Before serving a table of chatty guests, the servers familiar with the best server tips and tricks are able to size up their tables. However, smart servers know that all restaurant guests are different. Not only are they scrapping the “hello my name is” introduction in favor of more individualized welcome, but they’re tailoring their serving approach based on a variety of factors, from the number of people to the table, to the reason they came and the type of service their restaurant is known for.
In general, restaurant service varies based on the type of restaurant and it lands on a spectrum of formality, with fine dining being the most formal and delivery being the most informal. Here are the different types of restaurant service according to Webstaurant Store:
- Fine dining
- Casual dining
- Family-style dining
- Fast casual
- Fast food
- Food trucks
- Pop-up restaurants (although this can vary based on the type of pop-up)
- Delivery-only joints
Yet, these distinctions aren’t crystal clear. It depends on the specifics of each individual restaurant. Generally, the higher menu prices are, the more formal and individualized the service is. Service also varies based on the type of food served, where the ingredients are from, and how they’re prepared.
No matter the type of service, there are some basic standards of restaurant service that any server should follow. Servers should never be rude to guests and should greet their guests when they sit down. Servers will almost always be expected to provide water, silverware, and menus to their guests right away and be able to answer any questions guests have about the menu.
Food should be served while still hot if it’s a warm dish, and servers should check on their tables routinely even after the food has come. Servers are often charged with clearing unnecessary dishes from the table and offering guests dessert after their meal. Of course, servers should thank guests and say goodbye when they leave.
Beyond generalities, here are a few specific ways that servers are improving restaurant service.
1. Finding a polite way to interrupt
A waiter at Blue Smoke restaurant in New York calls customers’ attention by placing his hand on the table. “Placing down his palm draws the group’s eyes up and out of the conversation, interrupting but without being pushy.”
2. Ditching the script and upsells
Even the most profitable chain restaurants are honoring their guests by humanizing their sales pitches. “Chain restaurants like Denny’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill are focusing more on personalized service by training staff to note body language, eye contact, and offhand remarks, hoping to make service feel less mechanical.”
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3. Determining how much will be ordered
According to Ricky Richardson, COO at Carlson Restaurants Inc., the restaurant’s waitstaff pays attention to how guests have allotted the space on their table. For example, “if diners have a laptop open on the table, they might not be interested in appetizers that are best for sharing or learning a lot about the cocktail menu.”
4. Getting kids to eat
Kids can be fussy eaters, so when waitstaff is trained at the Cheesecake Factory, they’re told that “if a kid says he doesn’t like green things, don’t use lettuce, even as a garnish.” A waitress in the article recalls her experience as a new waitress: “It took me three months to realize you give the dessert menu quietly to the mom, otherwise kids scream.”
5. Reading the group dynamic
The managing partner at Blue Smoke in New York says that he watches the body language of every group he approaches to see whether they’re drinking alcohol, are friendly and in conversation, or are tense and distracted. He asks himself: “Am I approaching the table to rescue them or am I interrupting them?”
6. Getting the check right
In a recent study at Cornell, second only to bad food, was the complaint about the process of getting the check, which can be delivered too fast or too slow. A Chicago restaurateur said that they let the customers ask for the check, while other restaurants give customers a paperweight or a check holder to place out and signal to the waitress when they’re ready for their check.
7. Making the most of body language:
PMQ Pizza Magazine interviewed a body language expert, Jodi RR Smith who is the founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She explained that servers should follow cues to determine who is leading each of their tables.
“There’s always someone in charge of a table, whether it’s the host or hostess of the table or the senior-most ranking person,” Smith told the magazine. “They generally tend to be the person who is paying the bill, so it behooves the wait staff to be able to identify them, since they’ll set the tone for what’s happening at the table.” Smith explains that servers can identify this person in a few ways. They will “usually give themselves way by being the first one to speak…[they will] ask about special or are generally more proactive in the initial interaction with the waitstaff.”
On the other hand, servers can use their bodies to communicate as well. Overall, Smith suggests that servers shouldn’t be overly friendly. “You do not need to be a guest’s new best friend… That doesn’t mean being rude, but have a boundary. Have a smile in your eyes and a little on your lips. Make eye contact with everyone at the table as you approach,” she says.
Your restaurant customer service is what differentiates you from your competitors, sometimes even more so than your food. Wayne Vandewater of Applebee’s reminds restaurateurs that “food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people.”
If you’re realizing that your restaurant’s service isn’t quite up to snuff, the next three tips will help you start improving your hospitality.
8. Focus on speed
If nothing else, asking your servers to focus on getting drinks and refills out as quickly as possible and delivering meals as soon as they’re up from the kitchen can go a long way. Even if the servers themselves aren’t stellar, at least your guests aren’t waiting around for the things they ordered. New tableside POS systems help servers move faster, eliminating the need for servers to return to a POS console to ring up orders. This means better hospitality and can also result in a greater volume in orders and faster table turns when guests are getting their orders faster.
9. Take a look at your training
Maybe it’s not your servers, but the fact that they haven’t been properly trained. Take a look at your training materials and assess where there can be room for improvement. Ideally, your restaurant technology comes with built-in training tools so employees can learn your system on their own.
10. Make sure your technology is up to date
Just like insufficient training can lead to bad service, a POS system that doesn’t work properly can also lead to bad service and confused servers. If you’re still operating on an old legacy system, consider upgrading to a cloud-based POS system that keeps all of your orders (in-house and online), rewards, loyalty programs, and marketing in one connected place for the smoothest operation possible. Upserve offers a tool called “server intelligence” that clearly illustrates how well each server performs. This is a great tool to know when to reinforce training, or identify which servers may be best to help other team members with best practices.