum. The least adventurous of the pack, they like what they like and rarely will try things outside their comfort zone. However, if you can make things relatable to them without being patronizing, you are golden. Don’t be too obvious about it, and don’t stereotype, remember that some of the above categories can overlap. Baby Boomers, X-ers, and older generation tend to fall in this category. Large groups not unusual, will defer often to one person making the choice of drink, and the amount of food ordered. Rare to boast, rare expenditure on big ticket items, more there for the socializing aspect of the meal than the show itself or to be seen by others. Dinner becomes social capital more with the ingroup than outsiders. A friendly approach will do well, efficient, and control situation is ideal, though often defer to the organizer. Often drinks will be conservative and few (or one type and plentiful).Telltale signs: require clarification of most things on menu. Requests for simple, plain food or drink.


Like this? Useful? let me know, I will expand on many others. 

SORTING OUT ‘THE UNKNOWNS’

Ruling out unpredictable variables can be half the job sometimes. The ukns are what you can’t anticipate  on any given day, such as, which dish will sell better, or how many daiquiris will be sold in one night. But one can learn patterns overtime, and the best preparation for ukns is to be ready for anything at all times. 

So give yourself this little piece of homework everyday. See if you can identify the particular patterns of your establishment. There are seasonal, weekly, and daily patterns to any operation. One day computers will help sort this out, but for now, try. And then SHARE IT. 

If you prepare for everyday as if you are gonna get destroyed, you’ll get destroyed a little less, or at least feel that you had more of a fighting chance. It’s a small thing that will do much for your sanity. 

So a good mise en place (‘a plan to have things ready,” in french) is key. Have all of your items,  like sugar bowls, polished cutlery, etc., ready to go. That is why the house makes you do it, it’s not work for work’s sake.