your investment at risk
who are rude
By Mason Harris
Life’s short. Eat out more.®
dining customers do not see the care you take in preparing
their food. The human “face” of your restaurant
includes the waiters, waitresses, hosts, and an occasional
manager who interacts with them. More than the quality of
your food, these associates and employees determine the
success of your restaurant.
How much have you invested in your restaurant? What did
it cost you to select your site, negotiate the lease, engage
an architect, hire a general contractor, obtain licenses
and certifications, equip your kitchen, furnish customer
areas, and purchase utensils ranging from dishes to flatware?
I’m reluctant to even ask about the replacement cost
for the cool salt and pepper shakers that some of your customers
seem to feel are “parting gifts” they’re
entitled to receive just for having dined with you.
What about the “sweat and blood” you’ve
invested? Literally. It’s rare to find an owner, chef
or manager who hasn’t sweated off some pounds working
an extra-long shift while short-handed. And the blood? Please – your
restaurant is full of sharp, pointy things – like
knives and ill-mannered diners. Try to find a chef or manager
who hasn’t cut himself at least once in the kitchen,
or been wounded by the Customer from Hell.
This quick calculation of your investment may lead to a
number, but the actual dollar amount is less important than
understanding that the investment is significant, both financially
and emotionally. Plus, it is never ending, kind of like
new diet crazes that lead to constant menu revisions.
Yet this big financial and emotional investment is totally
at risk when the “face” you present to your
dining customers is a source of dissatisfaction to them.
Good, rude, and indifferent – I see them
I eat out frequently and have had the pleasure of interacting
with servers of varying competence, skills, memory, personality,
and tray-carrying abilities. My impression of a restaurant
is based on numerous factors, including how I was greeted,
the atmosphere and décor, menu options and design,
lighting, sound, food quality and presentation, but most
importantly, the service.
I’m not the only one who feels service is the most
critical factor in any decision to return again to a particular
restaurant. It has been demonstrated that a restaurant with
exceptional service but mediocre food will generate more
loyalty than a restaurant that provides great food served
by a staff of indifferent or even rude servers. (Of course,
your obvious challenge is to provide both good food and
service. Once you have accomplished this objective, increasing
competition, particularly from the national chains, will
keep you awake at night.)
I have observed three types of servers: good, rude and indifferent.
Perfection isn’t required for a server to be “good.” Mistakes
in meal preparation or delays in serving the food happen,
but the good servers are back frequently enough to make
me feel that I haven’t been forgotten while my food
is establishing a long-term relationship with the heat lamp.
The following is obvious, but considering your investment,
it’s a necessary reminder. Rude and indifferent servers
will diminish customer loyalty. Even worse, not quickly
resolving these server problems will cause you to steadily
Rude servers are rare but they are out there. Fortunately,
since diners tend to actively complain about rude servers,
management gets immediate feedback and is in a position
to resolve this problem quickly.
As a restaurateur, your bigger problem is actually the indifferent
server, because you may be clueless about why your customer
base and profits are shrinking. Customers typically do not
actively complain about the server who rarely comes back
to the table, doesn’t refill drinks, or is generally
inattentive. If your food is good enough, I and other dining
customers will return again. But if we experience indifferent
service over and over, we’re likely to return less
frequently, if at all.
Too many restaurateurs put good effort into initial server
training, but neglect the follow-up. On a daily basis we
ensure that our servers know the “specials” and
we encourage them to gently up-sell wine, appetizers, dessert
and coffee when possible. However, we fail our servers (and
customers) when we don’t reinforce the need to be
Server motivation is critical. Their jobs are hard and recognition
from you for the positive feedback you receive from customers
is important. Your success is mutually beneficial. Satisfied
diners leave bigger tips and return more frequently.
Aside from better and ongoing training, what else can we
do? Have your Managers interact more frequently with diners
and you’ll receive more frequent and honest feedback.
Implement a “mystery diner” program to “test” your
servers, food quality, and other staff. Encourage feedback
through written Comment Forms and email if you have an email
Remember, the server is the primary “face” of
your restaurant to your customers. If the service I receive
is bad, I view it as an insight into your entire operation.
I start thinking about the care you put into the food I’m
eating and the cleanliness of your kitchen. If I repeatedly
experience server problems over multiple visits, I’m
gone as a customer and you’ll never know why. Then
the blood you shed in the kitchen should be considered self-inflicted,
Mason Harris offers the Restaurant Association of Maryland
(RAM) endorsed YouGotMeals permission-based email marketing
program for restaurants. A frequent speaker on marketing
and loyalty programs, Mason is also writing a book specifically
for restaurant owners and managers. You could be in the
book! Feel free to share your questions, comments, and experiences
related to this column, restaurant marketing, and diner
loyalty with Mason via email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or sign up for his e-newsletter at www.yougotmeals.com.
©Robin Technologies, Inc. 2005 * Phone: 301.881.6325
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