Ordered Chaos: Steps of Service

Think of your restaurant’s fan base as your springboard to success, your greatest marketing tool, and your number one solution to many day-to-day challenges. How to build a strong following of regulars, however, is not as simple as training a staff that’s proficient in order taking and menu preparation. They need to be exceptional at selling your experience—your brand—to every guest that walks through your doors. While staff training is always a restaurant-specific process, one of the most crucial training resources is standard among the most successful of our businesses and relatively simple to produce.  I’m talking about the outline for how your restaurant meets, seats, and treats its guests: “Steps of Service”

Follow a guest’s experience from the moment they enter to the moment they leave the restaurant: Greeting and Seating, At the Table, and Out the Door. With these steps, you can help assure exceptional experiences for every guest. We know that every shift (and even each interaction) is different, but you want it to be clear for your team what “perfect” looks like.

Your guests have decided to trust you with making their
experience spectacular simply by deciding to come through your doors

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Greeting and Seating:
Making every guest feel appreciated from their first interactions with your staff will do everything for positive outcomes. Regardless of your restaurant style or theme, a culture of hospitality should be immediately apparent upon entering. Cultivating this in your steps of service is as simple as asking yourself what each guest is looking for from their experience and training your staff to accomplish that. If your restaurant aims to give a speedy, casual experience, your staff should welcome them with time of the essence. A lengthy, fine dining experience might demand more care facilitated by a dedicated host staff.  In either case, the essence of your restaurant and the individual desires of guests should be focused on from the moment they enter your establishment. 

Questions you might ask:
-What does “Hello” sound like when the guest arrives?
-How does the Maître D' tell the host where to take the guests? 
-How do you define and describe the pace a guest is to be brought to their table?
-What is the process if there is a wait for tables or you're running behind on reservations?

At the Table:
The table is the best place to market your restaurant’s brand, with your staff as the main control point of guest experience. As with entering the restaurant, guests should find themselves invited and at home in your restaurant. Service Staff should anticipate guests need either at a casual or formal establishment, all the while focusing on marketing your brand. As restaurateurs, we believe in our brand mission and we believe our way is the best way to provide an exceptional guest experience.  

In all of this, it’s important to remain mindful that your team members cannot act as ambassadors of your brand if they are constantly reacting to variables. This is why stating exactly who does what through the guests’ time at the table is so important. When your staff understands the process of service and what steps need to be taken when, it opens them up to offer your restaurants personality and cultivate lasting and meaningful relationships with your guests. Table service should give guests the opportunity to enjoy themselves, with your workers focusing on anticipating their needs. This is all part of cultivating a culture of hospitality, one that began once the front doors were opened.

Questions you might ask:
-How much time should pass before a table is greeted by their server?
-If you server bread, when does that happen?
-What is the order of operations for greeting, order-taking, delivery of beverages and food, etc?
-Who clears the table and when?
-When do you use a tray and when do you not?
-When do you drop the check and what do you say when you do?

Out the Door:
One of the worst habits many restaurants let slide is a “drop and done” mentality. This means that once a guest receives and pays their check, service is complete – and the guests are completely abandoned. This is the most offensive of experiences for guests. Reality is, you and your staff know that the guest is a revenue producer. While they may no longer be producing any revenue once their check is paid you and your staff have to be mindful of the future. Additionally, remember that they chose to dine with you. Of all the different places they could have gone they chose you. You want them to make that choice again. On top of that, in today’s world of social media and your brand’s internet presence, the guest experience doesn’t really end when the check goes down unless you choose for it to.

As they leave, the culture of hospitality should remain fresh. Farewells could be verbal or non-verbal, but the deep appreciation for their patronage needs to be communicated. Make sure they are seen and acknowledged up till the moment they cross the threshold and that experience is complete. From there, future visits are almost assured because they want to come back. They must come back.

Questions you might ask:
-When do you pick up the paid check?
-Do you clear glassware as they finish?
-Do you refill water?
-What does your staff say to guests as they are leaving your restaurant?
-How does the host team engage with them on the way out? The manager?

The Steps of Service document is your guide to what a flawless guest experience would look like. We don't, unfortunately, live in a perfect world and the restaurant business is full of surprises on any given day. That's okay, though. As long as you prepare your team to understand what should happen, clearly defining the process and each persons role in that process, they will be much more agile when it comes to negotiating around all the variables any given shift may present.