Build a Winning Restaurant Serving Staff: Part 5

Restaurant CustomerThis is the final post in our five part look at creating a top-notch restaurant serving staff. In part one we laid out the basics – menu knowledge and essential tools of the trade. Part two looked at reading tables and anticipation, part three focused on the mechanics and politics of serving, and part four discussed upselling.

We conclude with a look at dealing with difficult guests, as well as a few notes on social media use (or misuse).

First, here’s what every good server needs to remember when confronted with an angry guest:

The Buck Stops with You

Sometimes you’ll make a mistake entering an order. Other times, the kitchen will be at fault. Either way it’s the server that faces the guest’s wrath. It’s a reality that waitstaff have to deal with.

One thing that irks us is seeing front-of-house staff bickering with chefs about who’s at fault for a missing or incorrect order. Meanwhile, the guest is still waiting for a proper plate. The Blame Game serves nobody and it has no place in the restaurant, at least during service. Not only is the customer in question suffering, but the rest of that server’s section is not being attended to while their waiter/waitress engages in pointless arguments with the kitchen.

There’s nothing wrong with sorting out legitimate concerns during staff meetings or after shifts. In fact, we actively encourage these issues to be hashed out during all-hands meetings. During service, however, stay focused on getting the customer’s issue solved as quickly as possible.

Handling Customer Issues

Regardless of how well you perform, you’ll eventually face an angry guest. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when dealing with those difficult patrons.

Don’t take it personally. Do not internalize the situation. You have no idea what’s causing this person to behave angrily. Sometimes there’s more going on under the surface than you realize. This isn’t about you, it’s about the situation. It’s tough sometimes but a good server learns to develop a thick skin.

Assume the best. Customers will lie, there’s no doubt about that. You simply can’t assume that’s the default setting for most people, however. Assume your guests are being honest about their issue(s).

Remain calm. Sounds obvious, right? Yes, and it’s so important we’re still going to list it. The rest of your tables – and everyone else’s tables – are watching. You’ll be silently applauded by many if you keep cool and handle the situation with aplomb.

Watch your body language. Back in part two we noted the importance of reading a guest’s non-verbal cues. Well, guess what? They’re reading yours as well. Avoid the exasperated sigh, the slight roll of the eyes or any otherwise defensive gestures such as crossing your arms over your chest.

Own it. As noted above, regardless of where the mistake/problem originated, it’s your job to deal with it. It’s not your fault, but it’s your problem. That may not be fair but it comes with the territory. Offer a sincere apology for any mistakes and rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

Involve management when needed. While it’s important to show the guest you’re taking responsibility for a situation, it may still be necessary to involve the manager on duty. Sometimes simply involving management can diffuse a tense situation, even if that manager is offering the same solution(s) as the server. It lets guests know their concerns are being taken seriously. And sometimes they simply need to hear a solution from someone they feel has more authority.

The show must go on. This one bad apple can’t ruin your shift. You’ve got other guests to attend to. Vent about the troublesome guest later and stay focused on your other patrons. Many of them will likely be nicer – and tip better – if they’ve just seen you endure bad treatment.

We’ve already discussed the importance of reading a table, anticipating guest needs, developing menu knowledge, the importance of timing, and more. All of this should go a long way towards preventing customer issues from arising in the first place.

To wrap up, we’d like to touch on a few more ways serving staff can avoid guest complaints and bad reviews.

The Exit Experience

Service expert Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is ‘over’ one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are your guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. It’s important to remember that service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

Discretion When Needed

Speaking of credit cards, is there anything more awkward for a server than having to let someone know their card was declined? It will happen to your staff, count on it. Fortunately there are ways to handle the situation that will limit embarrassment for all involved.

1. You could simply inform the guest that there appears to be a problem processing the card. Do so quietly, and diplomatically.


2. We’ve heard of servers choosing to pass this information on to the customer in writing. Discreetly slipping a note inside the billfold as the check is returned. Just a simple note reading “The card does not appear to be working, do you have another we could try?”

This approach allows the guest to quietly grab a new card, slip it into the billfold, and give it back to you as you return. If the conversation is still ongoing at the table, there’s a good chance nobody else even noticed the delay.

Social Media and the Rise of Tip Shaming

So you’ve done everything right, and now that credit card slip is ready to be closed off. Unfortunately, this guest felt a tip wasn’t necessary this time; you’ve been stiffed.

It’s tempting to take to Twitter or Facebook to complain about lousy customers and bad tips. We strongly recommend avoiding this practice.

While we sympathize with our hard-working friends in the serving game, the potential downside of venting about specific customers is simply not worth that brief moment of catharsis one gets from shaming a bad tipper. Take this recent example of a waitress in Ohio who lost her job for this very reason.

Even on those occasions when a customer makes your day with a fantastic tip, exercise a bit of caution before sharing these experiences with your social networks. Even if you’ve hidden names and credit card numbers, we still feel it’s in bad taste to post about generous tips, particularly from people in the public eye such as a sports star or local politician.

Admittedly there’s no hard and fast rule here, but we’re of the mind that a tip is a private transaction. Respect people’s privacy and avoid problems for you and the restaurant. If you’d like to let the world know your day was made by a wonderfully generous tip, keep it vague. “Some customers really make your day!” or “I was reminded today just how generous some people can be. Great shift!” or something to that effect.

We won’t go so far as to suggest every restaurant implement an official set-in-stone social media policy, but it may be worth including some suggestions on how to conduct one’s self on social media as part of employee training materials.

Speaking of social media, be sure to download the free ebook, Social Media for Restaurants, at the button below. In it, you’ll find tips for restaurants looking to get started on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. 

social media for restaurants


This post originally appeared on’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.


Create a Great Restaurant Customer Service Experience

Restaurant_Customer_ServiceThe cost of bad restaurant customer service can be bigger than some restaurateurs assume. Many foodservice businesses are still only meeting the minimum standards of guest experience. For an industry that so depends on repeat customers, that’s simply not good enough.

Even those restaurants with the tastiest dishes in town can’t afford to let their service be subpar. The Soup Nazi may be an indelible television character, but in the real world, restaurant customers won’t stand for bad treatment, no matter how addictive your Crab Bisque may be.

We’ve done you the service of collecting a few best practices for creating a truly welcoming guest experience for your restaurant.

1. Service Starts Before They Walk Through the Door

Service expert Jeff Toister advises restaurant owners to pay attention to their establishment’s signage. He notes an experience he had walking past a local restaurant with a rather off-putting amount of rules posted at their entrance. Toister feels the amount of signs “suggested the restaurant focuses more on making sure guests are well-behaved than providing a great experience.” Do an audit of your signage; are you as welcoming as you could be?

2. Don’t Rush to Hire 

Restaurants face employee turnover like any other service business, but that doesn’t mean you must always be in a hurry to hire. Customer Care VP Marc Bernica reminds businesses that “the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled.” In restaurants aiming for head-of-class guest experience, even one discourteous dining room team member can have an effect on guest loyalty and word-of-mouth. This is particularly key for new establishments, when word-of-mouth is so very crucial.

3. Listen Effectively Online

We’re big on leveraging digital technology for the benefit of today’s restaurants. Today’s consumers are sharing their latest restaurant experience (good and bad) on their social media channels, writing about them on their blogs, and detailing their experiences on a growing number of review sites. Be aware of the major sites like and Trip Advisor, and find review sites that may focus on local establishments. You can never collect too much feedback from customers, and the negative feedback is typically the most valuable.

4. Policies are Good, but be Flexible

It’s fine to have policies, but make sure your team knows they can break the rules in the name of good customer service. Consider this example from acclaimed service guru Shep Hyken. The main takeaway from Hyken’s experience: “The employee was just doing her job. She was probably told by a boss not to seat incomplete parties.” Processes need to be designed to be customer-centric, rather than simply focusing on what makes life easier for restaurant staff.

5. Back-of-House is Part of the Service Team

The service in foodservice doesn’t begin and end with your waitstaff. Kitchen staff are part of the complete experience and can’t be left out of service discussions. Too many times, I’ve watched servers and cooks bickering about who’s at fault for a mixed up or forgotten order. And the person suffering the most from this in-house squabbling is the customer.

Consider regular staff meetings with both back and front-of-house teams focused solely on guest experience. Any service training literature given to new waitstaff should be read by new kitchen staff members as well. Everyone is on the same team!

6. Know Your Customers

Keeping with the idea of being flexible, author Ron Kaufman says the best restaurants will modify their actions (and processes) according to their customers. He writes:

“..if you have three types of customers come in – business people, tourists and a family with kids – each wants something different. One group wants privacy; one wants to be engaged and hear about the locality; and the other needs lots of attention because it’s a family. To create an uplifting experience, you modify your actions to provide value. You need to educate the waiter that the purpose of their job is – to take action to create value for whoever comes in.”

7. Send Them Home on a High Note

Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is “over” one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are the guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. Service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on’s Strategy Blog.

5 Restaurants Serving Up Tasty Social Media Strategies

“Stop tweeting and finish that risotto, you donkey!”

With seven years of experience in the restaurant business as both a bartender and server, I returned to my old stamping ground to find examples of how the restaurant industry can better leverage social media platforms.

Here are five fine examples of restaurants getting the most out of social.

Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse: Squeeze In

Squeeze In, a breakfast and lunch diner with a handful of locations in California and Nevada, has a terrific social media strategy that includes exclusive offers for those using platforms like Foursquare.

From this New York Times article detailing the diner’s social strategy: “Our Foursquare newbie offer for first time check-ins has been unlocked 1,151 times,” said [Company President Misty] Young. “The mayor special has been unlocked 140 times. People are actively using this stuff.”

Squeeze In also uses social media for internal communications as the article notes, setting up a private Facebook group for its employees. Anecdote time; at the last restaurant I worked for, I set up a private Facebook group for the serving staff where we could work out shift giveaways and exchanges.

Keep Your Customers In the Loop: Babbo Ristorante

Babbo, Mario Batali’s upscale Italian restaurant, uses Twitter to advise their followers of last minute cancellations. For a restaurant with a long list of reservations, it’s important to keep your clientele up to date. Keep that dining room full by making sure the public is updated whenever a spare table happens to open up.

Tickle the Eyeballs as Well as the Taste Buds: Mooo Restaurant

Appealing to a customer’s eyeballs is where platforms like Instagram and Pinterest come in. Article after article references Pinterest’s host of images featuring delectable dishes. Images of food certainly abound across Pinterest, so go the extra step and share photos from around your restaurant. Show your fans what else your establishment brings to the table (pun intended). Take a look at this example from one of Boston’s top steakhouses, Mooo Restaurant.

Mooo doesn’t stop at showing off their food. They also share images from around the dining room and pastry kitchen. They’ve created boards dedicated to special events, cocktails, and wine tastings. This shows that a restaurant has more to offer than what’s on the plate.


Educate Your Clientele: The Mermaid Inn

My research for this post pointed me towards the YouTube channel of The Mermaid Inn in New York. While not frequently updated, they’ve used their video channel to educate the public by offering cooking and preparation tips. Here, Laurence Edelman offers us a look at how to cook up some delicious fried oysters. Who doesn’t like helpful, free content?

Location, Location, Location: Seabirds Food Truck

If any industry is custom built for social media use, it may be the Food Truck industry. Owner/founder of Southern California based Seabirds Food Truck, Stephanie Morgan, uses their Facebook page to post their constantly shifting daily locations and changing menu offerings. Your website is essential obviously, but making the simplest of edits to a website isn’t as quick and easy as sending out a new Facebook status update, which only takes a few seconds. If you’re a nomadic eatery, social media can be a great tool in helping you keep your clientele updated on your next stop and your special for the day; just as Babbo does with table openings.

SeabirdsMajor restaurant chains are already taking advantage of social media to help generate more traffic to both their websites and brick-and-mortar locations.  For more info, be sure to check out these two case studies featuring Outback Steak House and Pizza Hut.

(Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud blog.)

Cover image via Flickr