The sad truth of owning a restaurant is that you can do everything right, only to have a single employee ruin the restaurant for a guest – or in some cases, for many guests. It doesn’t take much Yelp-browsing to see countless people who vow never to return to a restaurant because of their experience with just one server. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to make sure your servers are the best they can be. You obviously can’t foresee every potential issue, but you can look out for the really big problems.
- Servers with outwardly offensive or inappropriate appearance. This is a bit of a controversial opinion, as there are always going to be factors a server can’t control. And of course, some things are appropriate in some restaurants but not in others. Large amounts of obvious tattoos and piercings, for instance, are wildly inappropriate (and sometimes even unappetizing) in a family restaurant or upscale restaurant. On the other hand, they may fit in perfectly in a coffee shop or hip, independent cafe. Studies show that diners are more likely to give big tips to women, attractive people, and white people. You obviously can’t and shouldn’t hire based strictly on that – it would be unfair and illegal – but you absolutely should discriminate based on factors people can control. Your servers should be neat, tidy, and carry themselves well. Sloppy, dirty, unhygienic servers aren’t going to reflect well on your restaurant.
- Servers should be ready to serve. We’ve all had a server who seemed annoyed by our presence and unwilling to actually provide service. I’m not sure why these people enter a service industry, but they can do more damage to your restaurant than almost anything else. Even when they’re doing things correctly and in a timely fashion (which is rare), their attitude makes guests feel unwelcome. They’re also much less likely to provide helpful suggestions and upsells.
- Servers should speak in a manner that fits the restaurant in question. The words “How’re you guys doin’ tonight?” should never be uttered in an upscale restaurant, unless by guests themselves. Although many younger patrons have no problem with such casual speech, older diners often find it inappropriate or even offensive – especially when there are women at the table. Give some thought to the way you want your restaurant represented, and make sure servers know your expectations.
- Servers who don’t know the menu. As a restaurateur, one of the best investments you can make is to allow your servers to see and sample the different dishes on the menu. How can you possibly expect servers to give good descriptions and recommendations if they haven’t actually tasted the food? If you sell alcohol, invest in some training sessions for your employees. At the very least, they should have some basic wine recommendations for your most popular dishes. Even if you have a sommelier, he or she may not always be around. Servers who know more, sell more – and that’s a win for you AND your guests.
- Servers who lack tact about money and payment. Your servers should never ask guests if they need change. If they see that cash was used for payment, they should automatically bring back change broken up in amounts suitable for tipping. If a credit card is declined, they should discreetly and politely let the guest know there was “a problem” with the card. The word “declined” should not enter the picture unless absolutely necessary – and even then, it’s ideal if the guest can be pulled aside for that discussion. It’s very important not to cause a guest to lose face with his or her companions.
- Servers who treat tables differently based on order size. Even your most loyal guests and biggest spenders may occasionally come in for dessert and coffee – or split a dish because they’re not hungry enough for a large meal. That’s no reason to give them a lower quality of service. Your servers should know without any shadow of a doubt that all guests are to be treated in an equally respectful manner.
- The smelly server. It can get warm running around all night, especially going in and out of a hot kitchen. If your serer has a body odor problem, address it quickly. It can be very unpleasant for guests. Similarly, too much perfume or cologne can be equally unappealing and unappetizing. Servers should aim for a neutral smell.
If you can get past these issues, you’ve solved the biggest portion of your possible server problems. That’s not to say there aren’t other issues that could pop up, but this is a great set of guidelines for setting expectations and keeping quality high. If you have other tips, please let us know in the comments!