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waiter serving

This post originally appeared in Running Restaurants.

Think about it: Servers are the literal faces of your restaurant. Every single customer interacts with a server, sees her smile or scowl, and is met with her knowledge and helpfulness (or apathy and unavailability). Regardless of the amount of time and effort you put into the design, menu, and ambiance of your restaurant, nothing leaves a bigger impression on a customer than a server. As a restaurateur, ensuring your wait staff presents the image and brand you desire is one of your most important missions.

You might be thinking: “My food is amazing. My restaurant is clean. Does it really matter how exceptionally engaging my servers are?” The answer may surprise you. The restaurant world has undergone some subtle yet fundamental changes that heighten the need for servers to accurately represent restaurants at every turn.

What Do Customers Want?

Some major challenges restaurateurs face include dealing with commodity, providing convenience, creating experiences, and – hold the phone – generating revenue. Your servers are on the front lines, facing these issues on your behalf every day.

In modern-day America, food isn’t hard to come by. One of the worst phrases to hear from a customer is “I can get that at the grocery store.” But the customer probably will say it, and you and your servers need to be ready to prove him or her wrong. On the flip side, one of the reasons customers venture out of their homes and are willing to pay a little extra to have their meals prepared is because they don’t want to do it themselves. So if they’re shelling out the dough, you and your servers need to deliver on their expectations.

Some restaurants have a special spark. They draw customers in for a reason that goes beyond food and beverage. They connect with customers on a genuinely personal level where servers can be enormous assets. The average server accounts for $84,000 of a restaurant’s revenue each year. Calling servers the face of your restaurant may seem like you’re focusing more on customer experience and satisfaction than your bottom line, but restaurants are a spider web of chain reactions.

An awesome menu, killer chefs, trendy décor, and the perfect lighting only get you so far. It’s the people who interact with the people – the servers who show the customers what your restaurant is all about – who keep the doors open.

How Do You Give the People What They Want?

It may seem obvious, but to ensure your servers are representing your brand the way you want them to, train them to behave in a way that screams your restaurant’s image. The best strategy for training servers is to take a blended approach. Try incorporating these tactics into your training, and see what kind of results you can achieve:

1. Rewarding: Implement a rewards program alongside your training program. Reward behaviors rather than results. The beauty of this sort of training is that it doesn’t just happen on day one; it continues throughout the server’s tenure at your restaurant.

2. Educating: Never overlook the immediate benefits of telling your servers how your restaurant operates, teaching them the menu, describing the ideal guest, laying out internal processes, and being clear about how you expect them to behave. Don’t be afraid to write your instructions down. Formal training programs systematically explain everything that goes on in the restaurant. Write down facts about the restaurant (the cuisine type, the ideal customer, busy times, etc.), as well as operating instructions (roles and responsibilities, operating the point-of-sale system, food preparation, etc.).

3. Demonstrating: Perform tasks for the servers in order to demonstrate proper techniques that they can later replicate. Demonstrate things like setting tables, upselling, food running, and taking orders.

4. Offering shadowing: Shadowing is similar to demonstrating, but instead of showing a specific task for future repetition, a new or underperforming server gets the chance to be a fly on the wall while a seasoned server does her thing. Have servers shadow for serving, of course, but also for running food, accepting reservations, clearing tables, and using the POS.

5. Teaching upselling: As servers become more familiar with the restaurant and the menu, they become more confident when suggesting food and wine pairings and upselling desserts. Give them time to get to know the menu and daily specials, help them out with some wine pairing suggestions, and teach them to upsell your pricier items.

6. Emphasizing ideal table service: The more experience a server has, the more she understands how to adequately give customers the attention and space they need. Train servers to read their tables’ attitudes, teach them to talk about the menu, and help them work on multitasking.

To reiterate, training is not a one-time thing. Ongoing training helps servers improve their skills and correct issues before they cause real headaches. Believe it or not, ongoing training actually increases employee retention because your servers know where they stand. Everyone has the tools he or she needs to be successful. Thus, everyone is happier.

Research suggests that restaurateurs are driven by three objectives: increasing revenue, pinning down regulars, and deserving their spot at the top. Well, guess what? Your servers are the people who are going to help or hinder you on your way to reaching those goals. People want to go places and see friendly faces. They want to be taken care of. Consistently. Impeccably. Your servers are your secret weapons.

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Paul leads the company’s Sales, Account Management, Marketing and Customer Support teams to drive customer acquisition and client success efforts.
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