The Value of a Smile

Smiles are the single most important currency in this business. It’s true. Sure, customers want good food in a clean, attractive environment. They’re motivated by good service and attention to detail. But smiles from the moment they walk in the door to the thanks they receive on their way out are what really move the needle in this business.

How is it, then, that we can all remember dining experiences that lacked smiles? In a business characterized by the uncontrollable, smiling is single easiest thing to control. But some people in this business find it difficult to smile. Managers might believe they’ve hired employees to do the smiling, and employees might not be invested enough in the business to care.

We all have bad days, and even the happiest people have trouble smiling sometimes. But the hospitality business is more geared toward smilers than any other industry. This means operators have to fill their building with people who are happy when they are smiling.


The idea is that adding a smile to something of value will trigger a tangible response from the guest. This includes:

• Great entrées (delivered with a smile)
• A welcome greeting to guests walking through the door (with a smile)
• A free round of drinks (delivered with a smile)
• Building rapport at the table (with a smile)

In each case, the smile makes the experience more memorable and tangible. On the other hand, the absence of a smile – whether inadvertent or not – renders positive experiences less palpable. Guests are less likely to remember the positive experience when it is not delivered with a friendly smile.

Get Away with Anything

A major unwritten rule in this business is that the manager or front-of-the-house employee can often get away with anything if they’ve shared a smile with a customer. No one would advocate testing this rule out, but even the best employees and managers make mistakes. A shared smile – even with the most discriminating guests – can smooth out almost any problem during the dining experience.

This rule is most clear when compared to mistakes that happen involving unsmiling employees (especially servers). As a manager, it’s sometimes imperative that servers handle their own mistakes, and the easiest path to doing so starts with sharing genuine smiles with guests.

Building Energy

Smiling employees are happy employees. There is a huge difference in morale between the building with employees who are smiling when they walk in the door and the building with employees dragging their feet as they come to work. A major objective of hiring managers should be to fill the building with employees who like to smile as they come to work.

Smiles give energy to fellow employees and customers. They’re infectious and fun. This business should be about working hard and playing hard – getting the job done and having fun. In a business that can be grueling, anything that builds energy is very valuable. Managers should never take smiling for granted.

Leading the Way

A critical task of restaurant management is that of steering the organizational culture. Most restaurants are characterized by many employees in a relatively small space, making them noticeably influenced by those around them. Restaurant employees are inherently affected by their surrounding culture, willing to follow the path of the prevailing habits and attitudes.

Too many restaurant managers fail to grasp this point and let the employees they hire determine the culture of the building. Managers have to lead the way in terms of effort and smiling. They have to set a standard of having fun and sharing laughs.

One great trick is to be out in the kitchen or server galley for at least ten minutes before a busy shift, laughing and lightening the mood of the employees. Managers who make a point of having fun with the staff are more likely to build a fun, active, enthusiastic culture that translates to the interactions with guests in the front of the house.