We have an ongoing problem with a group of three, sometimes four ladies that come in for lunch about once every other month. The problem is that they want to sample items before they order. It's everything from the tea of the day to the sauce in the pasta. We used to give them a sample of a few things, but put a stop to that. So now, they order their lunch, take a sip of the beverage, taste the food and if they don't like it, they send it back and order something else. They do, in the end, spend a lot, but they are creating food waste and are a burden on their server. Should we just take their money and deal with it, or suggest they take their business elsewhere?
– Richard Tracy, Café Batar, Seymour, Ind.
Sampling, done correctly with guests who appreciate it, can be a great sales technique while cost-effectively going above and beyond from a service standpoint. For example, rather than relying on the server’s eloquence to describe something like a soup of the day, servers can quickly bring a taste to the table, increasing the potential for a sale, showing responsive above-and-beyond service and clarifying expectations that will avoid guests being disappointed and/or sending things back. Obviously, for something more complicated in preparation like a composed salad or portioned dessert, sampling isn’t feasible. My first piece of advice is, unless it was horribly time consuming or unrealistic in request, you should go back to allowing sampling.
Like many problems in the restaurant, here is another example of where good communication and your gut instinct for people can go a long way. These may be guests who watch every penny, want to make sure their rare meal out surpasses expectations and are challenging you to provide that experience for them. If that is the case, it should be fairly easy to discern. On the other hand, they may be unnecessarily difficult scammers, who enjoy the power trip of being overly demanding. In that case, if you are sure (and most managers are), my advice is to tell the guests that you know you struggle to meet their expectations and suggest that they find a restaurant that can better do so. If you’re not sure, even letting them know that you are on to them by politely steering them to the tried and true items they have enjoyed before, may be enough to send the message that you have observed what is happening and want to put an end to it.
More on sampling here.