Front of House

16 March 2017

Food is the number one driver of patrons to clubs and a critical part of the equation is how your front of house staff handle the interaction. Does dining at your clubs have a "wow" factor or a "whoa" factor?

Let's look at a scenario that, sadly, we encounter in many clubs I visit for functions, events and seminars.  Don't get me wrong, everyone is trying their hardest to give patrons a good experience, but if the training is not there, then neither is the delivery.

You walk into the restaurant or cafe and no-one greets you.  Instead you are perfunctorily told to find a seat and someone will be with you soon.  Then you're ignored for 15 minutes.  Then your order is taken by a person who doesn't know the day's special.  When your meals are delivered, the server asks "Who's having the steak?" (usually in a whiny voice).  And the food comes out slowly because the staff can only do a two plate carry.

Later, none of the staff notice you when you try to attract their attention to order another bottle of wine or beer.  And when you're finished you wait an interminable amount of time for the table to be cleared.  Unless of course staff have been clearing plates one by one before everyone is finished.  No-one checks if the meal was okay, and nobody says goodbye or even the ubiquitous American farewell of "have a nice day".  You feel let down by the whole experience and already know one thing for sure: you won't be coming back.  So how can we avoid this sort of experience that serves nothing but reduced patronage of your club's food outlet?  How can we turn whoa into wow?

Your staff should be trained to truly welcome patrons to the restaurant - with a smile, a friendly chat about something appropriate - weather, sport, their family if they are regular patrons, or information about the club to first-time patrons.

When seating patrons or discussing the menu, "selling" the food can be as simple as explaining the way the food tastes, looks or even smells.  A light-hearted statement that positively reinforces the patron's choice of meal like "ooh, that's my favourite" or "great choice, that's our most popular dish" or "that's my dad's favourite when he eats here", can go a long way to enhancing the patron's enjoyment.

Then....the delivery.  A simple three-plate carry is an essential skill for any wait staff running food to tables.  Obviously if your restaurant is a "buzzer bistro" this doesn't apply, but in a table service restaurant it increases efficiency enormously and shows a professional service standard.  And by using a standard seat numbering system, anyone can deliver the right meal to the right patron - every time.

Staff need to be trained to keep their eyes open during service and notice what people need before they even know they need it.  Whenever staff come out of the kitchen they should bring something back, and when they walk past a dirty table (empty or occupied), they should clear it and take things back to the kitchen.

With correct training, staff should be able to stack plates and cutlery and clear a table of up to eight patrons in one go.  This dramatically increases efficiency - and minimises crashing sounds as poorly stacked plates hit the kitchen floor!

Constant engagement with patrons during their dining experience - checking on their enjoyment and handling any issues - is another critical skill.  By maintaining a balance between intrusive enquiry and pleasant checking, well trained staff can keep on top of the patrons' experience and rectify any minor issues before they escalate into major issues.

Finally, and just as importantly, it is essential to invite patrons back with a smile and a friendly line such as "see you next time".  It is amazing how effective that simple line can be in planting the seed in the patrons' minds that they do want to come back.  If their dining experience has been great or hit the "wow" mark, then they will certainly come back. 

7 Tips for Great Service

  1. Welcome patrons to your restaurant
  2. Engage with the patrons and "sell" them the food.
  3. All staff trained to do a simple three-plate carry when running food to tables.
  4. Every trip is a two-way trip - i.e. carry food or drink out and bring empty glasses and plates back to the kitchen.
  5. All staff able to clear a table of eight patrons' dishes in one go - when everyone has finished eating, not before.
  6. Check on patrons' enjoyment during and after the meal.
  7. Invite patrons back when they leave.

(SOURCE: Ron Browne, ClubsNSW Manager - Professional Development, ClubLIFE Feb 2017)

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