An essential facet of excellent front-of-the-house service these days is the notion that there is nowhere else most guests turn to receive the same level of service. At upscale restaurants, most guests are waited on hand-and-foot from their entry into the lobby until the hostess holds the door open for them to leave. Take a moment to think of one other industry that considers that level of service a cornerstone of its product. Maybe you can think of one, but I can’t. A restaurant that doesn’t provide excellent service is always going to lose out to the one down the street that does.
Excellent service is about meeting or exceeding guest expectations. An operator can provide this in a variety of ways, but one essential way is by making it personal. A staff that is adept at building rapport with guests provides an invaluable advantage in the race for revenue. This is especially true in fine-dining, where guests are often accustomed to a high level of service. Additionally, many guests consider a fine-dining restaurant to be a special occasion destination. In either case, when a guest hears his or her name at the hostess stand and at the table from multiple employees, it forces the guest to acknowledge the high level of service he or she is enjoying.
Restaurants that don’t benefit from consistently high volume need something to encourage repeat customers. There’s no easier way to foster this than developing guest rapport. Guest rapport starts with name recognition. Host staff should always greet guests by name when possible. Names should be passed on to servers, who use them to introduce themselves. In some circumstances, servers or hosts should pass along names to a manager. In addition, birthdays, anniversaries or special occasions should be acknowledged. In this way, guest dialog is specific and empathic. For example, a manager should never ask a guest, “How is everything, sir?” Instead, he or she should ask, “How is your Filet Mignon, Mr. Smith?”
Many restaurants have in place software such as Open Table that serves as a database for guest visits and allows employees to enter information about the guest. These programs are affordable and user-friendly, and offer too many advantages not to consider them. They also allow guests to make quick on-line reservations by accessing a restaurant’s reservation book. They provide a history of guest visits and make it possible to recall previous tendencies and orders. They also let an operator match guests with specific servers.
However, the ultimate obligation to build guest rapport falls to the operator and management team. Building rapport is a mindset, and it is obviously not an innate skill to everyone. It never stops surprising how many people working in the hospitality industry lack the essential trait of hospitality. Moreover, it is hard for even the extroverts among us to be warm and hospitable in the middle of a twelve-hour workday when things are going crazy in the kitchen and there are twenty people waiting in the lobby. But it has been proven that in this service-oriented business, the value of personal relationships is immense. This can come in the form of detailed personal menus, special orders from the kitchen, or the placement of a guest’s favorite bottle of wine on the table before arrival. However, in most restaurants, it comes more frequently in the form of an effort to remember guest names and one or two details about them. And most importantly, it has to come with a smile.
The employees who demonstrate this capacity are the building blocks of your business. At the same time, the restaurants that don’t have them consist of flimsy structures.