Ask a restaurateur the inspiration for opening a restaurant and you’ll probably get answers related to a lifelong love of food, cooking with grandma, or a love of local ingredients. You probably won’t hear a lot of mentions of restaurant customer service—with restaurant reputation management being so hard to control and all.
The reality is that restaurant customer service can be as much of a part of daily operations as cooking and mixing drinks. The bartenders you have slinging drinks, the hosts who seat your guests, and the servers who take their orders and bring your customers their food are your restaurant. They’re the face of the place, in fact. Your guests will interact with your staff infinitely more than they will ever interact with an owner or manager. Obviously, the caliber of customer service you offer is essential to the experience your guests have an integral to their decision to keep coming back over time.
How do you get your staff on board to deliver the type of customer service you demand? You execute a flawless restaurant customer service training program. While it can be pretty clear that practically every restaurant needs a training program, figuring out how to build your own can be hard and shelling out the cash for professional training can be expensive.
Whether the time has come for you to institute your own training or you’re evaluating the offerings of outside sources, here are six restaurant customer service training tips to integrate into your program.
1- Make customer service a part of an organized restaurant training system.
Every restaurant needs an organized system in place to train all new hires. This helps assure that each new server is trained exactly the same way, and your expectations are clearly defined for all new employees. As part of your system, including the type of customer service you expect to be delivered. Demonstrate how you want customers greeted and spoken to. Give examples of how you expect questions to be answered and establish a clear protocol for how problems are to be handled.
2- Encourage lots of questions.
Training sessions are unique in that it’s one of the only times that you will have one-on-one time with an employee, so take advantage of this time. Encourage new hires to ask a lot of questions, and always answer them clearly and respectfully. Customer service expectations can vary widely from restaurant to restaurant, so take the time to make it clear how you expect it done in your restaurant. Don’t forget to ask them questions also. Take the time throughout training to ask them how they would answer a different question from a customer.
Restaurant customer service can be as much of a part of daily operations as cooking and mixing drinks.
3- Be each other’s shadows.
Each new hire should start out by having a chance to shadow one of your top servers. They should learn the proper way you expect them to interact with your guests and they are able to pay attention to the types of questions being asked and see them answered. Likewise, before you set them free to fly solo, turn the tables and shadow your new hire for a couple of shifts. Be sure they are feeling confident, are fully prepared and are ready to deliver the type of service you demand before setting them free.
4 – Cover how to handle customer disputes.
Even if you’ve got the greatest staff around and they absorb your training completely and execute it perfectly, customer disputes are an unavoidable part of having a restaurant. There will always be a group of people who are determined to strike up issues with waitstaff, no matter what they do. Because it’s bound to happen, the worst things you can do are act like customer disputes don’t happen or pin it all on you waitstaff when they do.
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The best thing you can do is equip your loyal staff to handle customer issues as they arise by teaching them how to manage and escalate them properly in your restaurant customer service training. The first thing to teach your staff is to always treat customers with respect, even when they aren’t returning the favor—it keeps the restaurant on the high ground. Then, you’ll want to let them know how you expect situations to be handled. If a customer complains about their food, your policy might be to send it back and get them a new one, no questions asked. Other options, depending on the severity of the complaint, can include taking the meal off the tab or buying the table a round of drinks.
The most important element, though, is to let your staff know that you always have their back and that they can take any customer issue they have to you or other managers who will handle it from there if they ever feel uncomfortable in a dispute situation.
5 – Include customer service best practices.
There’s no such thing as too much of an emphasis on best customer service practices. Even if you’ve hired an incredibly experienced staff, a few reminders here and there can’t hurt. Consider building tiny monthly focuses on the continued education element of your restaurant customer service training sessions—learning doesn’t stop after new employees graduate new hire training. For example, one month the focus could be on encouraging your servers and bartenders to get to know the names of the people at their tables, especially guests that they’ve served before. As Restaurant Engine explains, “when you or one of your employees makes a connection with diners, they are happier.”
There are plenty of ways to encourage connections between your guests and staff besides learning names. You can encourage your servers to introduce themselves by name and perhaps even include a personal detail about themselves at some point during the service—something as simple as noting what meal or drink is their absolute favorite can work wonders.
6 – Don’t forget how important it is to know the menu inside and out.
This part might take some time and practice, especially for those newer to the industry, but one thing that will not only make your customer’s dining experience better and make your wait staff’s job easier is a clear knowledge of the menu. “Even the most descriptive of menus still require clarification from time to time, and your wait staff should be as familiar as possible with the menu,” says Webstaurant Store. Of course, this gets easier with time—memorization naturally comes with familiarity—but there are still fun memorization games that you can include in your customer service training that can kick-start the process.
Quality restaurant customer service can make the difference between being a good meal out or a memorable meal out, and likewise a 5-star online review, or no review at all. Be sure everyone on your staff knows the type of service you expect, and train them to deliver that every time.