Skills Focus: Describing Dishes

Skills Focus: Describing Dishes

In last week’s skill focus I discussed the power of recommending food to the guest.  Helping your staff feel comfortable making these recommendations is an important first step.  This allows them to feel comfortable talking with their guests about food.  Simply getting them in the habit of talking about food with their guests will increase the sales of your best items, elicit positive feedback, and help create return guests.  This week and next, I will focus on how to help them refine these descriptions to see even greater results.

This week, I turn to the three basic formulas you can use to describe dishes.  I have used all three for over a decade to describe specials.  The key here is developing a method for receiving information from the kitchen and translating it into a description that a guest can easily use to create a mental picture in their mind.  In the original post, I described the same dish using each format to demonstrate the differences between them.

Three Ways To Describe A Dish

A few notes on each of these methods:

Plate to Fork: This is the most basic method.  It is useful for describing pasta dishes with multiple ingredients or complex nightly specials.  The drawback of this method is that focuses on providing an accurate picture rather than preventing a compelling reason to buy.  This is a good method for average servers, but one you need to challenge your top performers to move beyond.

Selling the Meat:  This is the ideal method for meat heavy entrees where you are using a premium product.  Graded steaks, wild fish, and items your guests might not be familiar with are best described using this method.  This requires teaching you staff about what sets the meats you sell apart from what are offered by competitors.  More information on this can be found on my Foodie Knowledge blog.

Sell the Flavor:  This is the method that will cause your sales to skyrocket.  As your staff becomes more comfortable with being the experts on your food in front of your guests, they will be ready to transition to this style.  Guests are far more concerned with how a meal tastes than any other factor.  Describe the flavors and you create a sensory experience rather than just a logical one.

How to teach this skill:

Monday-Wednesday: Begin with a basic explanation of the three methods on Monday.  By Wednesday you should be able to describe an item on your menu using each of the three methods.  The key is not to have your staff use your descriptions (although if they do, that is fine), but rather to give them the tools to design their own description of a dish.  Remember the importance of autonomy and mastery.

Thursday-Friday: Have a different member of your staff describe a different item using each of the three methods.  Make sure the descriptions are short and succinct.  A longer description is not always better.  Help point out what parts of their description have impact and which can be eliminated.

Saturday-Sunday: Challenge your staff to describe an item using the third method.  Make each one describe an item that no one else has picked yet.  This will provide incentive to the more timid members to go first.  Show how describing the taste will create better reactions than the first two methods.  This should motivate your staff to use the third method whenever possible.

At this point you have the staff feeling comfortable about making recommendations based on last week’s lesson.  This week the key is to help them have a format to describe the items more effectively.  Remember to limit your criticisms this week to length and style.  Next week we will focus on refining it even more by looking at adjective choices.  This is when they will learn to eliminate non-descriptive adjectives and replace them with word that will spark your guest’s imagination.

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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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