GETTING INTO THEIR HEADS PART 1: RAPPORT AND COMFORT
There are many ways to build rapport with a guest.
Rapport is part of any crucial business transaction, and it helps soften the money exchange for goods and services. In our case, rapport is important to be able to triage and gauge the best approaches that will be the best fit for the guest.
A big part of rapport is the first impression of the place. if the welcome is stiff and formal, the guest will expect a stiff and formal interaction (and where is the fun in that?). The same applies to the server: if too much time passes between being sat and someone offering at least water, the client may become restless and uneasy. Best is to nail it from the get go. Then it is much harder for the client to put a barrier between you and your tip, as they see you as an effective service facilitator and not as a cog in the machine. Remember that you are the most important mediator between the restaurant and the client.
A light hearted joke in greeting the guest or a few kind words can make a big difference. Instead of, “good evening how are you, do you have a reservation, what’s your name?” How about try this:
“Hello! welcome. It’s lovely tonight isn’t it? What a great coat! Come on in. Are we expecting you tonight? No? Yes? Great, right this way we have a (romantic, quaint, cozy or whatever they requested) table for you” See the difference?
Important: As always, remember that these people are going to pay your rent, tuition or whatever habit you have. It’s in your best interest that they have a good time.
Also, the compliments or comments should be POSITIVE, UPBEAT, and LIGHTHEARTED whenever possible. Don’t give bad news right off the bat, smooth it over. Always KAYFABE.
Then, as soon as they sit down and have gotten comfortable, approach. Don’t let them linger on their own. As you know the job takes some nudging here and there. Wait for an opening (a lull in conversation is best) and approach. This doesn’t need to be complicated: Offer them water.
Why water? Why not a drink? For one, water is a universal symbol of hospitality. Second, a drink, people have to think about… cocktail, wine, etc. Water is much more to the point. Sparkling, Still or tap? (if tap is a choice). That’s it. If they say no, ask again, they likely misheard you. Sparkling, still or tap. If they say yes, you may have to gently ask which one? Never lose your cool!
The next part is also important, Make them comfortable making requests of you.. Let them know about any specials on drinks or anything fun that may be new on the list, and let them sort themselves out. Keep an eye on them as a drink order is likely to l follow. If not, accept that graciously, and offer them alternatives (you should have them). If not, bow away with a “perhaps next time.” This is gold, I promise.
In this interaction you will have the chance to size them up. Try to guess their eating and drinking style.This will become easier with experience (also refer to the handy charts below).
Clients with more experience with restaurants —and pricey restaurants— will seem at ease and comfortable with the menu and the restaurant in general. Those without much experience may seem tense and take longer to make decisions. This will play a role when it comes to triaging your tables. Overall, never leave a guest alone for too long: They may get anxious especially if the restaurant is on the more expensive side.
To build rapport, pay attention to what they are looking at with intent, may it be the menu, the wine list, or the decor of the place. They may comment on the weather or ask what’s good. The key here is to stay observant and to be able to sniff out clues about their expectations and preferences and how best to meet them. Think of what you can say to bring them into their element. Small talk is an art that can tell you much about a guest. Learn to like it!
READ THE TABLE
A meal is never just a meal. There are many factors in play.
From here onwards, it’s a matter of identifying the lead person and sorting things out, or of helping to find some balance if there are two strong personalities at the table. You are playing politics in a way, but subtly and gently. With tables of women this sorting out process may be a little more tricky as they tend to work in consensus. Tables of men will typically have someone naturally selecting themselves to deal with wine, extras, and the bill.
In either case, this lead person is your main focus. Go from there.
The important part is to learn as fast as possible what their needs are and how you can service those needs fast and efficiently for the greatest return.
People go out for dinner for a variety of reasons which can overlap and change as the night goes on. Some may seek confirmation of their status, for others it is about entertainment,others may want a break from the real world. Others are there for the food, the drinks, or to ogle the waitstaff.
See the breakdown (further down) on the various reasons why people go for dinner. See also the customer breakdowns (even more further down), but remember that people are complex, and some categories of customers will overlap, but you should know that there seems to be only a finite number of types.
GRATITUDE IS HEALING
Gratitude is more than a hashtag. Gratitude is really the action of being grateful. Doesn’t have to be something earth shattering. We can start by aknowledging the little things that happen to and are done towards us in every way. Even bad times can be a source of gratitude, as we learn to enjoy the good times even more. Gratitude is also healing, when we share it with others. By giving thanks to the universe we can find our place with some more clarity. And, even better, takes nothing from us, costs nothing, and will NEVER go out of style. How do one start? well, writing down the things that makes one happy, the things we are happy for in our lives, the fact that we are healthy and can enjoy what life has to offer, and also what others do for us. You’d be amazed how many things one can find to be thankful for.
The best part is that being grateful will also help heal our spirits in ways that nothing else can. Try it out, go on, get drunk on ‘the wine of the soul’ as the poet Rumi would say.
GETTING INTO THEIR HEADS PART 2: WHY PEOPLE DINE OUT
WHY DO PEOPLE GO FOR DINNER, REALLY?
One would think that people eat out for sustenance only — because they have to. But that is rarely the case. We humans are all thrill seekers to varying degrees, and at different budgets those experiences vary wildly. However, there are things in common and patterns of people that visit restaurants. The point is rarely to just “have a meal.”
Here I am using a n/10 scale to show how often out of 10 meals you will get the reasons to eat out. They don’t add up to 10 because of the overlap of restaurant clients’ expectations and preferences.
For example, 3/10 tables in the restaurant will be there for politics, 4/10 will be there for the show, and some will be there just to get something inside them, but still being part of the total.
|REASONS TO EAT OUT||EXPLANATION||HOW COMMON? REASONING BEHIND IT|
|Politics||There to talk biz, influence someone, or try to convince someone of something.Even the act of being seen having dinner with ‘someone’ can be important to some clients. .|
Many deals are clinched over breaking bread.
|3/10 times.The reflexes triggered by the principles of needing to be liked,, authority, and reciprocity are very hard to break out of. A few bottles of good wine and good food can turn the toughest nuts into putty.|
|Entertainment||The new generation of chefs as celebrities sets the restaurant experience as the stage for amusement and magic. Common in the later stages of civilizations. Patrons seek a good show and ‘ambiance.’||7/10 times. The new “bread and circus.” Food is art that can be ingested, and give ‘cool’ points by consuming (and sharing in the socials!).|
|Seduction||Ah, love. What won’t people do for it?||Depends greatly on setting. Displays of wealth and ability to be a provider always help the ways of cupid, and alcohol has always helped romance. (Overlaps with Entertainment and Politics sometimes).|
|Bonding (socially or romantically)||Another important part of the human experience. The point is not the food, but the company. Strengthens the bonds of families and otherwise unrelated people.||7/10, common. May or may not be one-sided, but everyone enjoys eating with people they like (overlaps with Politics).|
|Sustenance||We all need to eat. Some more than others. Meals in social settings (not necessarily with company) are proven to be more satisfying.||Obvious. But a sustenance meal has less impact and is a less memorable experience than the others.|
|Satiety (physiological and psychological)||Sometimes the point is chasing the pleasant feelings of satisfaction and fullness that food provides (or the high from spicy foods), regardless of the meal or location itself. Hence spicy food, buffets, etc.||5/10 times. Some won’t care what they eat as long as it’s abundant and palatable enough for them, or that it comes with enough hot sauce.|
|Convenience (time constraints or lack of skill)||Sometimes people don’t have the time to cook or can’t be bothered. So sustenance is achieved and expedited with money. Example: I, for one, loooove Chipotle burritos.||Very common. Witness any restaurant that does lunch near offices.|
|Confirmation of Status (or status seeking)||The desire to be recognized in society and by peers as having “taste,” means, and access to “the finer things in life” or good connections. Those who have it rarely flaunt it. “ Aspirationals” often are more showy.||3/10. Depends on background and place. More so in high-demand places, new openings, high-end restaurants. Some think that displays of wealth are the way to invite more wealth or find a mate. Also Ego gratification at play.|
|Intellectual stimulation||The more cerebral form of eating. Not to quench hunger, but to bring to the brain new experiences that cannot be otherwise had. Overlaps heavily with Entertainment, but tends more towards the minimalistic and the pretentious.||Not very common. Think nouvelle cuisine and similars. It’s art, where the point is the intensity of experience but without heaviness of volume.|
So as you see, there are many factors that make a meal.
The link between the goals of the diner, the type of customer they may be, and their service requirements are closely related, but again, they tend to overlap. Think Venn diagrams (coming soon).
The role of the waitron is to manage these expectations and needs. Find the sweet spot, deliver the goods, and watch the cash roll in. Not as hard or as impossible as it may sound. You will still have to hustle and work for it, though:
- Figure out the type of customer they are and what possible expectations they have
- Overlapping these categories with those of the above seen Diner Breakdown(™), find your clients’ sweet spot and give them the comfort and/or show they are expecting
- With your newly found knowledge and tool kit, appeal to your clients’ expectations and make their experience as close to ideal as possible
- Look for feedback, tweak, and continue