Skills Focus: Don’t Be “The Server”

I have been asked a couple of times recently to comment on restaurants using iPads instead of menus and serversI generally respond by asking the question, “Would you rather order that way?”  No one has told me yet that they would prefer this method.  There will never be a program designed to be more user friendly than telling your order to a server and having them do the work.  I am not worried about being replaced by an iPad, but I am a bit concerned by the mentality that leads an owner to believe I could be.

I find the trend towards highly regimented training programs in the industry concerning.  This generation of servers is being taught what to do, but rarely why they should be doing it.  In the process the server is not allowed to develop a style because they are graded on a number of specific phrases they must use.  Managers are often more concerned about a secret shopper’s checklist than they are about the experience of the other 99.9% of their guests.  Your guests want their server to have personality and be relatable.  This does not mean that you should not have requirements of your servers.  The first requirement should always be to create a highly satisfied guest and the best way to do that is for your server to be more than just the generic server.

This week’s skill focus is based on Chapter 14 from my book Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips

Chapter 14: Don’t Be “The Server”

A few teaching points on this topic:

Generic Servers Receive Generic Tips:  I believe so firmly in this idea that it is my third rule of serving.  You must encourage your staff to bring a little personality to their guests.  We have discussed in previous skills focuses the importance of guests’ feeling liked.  There is no possible way to feel that a generic server likes them.  Being willing to show personality represents an investment in the guest experience that that will reward.

Be Your “First Date” Self: I dedicate a whole chapter in the book to explaining this concept.  This means that you should never be dishonest with a guest, but complete honesty is not required.  On a first date you put your best foot forward and answer questions in a way that places you in the most favorable light.  When a guest asks about your day, you could tell them about how rotten it was or you could say, “I am glad to be at work tonight.”  Both are honest, but the second response will keep them interested in you.

Be Friendly, But Not Friends:  This is a very important distinction.  While a server should be friendly towards their guests, it is still a professional relationship.  If the server does not treat it as such during the course of the meal, the guest might not look at it as such at the conclusion.  This could mean no tip for their buddy the server.

How to train for this topic:

Monday-Wednesday: Discuss the power of personality and individuality with your staff.  Point out two examples of servers present who have very different styles.  Explain that both work for them and that everyone should have a unique personality that they bring to their tables.  This is also a good time to talk about how professionalism and personality should not conflict.

Thursday-Friday: Ask your staff for examples.  Have them give you a line they use with their guests that sets them apart.  Solicit any great one liners for servers that they have been using.  Have them give you ideas of what they plan on doing during the shift to be more than the generic server.

Saturday-Sunday:  Ask the servers present what struggles they have had this week in executing this skill.  Follow up by asking for success stories.  Let them know that you are going to be on the lookout for the server who appears to be having the most fun on the floor that shift.  Tell them there will be a prize for the person having the most fun with their guests.  At the end of the shift, recognize and reward any server who seemed committed to the idea.

Next week, I will conclude the weekly skills focus series.  In part eight, I will explain the most important concept that I feel restaurant companies fail to teach.  The goal of this series was to show managers how they could utilize the concepts on The Hospitality Formula Network and in my book Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips to teach and inform their staff.  After providing eight specific lesson plans, I am confident that you have the ability to teach the ideas available from these resources.  Next week, we will wrap it up with a vital lesson all servers need to understand.

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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