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Phone contact with restaurant guests

In a perfect world, your hostess would answer the phone and deliver an exquisitely stated description of your restaurant, provide clear and accurate directions, add the guest's name to the preferred seating list, and not hang up without conveying her sincere interest in making their acquaintance later that evening.

In the real world, a busser grabs the phone because everyone else is too busy, informs the caller that the menu has "pretty much everything," gives directions (leaving out a crucial left turn), says you don't take reservations, and forgets to say good-bye before she hangs up.

Ouch! Not a great first contact with a future guest.

You'll be lucky if it's not your only contact. Second chances are hard to come by in this competitive market.

Have a friend or spouse make a couple of anonymous calls to your food service operation. If the results aren't A+, don't panic. This is one problem that is relatively easy to fix. Everyone in your operation should be trained to accurately provide the following information to anyone calling or visiting:

Concept
Every operation has a unique concept — something in your menu, ambience, and service style that makes you different. Are you family dining? Casual or formal? Is there a dress code? Do you have an intimate setting appropriate for anniversary dinners or a lively atmosphere suited to large birthday parties? Provide a script with a well-phrased description and place it in a plastic sleeve next to the phone. Included it in your policy handbook, and make sure everyone is aware of the proper way to describe your operation. Ninety percent of success is aligning expectation with reality. Don't let guests be disappointed when they arrive.

Basic menu description
Lead off with your specialty of the house and be able to give examples of other menu selections. For example, "We specialize in Prime Rib, and offer chicken, pasta and seafood dishes as well." Or "We offer the best gourmet pizza in town, but a lot of people come for our homemade soup and salad bar." Include other relevant information like vegetarian dishes, kids' plates, or "lite and healthy" items. It's probably smart to give a price range for your entrees, too.

Directions
Nothing is more frustrating than starting off your evening lost. Make sure you have complete and accurate directions to your operation, from a variety of origins if appropriate. It's helpful to have a simple map drawn with clear directions that can be faxed to guests upon request. (And avoid those internet maps. Most are too fuzzy!) Finally, offer parking suggestions, including your own ample parking if you're that lucky, and also the closest public and handicapped parking access.

Practice makes perfect
Don't let this very important training get glossed over, or forgotten altogether. It should be part of every new employee's orientation and training schedule. And spot check employees periodically to make sure everyone stays sharp.

We've provided a series of samples and training exercises to get you started. These are also available in our Trade Secrets Host/Hostess Training Manual. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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