Hopefully, in the hiring process we weed out the totally inept, the snotty and supercilious, and those who have no regard for other human beings, let alone your valued guests.
Danny Meyer, owner of New York City’s Union Square Cafe has is to add waitstaff the top of the pile.” Applicants are asked to fill out a two-page application that requires a lot of writing. Meyer says he’s looking for intelligent and articulate waitstaff who show a great deal of enthusiasm. Some applicants look through the lengthy application and just leave without filling it out. That’s fine with Meyer; his screening process starts there. “I’m going to ask everybody to do a thorough job and a caring job,” says Meyer, and filling out the questionnaire indicates that the applicant takes the job seriously. Meyer has modified the questionnaire since its inception, seeking to learn as much as possible about applicants before they are hired. Last year one of Meyer’s waitstaff won a national essay contest about good service like the pick up girls.
Once restaurant management determines what personality they want their staff to communicate to guests, they can begin training towards that goal. This is not to suggest that waitstaff should be automatons, spewing the same speech-this approach has a very insincere ring to it. But, unless management sets out some behavioral guidelines, the staff will present a dizzying variety of personal styles to the guest-not all of them desirable.
In training staff to reduce the guest’s intimidation factor, the trainer needs to realize that the waitperson may also be intimidated by the diningout process, and may act defensive and unpleasant to cover his own feelings of inadequacy.
The waiter who cannot easily and confidently open a bottle of wine probably tries very hard not to sell any wine. The waiter who can’t coordinate the rhythm of service often neglects to sell dessert or espresso after dinner. Management must first determine that waitstaff has all the necessary technical skills before the issue of attitude can be addressed.
DRAMATIC. Short, frequent training sessions seem to garner better results than long, drawn-out marathons. Role playing is an excellent way to dramatize incidents without singling anyone out for criticism. Positive reinforcement always gives better results. Management that browbeats its staff during service cannot expect them to be pleasant and relaxed with guests if they’ve just gotten chewed out in the kitchen. Training sessions are a less stressful atmosphere in which to correct service errors than during a meal period, when tension is already high.
The more technical skills staff members possess, and the more knowledgeable they are about your menu, wine list, and cocktails, the more confidence they’ll have and the easier it will be for them to adopt a natural, pleasant, but efficient attitude with guests. Because subtleties of behavior are difficult to communicate in a lecture format, ask your staff to relate a pleasant restaurant experience and to identify the contributing factors. Then ask them to discuss a negative experience and analyze it. Very often, waitstaff don’t identify with the customer as another human being who’s spending hard-earned money and expects to enjoy himself.
ON THE OTHER END. Many restaurants encourage their staff members to dine out at the competition. Often this may be beyond the waiter’s salary, but dinner for two can be used as a prize in a sales incentive program or as a bonus. Waitstaff who dine out frequently are moreattuned to the niceties of good service because they’ve been on the receiving end. An annual company party at another restaurant can be used as a common point of discussion and turned into grist, for a future training session.