Anticipating Your Guests’ Needs

Very few restaurants concentrate on anticipating a guest’s needs. It is a mindset that is hard to teach and harder to execute. It is the product of a strong commitment to meet or exceed guests’ expectations every time. It is easy for this to get lost in the shuffle when there are so many priorities required to get the guest experience right.

However, I believe any restaurant can boost revenue substantially by making this one service-oriented commitment. That is because there is nowhere the average guest can go anymore to receive this level of service. In other industries, the commitment to service has been overlooked or dropped altogether. The value in most sectors is now in convenience, technology or price reductions. Face it…

  • Supermarket cashiers have been replaced by do-it-yourself checkout.
  • Phone receptionists have been replaced by automated services
  • Brick-and-mortar retail outlets are being replaced by e-business shopping carts.
  • Travel service agents are being replaced by online one-stop reservation sites

The list goes on and on. Practically speaking, this is the last of the service industries for most people. And yet, most operators overlook the service end; choosing to compile a staff merely capable of executing a steps-of-service program.

Guests recognize when their needs are being anticipated, just as they recognize when they are not. The few-and-far-between restaurants that make this commitment demonstrate a mammoth level of value, and truly stand out from the crowd.

Taking Ownership

A staff that takes ownership of their workspace is one of the greatest assets an operator can have. Taking ownership refers to treating the business as though it was one’s own—it is a commitment to work in the best interests of the company at every turn. Employees don’t usually take ownership until they have been with a company for awhile and they sense reward for their effort. This is very hard to cultivate.

A prevailing culture of ownership shortens this process. When new or marginal employees sense that their peers truly care, and work to anticipate guest needs, the prevailing winds tend to straighten them out or alienate them from the group.

A prevailing culture is most commonly achieved when it is constantly emphasized and demonstrated by management. Operators must work to meet or exceed guest expectations because it is the right thing to do in this business. But they must also do so to set the tone for their staff.


Anticipating guests’ needs is rarely brought up in server training. This is because the basic steps-of-service program, menu knowledge and the POS terminal usually must be mastered to get on the floor. However, the best training programs incorporate guest anticipation as a mindset and evaluate trainees based on their ability to do so.

The ability to meet or exceed guest expectation is easier to incorporate in smaller restaurants. In larger restaurants it can be addressed by mandating that common guest needs be addressed as part of the steps of service. For example…

· Every table is marked with appropriate flatware in advance of each course.
· Condiments are delivered in advance of food (like ketchup for burgers).
· Cream and sugar are delivered before coffee arrives.
· Bread and butter are replaced as soon as guests finish it.

Train Yourself to Anticipate

It is a real challenge to anticipate what a guest might need while focusing on the kitchen, the hostess stand, bar, and whatever other fires need putting out. But it is imperative to remember that this is the hospitality business. When guests are entering our home, we should all work to meet or exceed their expectations and get out in front of their needs.

The only way to achieve this is to adjust your mindset to see what the guest might want, in advance of them wanting it. The operator who can do this is truly in the right business, and is on the right track to success.