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Practical tips for remembering names

Misty Young, owner of four-unit Squeeze In, in South Reno, Nevada, used to work for U.S. Senator Richard H. Bryan from her state. Like any politician worth his salt, Bryan remembered the name of everybody he met. She finally got the chance one day to ask him the trick, and he responded, “There’s no trick to it. It’s important!”

Not the most practical advice, but point taken.

It’s one of the hallmarks of hospitality: remembering somebody’s name. But with new guests, regulars, employees, vendors, suppliers, local celebrities and on and on, any busy restaurant operator has to remember a lot of names—and as a restaurant grows, the list of names grows along with it.

With hundreds of people coming through your doors every day, how do you remember them all? Experts provided Restaurant Business with some tips:

  1. Put a picture with the person’s name, says Paul Mellor, author of Memory! How to Remember Anything. For Mike, you might remember a microphone; for Bill, a dollar bill, for example.
  2. If you can’t come up with a picture, associate the person with someone you know or a famous person, says Marlene Caroselli, author of Memory Tips for the Forgetful.
  3. Slow down and focus on people when they give their name. Don’t try to do anything else but think of their name, “but you have to want to remember the name,” Mellor adds.
  4. Repeat the name back to the person, and use it first: ‘John, pleased to meet you,’ but don’t beat it into the ground, Mellor advises. Also try to use the person’s name again as they are leaving your restaurant.
  5. When people give you their names, Caroselli recommends that you imagine a huge neon marker writing the name across their chest or forehead.
  6. Practice. The more you try to remember names the better you’ll become at it, she says.
  7. Go out of your way. Squeeze In owner Young writes 50 to 75 thank you cards to guests every month, to show her appreciation to them. This helps her focus on people and their names, she says.
  8. Take notes. Young also makes quick notes in a small book she carries around with her.
  9. Take pictures. She sometimes takes photos of herself with diners and saves them in her iPhone with the names so she has a visual, too.
  10. Go digital. Apps like Evernote, Namerick and Who’s That might not improve your memory, but they will provide easy answers to people’s names with a few simple clicks. Or turn to your reservation software if your restaurant uses one: You can store all kinds of information on diners, including things that might prompt you to remember their names, such as their favorite baseball team or the names of their children.

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