This is a category that is multi overlapping because it covers at times self development and sometimes product knowledge. There are also breakdowns of customer types and why and how that is important. Not every customer is the same, and some are more challenging than others but that is half of the fun of hospitality, right?
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT IS GOOD SERVICE?
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 a here-today-gone-tomorrow 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:
- Prompt (fast is best, time is money)
- Helpful (pointless to be fast and nice if you can’t really help, eh?)
- Meets the mark of the guest / client (and exceed those needs)
- At expected / stated cost or reasonably close (time is money but money is also money)
- Mindful of the client expectations (being seamless about touchy issues like cost and timing)
- Smooth interaction (all complexity either explained beforehand or eliminated, from A to Z)
- Pleasant (you want to see the people that served you again and again, and you would send your friends to them too)
- Delights and it’s FUN! (It’s what makes it personal and brings people back)
- Anticipates needs of the client or guest (they’ll seem like mind readers)
- 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.
8 Components of service philosophy
- 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 hospitality 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.
HANDY SERVICE MEMES
Here is an easy download and printable guide way to remember good practices at work. Made my life much easier.
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 (don’t believe me? lookup ‘fiat currency’. It is terrifying!).
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.
3. ALWAYS BE LEARNING
This is a good lesson for work and life. There should always be room for improvement in work and in your everyday dealings. Learning new things makes you flexible when dealing with the unexpected and gives you perspective when you may not know you need it.
In our case, learning comes in monetary rewards (learn about wine!) and also in guest satisfaction. The more you know about cooking terms and culture, the better you will be able to relate to the guests —and even surprise them!— or to get ahead of the game before they can even say meep. Overheard that someone is devout orthodox Jewish? Don’t even bring up the shellfish stew with pork cracklings. Someone is vegan? You know the deal in the menu. What wine is best with x? You should know.
Ultimately, I think learning is fun, and it’s what separates the amateurs from the pros. Do you know what makes a very real difference between you being rich or poor? Access to information. But that is a rabbit hole that is neither here nor there (but it is useful to know).
4. STAY FLEX AND FLY
The temptations will be many, but along the path of life one has to stay limber and as fly as possible. In our case, staying active makes it much easier to deal with stress and physical demands. Staying fly is also in your best economic interest, as it is directly related to the tips you can make.
In life, there are very few things that are really under our control but these are two of them. Go do yoga, pilates, weights, sports, whatever. You will thank yourself in your later years. We all get old, and the job won’t get easier. Make it easier on yourself.
5. DO UNTO OTHERS
The timeless golden rule. You should be always mindful of your actions, how they will affect others, and how they relate to how you would like to be treated. So don’t be a jerk for the sake of getting your jollies. In our business one must even take it one step further: Treating guests or colleagues as long lost relatives has never been against my best interest. So do things right for them, do it with heart, watch them melt, and then come back.
6. KEEP BUSY
This is one of the most challenging parts of the waiter game. Sometimes there will be considerable amounts of spare time in between tables or before the show starts. Here is where you have to stay moving ―find a project, ask questions, find something to do. Not only will it help you pass the time faster, you may learn something new along the way, or find a problem that you didn’t know about, and now you have the edge to fix it. Most of this guide was written in such moments, at least initially in my head. But that is how great ideas or good innovations can come forth. Definitely beats gossip in the long run.
7. GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS
Related to the above. The temptation is great, but ultimately, what does gossip really do for you? Even worse, imagine yourself gossiping about a guest, and they just happen to overhear you. How would that reflect on the whole team? Not so good. I’ve never been a big fan of gossip, since it does nothing for morale, for guest appreciation, or self-improvement. Why bother with negativity? So I say no thanks, and walk away generally from any gossip. I suggest you do the same.
8. BIGGER IS NOT BETTER
Bigger portions, louder music, bolder wines. Is it really necessary? If all you do all day is loud music, salty, bold food, and pumped up artifacts, you will end up missing out on the subtle things that go on around you and overwhelming your senses. Try it out, it is more work, granted, but less exhausting and more rewarding. Works the same on the floor. Subtle and ongoing gestures can have more mileage than grand actions.
Once upon a time I worked with a fellow (Sum Luk, really, that was his name) that embodied this philosophy. He wouldn’t hover over tables. His approach was ‘not ready? I’ll be back’. He would touch on them lightly, easily, 5-10 times, a minute each (a master of self-extraction!). But to the table it looked like he had spent HOURS with them. Perception is reality for most.
9. WRITE IT DOWN
Another curious attribute of humanoids is that we retain very little of what we hear and see. So when you encounter a potentially profitable lesson or a new or challenging situation, WRITE IT DOWN. Guest wants this or that? Write it down. New menu items? Write it down. Meeting of the month? Write it down! Lord knows that if it doesn’t stay in writing, legally speaking, it doesn’t exist. Paper trails win.
10. SINGLES FIRST, DEUCES SECOND, THREES 3RD, 4+’S LAST
General rule of thumb. Waiting for something when you are only one person at the table makes the waiting time seem so much longer and your needs more pressing than when you are in the company of others. So get to them first, then sort the others out. The larger the table, the less people will notice if the bread is taking long. True story.
11. TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
This may sound like a tired cliche, but it remains true as ever. Without your teammates you cannot give good experiences for your guests, I don’t care how good you think you are. I’m a fan of pooling tips for the same reason, that way it is in everyone’s self interest that guests have the best experience possible. Everyone makes money, worries less, customers get the dream. Win-win.
12. ANTICIPATE TO WIN
Anticipating the needs of your clients will make your life much easier. Think of the steps that should follow as you sit down in a restaurant. What would you want next to happen? And then? And then? Keep in mind that this is part of the dance and that you will have to learn what makes different clients tick. So learn the steps, anticipate the next one, and lead with grace.
13. THINK OF THE PERSON AFTER YOU
Again, as in life in general, if you use something, bring it back. If it’s broken, fix it. If you can make it better, do so, and then leave it better than you found it for the next person after you. It is little things like this that will make your life easier, your workflow better, and the world a better place (please recycle!).
14. ORGANIZATION WINS BATTLES
This one took me much longer to learn than the others. Eventually you come around to the fact that it is much easier to deal with chaos or uncertainty if your life is somewhat organized and sorted out. Little things like having extra socks, getting ready earlier, knowing where all your gear is will make your job much simpler and enjoyable. . . Same goes for the restaurant. Having your setup ready and systems in place before the guests show up is really a third of the battle.
15. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
It may happen that you did everything perfectly well and still things didn’t turn out well. Such is life. Sometimes guests may not jive with you, sometimes you may have an ‘unfunny’ day . If the guests reject your every opinion and suggestion and ignore you it is OK. Their loss. Life goes on. No hard feelings ever eh? The job is NOT ABOUT YOU.