How to Be a Great Server

As an operator, you must have a sense of what makes a great server. If you have this sense, you will know how to find the right people, cultivate their talent, and train them properly. An operator in the dark on what qualities make a great server is akin to having no understanding of electricity, refrigeration, kitchen stations, food ordering, how a PC works and every other element of restaurant operations. That person will constantly have to rely on others and cross his fingers to get great servers in the building.

Truly great servers are made, not born. They make it happen through hard work, professionalism and desire. They must have 3-4 of the following qualities to be successful in your restaurant.

Work Ethic

Servers become great because they endure difficulty and stay focused on results. They work at their craft, just as any professional does. They work to improve food, wine and bar knowledge, prepare themselves everyday, and have great endurance. Above all else, they become great servers because they want to, and they are willing to put in the effort.

Humility

Perhaps the most undervalued and rare quality in a great server. They are people willing to hear what a guest says without hearing how the guest says it. They are able to put bad tables or tips or experiences quickly behind them and move onto to the next table. It is important for every operator to understand that being a server breeds selfishness. A great server is able to overlook the priority of self-interest to see the big-picture goals of the restaurant.

Anticipation

The ability to anticipate a guestís need is an essential facet of a serverís job. However, itís rarely brought up in training for most restaurants and is not usually a basic service step. Anticipation is a guest-centered mindset. It requires the ability to think beyond the traditional service, and it usually only surfaces in a serverís performance when that person is taking ownership in his or her work space. There is little that a guest values more than a server who anticipates his needs. And this is because (for almost every one of us) there is nowhere else we can go in life to be waited on in this manner.

Details

Seeing the details is how many restaurants get to charge more than they should. If your restaurant is undervaluing its menu, you should consider excelling at the details and raising prices. Like anticipation, the ability to see details canít be taught. Itís also hard to gauge this in an interview or during training.

Details are everywhere at the tableóthe seam on the linen, the placement of glassware, the dust on the partition between booths, food service on the left and removal on the right. Most guests donít see most details. But getting all of the details right gives a sense of quality that has immense value in this business.

The temperature of your guests refers to their willingness to build rapport, be sold on your restaurant and their general mood at the table. Servers who can quickly assess their guests know what they can sell, how to talk and how to stay out of the way. Some guests only want to be heard and some guests only want to be ignored. Getting this wrong can mean complaints, disgruntled guests, or worse.

However, correctly gauging your guestsí temperature leads to building solid rapport and excellent sales. It is the best way to present your business, and it starts with an excellent server greeting the table.

The Ability to Sell

Merchandising your menu, wine list and bar is another excellent quality that gets too frequently overlooked. Your menu may sell itself and maybe your guests tend to know what they want when they enter your restaurant. But the ability to squeeze out just one added appetizer, dessert or side dish per table can mean an extra couple grand on the bottom line each month for a restaurant with average volume.

Excellent salesmanship at the table is far more than suggestion and perseverance (though these traits are essential). It is the ability to advocate the menu with expertise and enthusiasm at every table. Expertise requires the work to know the menu and what it means to the guest. Enthusiasm requires effort and energy. And while some people are naturally inclined toward these traits, they are definitely the product of work and professionalism.

There is no more important quality in a great server than the ability to sell your restaurant. These are the building blocks of money-making restaurants.

Presentation

A server who knows how to present himself and your food is a brilliant asset. This means his uniform is sharp and pressed everyday and he is appealing for guests to look at. Food and wine presentation are hallmarks of fine-dining and imperative for restaurants with those aspirations.

Presentation makes average food seem good and good food seem great. Alternatively, poor presentation can take the spark right out of an evening. Very few restaurants work to present their food and front-of-the-house impeccably anymore. This means that those that do stand out from the crowd.

Teamwork

Many great servers lack the ability to work well with others. I believe this is because many great professionals in all walks of life lack teamwork skills. It is too often the nature of great servers to be entitled, complacent or self-centered with their work. Teamwork reflects well upon the server at the table and is a great asset for your restaurant. Guests are surprisingly aware of how happy servers are to be at work, or how well they interact with other servers.

Good teamwork brings other servers to help at a table, because the great server is helping them at theirs. Teamwork refers to re-stocking, cleaning and taking ownership, all of which makes an impact at the table. Good servers tend to steer toward entitlement or becoming a prima donna. Great servers work to help those around them improve, and are a major asset to your business.