Skills Focus: Building And Maintaining Rapport

This week’s topic is a bit different than the topics I have written about in the last few skill focus posts.  Previously we have talked about sales and spotting guest complaints.  This week we will talk about the single most important factor in a server’s tip and the likelihood of a guest to return to your restaurant.  It is at the core of everything we do in the hospitality industry.  In fact, I will contend that it is the single most important factor in creating the perception of hospitality.  You cannot be perceived as hospitable until you are able to build and maintain rapport.

There were some bold statements in that last paragraph that I should probably explain.  Rapport will not overcome bad service.  Once service reaches a level that could be described as “competent”, rapport is responsible for making guests perceive it as great.  In fact, all of the finer touches of service will have less of an impact on the final tip the table than the rapport the server builds with them.  This bond will make great service seem perfect.  Failing to develop rapport will make flawless service seem lackluster.

Studies have shown this to be true.  The guest’s perception of the server is the largest factor in determining their tip.  It is also imperative to creating the type of bond that will encourage your guest to return and give positive reviews to their friends.  Having a staff that can create this type of bond with their guests will significantly increase your restaurant sales.  This is why it is imperative that you teach your staff this skill.

Building and Maintaining Rapport

A few teaching points on this topic:

The most important factor after competence:  Rapport will not make up for sending out the wrong food or failing to get the guest a refill.  It will however be the most important factor in determining the tip if the guest receives adequate service.  This makes it something vital for servers to focus on.

Act like you like them:  The most fundamental factor in developing rapport is to make the guest feel that you are glad they are there.  People like people who like them.  When a server makes a guest feel that they are liked, the server has already begun to create rapport.

Find common ground:  Finding common ground is the second most important factor in developing rapport.  People like people who are like them.  Whether the common ground comes from what they order, their favorite team, or the weather outside, there is always something they can find to agree with the guest about.

 How to teach this topic:

Monday-Wednesday: Explain the importance of developing rapport to your servers.  Teach them the two important factors of letting the guests know they like them and are like them.  Demonstrate how easy this is by pointing out a common ground you have with each of them. 

Thursday-Friday:  Challenge your staff to find common ground with their guests.  Have them approach you during the shift to tell you what they know about their guests.  Whether it is the weather or the game on TV, tell them you want to know about the tables in the restaurant.

Saturday-Sunday:  Tell your staff that you want them to introduce you to their favorite table during the shift.  Have them find a table that they have common ground with and think you might like too.  Go out and meet these tables.  Show that you like them too.  These will be your newest regulars.  Have a small coupon or a free dessert to give to each of them to thank them for coming in.

You have the power this week to teach your staff the most significant factor to improve their tips and increase your guest counts.  This week’s lesson is not about sales or service.  This week is about understanding the true meaning of hospitality.  A restaurant that effectively demonstrates this skill throughout their staff will see their sales grow.  It begins with you teaching the importance of this skill. 

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.


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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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