A Day in the Life

A day in my life. Thoughts on leadership, management, startups, technology, software, concurrent development, etc... Basically the stuff I think about from 10am to 6pm.


Business: How to Get Good Service at a Restaurant

I was reading a restaurant post and people where talking about how hard it is to get a server’s attention. I posted a comment on that site but I think the idea warrants further commentary. There was a lot of discussion about restaurants which have some signaling device on the table, like a light or a sign. I think those are interesting devices, but I can’t help be think...WHY? You see I believe that when you walk into a restaurant you begin a relationship with the staff. Relationships are about give-and-take and communication. It’s important to understand what both parties want and need.

What does the server want?
Servers usually make minimum wage or less, which is allowed because they get tips. It’s in the best interest of your server to make your dining experience pleasurable while getting you out the door quickly. They want to get a good tip and get the table flipped. The more tables they flip, in theory, the more money they make. That is what the wait staff wants. That is what the bar staff wants because they get tipped out by the wait staff. In some restaurants the cooks may even be tipped out.

What does the customer want?
What you want is a stress free dining experience. You want to order when you’re ready, get your food quickly, and have it prepared the way you like it. You want your drink refills promptly and dirty dishes cleared.

The average server wants to help the customer but she may lack the ability to read your mind. Thus management can create a light to summon the server, which is demeaning. Or you, the customer, can try to communicate with the server in a manner that lets the server know what you need without requiring you to wave your arms, yell, or whistle. Remember the server is trying to make you happy without being intrusive. When I lived in Atlanta, GA my roommate of five years was a career restaurant manager. I spent a lot of time with people in the restaurant business and it is from them that I learned these tricks:

- When you’re ready to order, lay your menu on the table in front of you.
- When you need a drink refill, put your glass on the edge of the table on the aisle.
- When you have a dish you want cleared put that on the edge of the table on the aisle. If the plate was from the appetizer this can also act as a signal that you are ready for the next course.
- When you are finished push your plate away from you or place it on the edge of the table. Put your napkin on the table.
- Always be pleasant and say “Thank you” each time the server responds to your clues. Remember smiles are contagious, if you start the relationship with your server with a smile it is likely to continue that way. It takes very little effort to be polite and courteous and that can make the difference between a so-so dinner and an outstanding dinner.
Sometimes I do all my communication tricks and the server is just really bad. She may not be well trained; she may be having an exceptionally bad day; whatever. That is not my problem. Each time I sit down at a restaurant I start a tip meter in my head at 20%. Each action by the server results in an adjustment, up or down. I have tipped 50% on wonderful service and I have left nothing on really poor service. I never use the quality of the food as a criterion that is something to take up with the manager.

If you haven’t ever used these tricks, try them out, and let me know if they work for you. I really think that by approaching the restaurant experience as a relationship you will have a more pleasant dining experience.

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At February 14, 2006 1:38 AM, Anonymous Scott Johnson of Ookles said...

Interesting Kim. Really good thoughts and, yes, I've used all of them. Adding technology to the mix doesn't help anything often (imho).


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