Josh Stone asked:
Your restaurant can be in only so good a location, and your food can only be so good. But is there any limit to how great your service can be? This is the people factor, and it will set you apart from the rest of the pack like no other. No matter how fantastic your service is, you can always use a pointer or two to improve.
People may visit a restaurant once if they hear the food is good, but most customers won’t return if the service is lacking. It seems that in the latest studies, in far too many restaurants, the quality of service lags far behind the quality of food. Industry statistics for last year show some 72% of complaints by diners responding to the survey were service-related. Service is the weak link that will break your business.
So what are the major beefs with service and how can we make it better?
In the first place, recruiting great servers is always a challenge. The first problem about service workers is that there are people performing it who don’t want to be. Too many employees in the service industry are just biding time until something better comes along. How often do you hear “I really want to be a…” writer, actor, singer, skydiver, Indian chief, or whatnot? The service industry suffers a high enough turnover without hiring people whose first expressed interest is to be somewhere else.
The real stars of the service industry are people who have a strong drive to please others. During an interview, you might try figuring out ways to discover whether the candidate is someone who wants to take care of others. A service-oriented person is upbeat and eager to help. They make you feel warm and comfortable just talking to them. Of course, maybe they don’t want to stay in your restaurant forever until they retire; it’s fine to have career ambitions or to be working your way through college. But at the very least, the candidates should have an attitude that while they’re with you, they are servers and nothing else – and that it’s something to be proud about!
Another problem is the generation gap. If you have senior customers, they remember a time when you got a tank of gas from a station attendant in an overall uniform and smart hat who came running out to pump it for you, and perhaps give you a collector’s plate and offer to clean your windshield. Boy, weren’t those the days? The point is, that a young adult today will have a completely different concept of service from a senior. Contrary to what you might think, the older folks don’t so much disapprove of the facial piercings and funny hair color as much as they don’t like the scowling bad attitude.
One strategy is to encourage servers to treat their stations like their own little business. After all, if they have power over their tips, why not give them a little more freedom to earn their tips as they see fit?
Now, we come to incentives. Is no service incentive at all too little? Of course. But what about the business that does the picture-on-the-wall employee of the month, gives out awards, prints up team T-shirts, and hands out little pens and stress toys and holds recognition events and hands out coupons… that also goes a shorter way than some managers might hope. Good, old, honest money does wonders for incentive, however.
So do larger, more meaningful rewards. Instead of a free pizza once a month, why not have employees save up “reward points” for a three-day weekend at an amusement park or stadium game? This is the kind of thing you’re more likely to do if you’re a larger operation, of course. Some businesses go so far as to hire rewards directors, whose whole job is coming up with creative incentives.
Creative is great, but just remember that the best reward is a raise in pay. Remember the problem of hiring people who see service as ‘beneath them’ – if the job paid better, there might be more people seeing service as a career in and of itself!
You can base cash rewards either on individual performance, or the team effort as a whole. Some establishments offer an incentive program where each employee receives a percentage based on the restaurant’s total annual sales – this is a great way to inspire a team effort. Individual rewards tend to inspire competition between servers, which may or may not work for your business model. The problem with competition is there has to be a loser somewhere, and the next day you don’t want one of your servers out there on the floor thinking “I’m a loser.”
And now for a common method of improving service: customer feedback. We’ve all seen those “How are we doing?” question forms, and most, if not all, of them have one thing in common: the customer has no feedback for their feedback! If a customer took the time to respond to a survey, a simple acknowledgment like a thank-you email or a coupon will help them feel that their time wasn’t wasted. Some restaurants go to the length of tabulating all the data and putting it up on a website. The problem with dropping a form into a suggestion box is that you have no idea if anybody even reads it.
A last element to cover is timing. Who among us would say that our chief regret in life is that we didn’t spend more time waiting in line? If you’ve worked in a highly competitive environment such as a food court, you know that a too-long line will take care of itself eventually – when the customers change their mind and go somewhere else!
Studies have shown that first-come, first-served seating is perceived by customers as the fairest method of serving. But of course, you might have to take into account call-ahead reservations – if so, do clearly state that policy where your customers can see it.
As far as the table service is concerned, a skilled server will be able to read a table and determine if the customer desires to have a leisurely dining experience or is just ducking in for a quick bite. Being too slow will turn off the impatient, but being too quick can make a lower-geared customer feel rushed and the experience will be seen as lacking in hospitality.
These are just some of the points to consider. Service quality is such a time sink, that you can devote all the remaining time you have to it, and still not find the end of it. Hopefully this article has inspired you to some creative actions of your own, so that your business will perform at its best!