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Resort dining is about service, service and service

August 27, 2021

It’s no secret that restaurants continue to suffer. Yes, they were magnanimously “allowed” to open at full capacity, but potential employees are still receiving financial encouragement to stay at home. This is frustrating to a trade that has always been about service and pleasing the customer - assuming the restaurant wants to stay in business.

During this scramble for qualified employees, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several restaurant recruiters. Sometimes known as “headhunters,” they search out and vet potential employees for placement at hotels, resorts and restaurants. This leaves restaurateurs free of the endless interviews, callbacks, etc., etc. that all too often end up being futile.

I was fascinated by the scope of what a professional recruiter does. The best ones follow the new employee during the first few months of employment, and even guarantee the new hire’s suitability for the job. That got me thinking about the daily emails I receive from restaurant customers. Interestingly, very few involve the food; almost all involve service - good, bad or indifferent. Those comments, combined with my own restaurant experience and notes from recruiters, have helped me come up with 12 suggestions for servers to maximize their tips, make their restaurant look good, and keep their jobs. So here goes:

Always greet newcomers warmly. Don’t just make eye contact then look away. A little smile and a “Welcome!” make the guest feel noticed and more willing to wait if you are busy.

Never wear perfume. Seventy-five percent of our taste sensation is through our nose. Speaking of noses, never reach across one guest to serve another. They didn’t come there to experience your armpit. Also, never eat or drink in view of the customers. Would you like it if you were sure that your server’s fingers had recently been in his/her mouth?

Don’t serve a dish that looks wrong to you. If your chef huffs and puffs when you question a dish, that’s the manager or owner’s problem, not yours. On that note, if a person asks for more cheese, gravy or whatever, serve it in a side dish. Don’t pour stuff onto a guest’s plate.

If your restaurant sells bottled water, don’t sound desperate by saying, “Bottled water or ‘just’ tap?” Both are fine and everyone knows it. “‘Just’ tap” is pretentious. There are better ways to upsell.

Don’t race through the specials like you’re announcing the Indianapolis 500. It’s not an oration. Do it warmly in a businesslike manner.

Know your menu! Don’t answer a question with “I don’t know” without saying with a smile, “But I can find out for you.”

Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent of restaurant food ordering programs allow you to tag an order with a seat number. If the restaurant doesn’t have a system for that, make up your own and stick to it. People hate food auctions and it makes you or your runner look incompetent. Similarly, if you choose to memorize orders and not write them down, be darn sure you do it well! I promise that your guests will be on the edge of their seats waiting for mistakes.

Never remove an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course.

Don’t answer a request with “No problem.” It smacks of insincerity. “It’s my pleasure” or “You’re welcome” works just fine.

If you spill or splatter, apologize sincerely, then quietly clean it up, replace it, and offer to pay for whatever damage you caused. Don’t wipe wet spots on a guest!

Never expound on your personal eating habits. Nobody cares that you are a vegan, lactose intolerant or whatever. To this day I remember a server responding to my question about a particular dish by informing me that she was a vegetarian and “wouldn’t know.” Simply say, with a smile, “Well, a lot of our guests really enjoy that dish. Would you like to try it?”

Don’t suddenly get chatty and start smiling when it’s tip time. It’s annoyingly transparent and needy. In that same vein, if guests pay in cash, don’t ask if they need change. Just bring the change. Few people are willing to reward an obviously desperate attempt at getting an extra buck or two.

Smart restaurateurs know that their most unhappy customer can sometimes teach them more than all the happy ones combined. In a culinary destination such as this, service is king. Guests will forget that you brought cole slaw instead of green beans. But they won’t forget rude, careless or offhand service. Servers who don’t act professionally are hurting themselves and the restaurant that trusts them.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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