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Time trials

We've talked before about the importance of timing, but it's usually from our internal point of view. One aspect of delivering great food and service is getting a perfectly prepared meal to the table in a timely manner. Have our timing down is our job. But what about our guests' timing?

Sometimes the pace of the meal is a key factor when customers choose where and when to eat out. Sometimes it determines whether or not they'll come back to your operation. It's a subtle, but powerful, element of the overall dining experience.

Whether they're off to the movies, have to get back to work after a brief lunch, or want to sit back, relax and celebrate a special occasion, it's easier for guests to enjoy a meal when they know the service is scheduled around their timetable. Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell whether you're facing the quick bite or a long and leisurely meal. Learning to read guests' cues and determine their desired timing is an art, and tips will improve dramatically for those who master it.

Luckily, it doesn't have to be complicated. Short of an out-and-out declaration — We've got a 7:30 movie to catch. — most diners use non-verbal signals to get their timing message across. I doubt we'll ever hear "This is our third date, we're falling in love and we hope this meal never ends." An astute server may pick up the cues, but I favor the direct approach... Ask.

In addition to finding out about timing, asking questions is also a great ice breaker and a much more effective way to connect with a guest than with a canned introduction. You can also learn about food restrictions, special requests, or a way to make their dining experience extra special.

As always, we recommend that you provide scripts and allow your staff to practice and personalize them so they sound natural and sincere. We've provided some sample scripts for you on the next page. You'll be surprised at how often your servers will learn something that will greatly assist them in making their guests' meal a memorable one. They will also find that their job has become much easier, their tips have increased noticeably, and that they've gotten to know your customers better, too.

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