How to Train Your Wait Service to Be More Attentive

12Nov2015

Uniforms and Apparel

Customer service is important in any industry where company personnel interact directly with the public—but this is especially true in the restaurant business. Almost everyone who dines in restaurants has a handful of horror stories about bad service, and many people take a certain delight in relating these tales of woe to friends, family, and co-workers. Bad restaurant experiences can take a wide variety of forms—undercooked/overcooked food, long waits for service, noisy diners at neighboring tables, etc.—but, in many cases, it all boils down to unresponsive wait staff. For obvious reasons, the average person dislikes feeling mistreated by others, but all too often this is their experience when they go out to eat.

This state of affairs is far from inevitable, however: It’s possible for restaurant owners to take steps to ensure that their wait service is competent to meet the challenges of interacting with diners appropriately and efficiently. At Prudential Overall Supply, we’re steadfast proponents of high-quality uniforms that impart an aura of professionalism while providing the wearer with comfort and functionality suitable to the work environment. But that’s only part of the equation; it’s important for servers to know how to behave properly with the public. With that in mind, let’s look at some steps you can take to put together a professional wait service.

Hire Good Personnel

If you want to have good servers, then you need to hire the right kind of personnel. It seems to be irrefutable common sense, doesn’t it? Yet a great many restaurant managers trip over this important hurdle, leading to all sorts of problems due to incompetent or unsuitable service staff. Managers often have the best of intentions when they pick their servers, but they sometimes run into trouble for the simple reason that they aren’t sure what they’re looking for. What kind of atmosphere prevails at the restaurant? Is it hip and lively, or sophisticated and laid back? Whatever the answer, you must bear in mind during the hiring process that you need people who can effectively complement the “mood” of the environs. An energetic, extraverted person may be fun to interview, but they may not fit in properly at certain types of establishments.

Before you begin interviewing prospective employees, you need to interview yourself. Do you know what questions to ask your interviewees? Do you have an appropriate place to conduct the interviews where you can be free of interruptions? Do you know how long each interview should take? “Winging it” tends to be a bad way to carry out the hiring process; preparation is key.

Train Your Employees—the Right Way

How to Train Your Wait Service to Be More Attentive

Some restaurant managers opt for the “sink or swim” approach, tossing new hires into action with minimal preparation, confident that good employees will figure out everything soon enough. Others simply don’t want to go through the bother of training employees, which can seem like a waste of time and money in a notoriously high-turnover industry. But one of the keys to reducing employee turnover is to train them properly. Servers resent being pushed into situations where they’re not sure about the correct actions to take. It can be nerve-wracking to fumble helplessly with the credit card machine while a growing line of customers grows impatient, or to be uncertain how to respond when a diner asks for an off-the-menu special.

A good training program will familiarize the wait staff with all relevant workplace functions: how to perform checkouts, how to clean up, how to conduct oneself behind the bar, how to assist coworkers who may need help. They should know everything available to order on (and off) the menu, and they should be able to tell customers at a moment’s notice about any specials without needing to ask anyone else.

This information should be presented in a structured manner, preferably with a single employee assigned the duty of chief trainer. Doing so keeps trainees from hearing contradictory information from different sources, and also provides them with one contact person to whom they can address questions.

It’s important to keep in mind that training shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal. For maximum effectiveness, servers should have the opportunity to “brush up” on important skills on occasion.

Having gone through the above general tips, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of good customer service at a restaurant.

Serve Water

Water is very inexpensive, so there’s little excuse not to serve diners some iced H2O shortly after they’ve taken their seats. Also, don’t wait until the customer asks for a glass of water—the server should simply deliver it to the table without prompting.

Periodically Make Contact with the Diner

“How is everything?” Those three words let the customers know that someone is looking out for them, and give them the opportunity to ask for a soda refill, voice a complaint about the quality of the food, ask for the check, or make another type of request. Diners will quickly become annoyed if they have to flag down another server to get the attention they need.

Use Linen Napkins

This may sound a little odd, but research has shown that diners tend to have a more favorable impression of service staff in restaurants that use linen napkins.  A 2015 survey (PDF) conducted by the opinion research and consulting firm Fabrizio Ward found that  47% believed that these restaurants have “more attentive staff” than establishments that go without such table coverings. It’s more evidence that seemingly trivial gestures can go a long way toward creating a satisfactory dining experience.

Deal with Dissatisfied Patrons in an Effective Manner

No matter how excellent your service team may be, it’s inevitable that the staff will have to deal with irate customers. Sometimes honest mistakes happen on the part of the servers; sometimes customers make unreasonable requests, and then become upset when their impossible demands aren’t satisfied. As always, keep in mind that the customer is always right—even when they aren’t. It’s important for servers to be able to listen politely to customer complaints without interrupting to “correct” the mistaken belief the diner may have just voiced. Don’t argue—that just encourages annoyed customers who are looking for a sign of disrespect as an excuse to create a scene. Instead, make the diner feel that everything within reason will be done to appease them.

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