Check-back guidelines

How many times has a server interrupted your meal with the question, "How is everything?" My favorite response to this question is frequently delivered by my great aunt. She looks up, smiles sweetly, and says, "I don't know. I didn't order everything!"

Making sure that a guest is satisfied with their meal is a huge responsibility.

It shapes guest perceptions of our entire operation and determines whether they'll come back again. Your ultimate goal is to create guests who become, in the words of author Ken Blanchard, "raving fans," or word-of-mouth ambassadors.

Sadly, guests rarely speak up when they should. Experience has taught me that apparent satisfaction is often disguised dissatisfaction. Servers and managers should work together to correct a bad situation before a potential "restaurant basher" walks out the door and never returns. Happy guests will tell three people about a positive dining experience, but unhappy guests will tell 14 people!

Developing check-back guidelines is a critical point in the Sequence of Service. Servers should "check back" after each phase of the meal — beverage, appetizer, main course, and dessert. I like to use the "2 Bites, 2 Sips, 2 Minutes" rule. This rule is easy to remember and provides a realistic timeline in which a server can intercept subtle signals of dissatisfaction with the food or beverages served.

Server check-backs must be delivered with genuine interest and a true sense of hospitality.

Effective check-back scripts are natural and comfortable to deliver at appropriate times during the meal. Waiters and waitresses should be trained to ask specific questions. Rather than "Is everything OK?" — a dull and thoughtless phrase — servers should ask questions related to a guest's particular meal. Examples include:

  • "Is the tomato bisque to your liking?"
  • "Are your French fries hot and crisp?"
  • "Is your New York steak cooked properly?"
  • "Are you enjoying the smoked-chicken quesadilla?"
  • "Is your swordfish tender?"
  • "Are you enjoying the Zinfandel?"
  • "Are those onion rings as tasty as they look?"
  • "Have you ever had a better Chocolate Fudge Pie?"

Specific questions engage guests and project a sense of personal interest in their dining experience. Servers who are committed to delivering superior service and great food always receive higher tips and build a group of loyal followers who may even return and ask for them personally.

See also:
The ten commandments of service

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