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My way or the highway

I remember reading in a newspaper article that "A great front room person is not in it for the recognition; they have an innate co-dependent need to serve." Does this describe the service in your restaurant?

If you can honestly say yes, good for you. Great service is rare. Good service is often canned, and, you all know the rest — I'm talking about service that's really no service at all. The kind of service that basically says "I know you're the customer, but you're going to do it our way." Selfish service.

The excuses are many — tradition, ego, convenience, money, (and the worst) company policy. But these are just poor excuses, and usually a reason for your customer to take their business elsewhere.

This example comes from an article in Gourmet. You seat a party of four and present four menus — but only one wine list. It's tradition, It can go so far as to deny customer requests that additional lists be brought to the table. Why? Wine lists are sometimes lengthy and expensive to print, so there are only four in existence meaning no more than one per table. And there's no time to wait while a group argues the 1999 Australian Shiraz and the 2000 Sonoma Syrah. Here's the problem with this tradition: 1) it's often difficult to tell who the "head" of the table is and 2) wine has become such a prevalent part of our culture, many people have an interest in the offerings and like to have a say in what they are drinking (and perhaps paying for).

Chefs are artists. Their job is to produce a unique product that looks appealing, tastes divine, and keeps customers coming back again and again. What happens when a gauche guest wants mashed potatoes instead of cous cous, or a Caesar salad that's chopped into pieces instead of artfully arranged into the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or complains about the signature dessert that's no longer on the menu because the kitchen just couldn't stand to make one more of them? The kitchen balks. Bad move. Bad attitude. Bad customer frequency rates.

The dining room is three-quarters empty. A party of two is led to a deuce right between two large parties having a rowdy good time. When the twosome asks to be seated at the four-top in a quiet corner, they're met with "That section is closed." Excuse me? A guest sees an empty, quiet table not ten feet away. What do you see that prevents you from seating them there? I've heard your excuses. They don't wash. And if you're relying on an inexperienced 18 year old hostesses to explain them to your customers, you may want to reconsider.

"I'm sorry, we don't take American Express or Discover or personal checks." You're making it difficult for people to give you money? Enough said.

Company policy
You know the old saying "Rules are made to be broken?" Break them. Within reason, of course. Empower your team to say anything more than no. If you can't trust them with that, why are you trusting them with your business?

This week's sage advice is for everyone:

  1. Break tradition and give all guests wine lists... especially if they ask. It's their dining experience. Make it work.
  2. Get over the ego trip. The guest is paying you for an enjoyable meal. Serve them the meal they asked for.
  3. Guests generally don't ask for something that is a serious inconvenience. Honor a request for an out of the way table and make sure they're not forgotten.
  4. Take American Express. It guarantee it won't lose you money. The studies prove it.
  5. When it comes to guest service, create guidelines, not rules and policies. Make sure your guidelines are about making the guest happy, not making your life easier.

In closing, another line about service from the Times article: "When it's good, it's very, very good. And when it's bad, the customers simply don't come back."

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