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Unfortunately, the exact opposite extreme of the above scenario (Please see Part 1 of Getting theRight Balance) is more commonplace in restaurants today. Once the server has taken the order they are nowhere to be found until they reappear bearing your food. And then, once the course is served, you’re once again hard pressed to even catch a glimpse of said server. That certainly is not Wow!/exceptional service either. It is hardly even passable or acceptable service. In some restaurants the server only comes to the table a total of 3 times. Once, to greet the table and take their order for beverage and food. The second time, to deliver the food and once again, to deliver the check. Oh and a fourth time to return the check. That is not even good service. Even if the food is great and the guests are enjoying everything and you are observing this from afar, it is still vital that you re-approach the table more than once or twice.
Of course, every diner or guest is different in what their needs and preferences are and this is why learning to read your guests is so important. In order to provide exceptional service you must assess the level of care and attention each of your table’s needs and desires.
Recently, my wife, Michelle and I were having dinner at an upscale restaurant in Caesar’s palace (not the real Caesar’s palace-as in Caesar didn’t actually live there-The Hangover) in Las Vegas and while the food was good, both of us were a little annoyed and curious as to why our server never once came and asked us if we were enjoying our food. He would walk by and look but he never engaged us once our wine was served and we received our food. At the end of our dinner as we were about to leave, I decided to ask our server why he didn’t inquire as to whether we were enjoying our dinner. His reply astounded me. He said, “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t need to ask you if you’re enjoying your food. We don’t do that here. I saw you eating it so I knew you liked it. And if you didn’t like it you would tell me.”
Now to me, that is being a bit arrogant and it goes beyond reading the guest. In fact it is quite presumptuous. For example, what if we were on a date, (actually we were and we weren’t yet married at the time) and one of us didn’t like what we were eating but didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by flagging the server down. So, we were just eating our food out of politeness. However, if the server actually had inquired we may have told him that there was something wrong with the food-too salty; too spicy; too overdone or whatever the case may be.
For him to assume that because we were eating the food that everything was perfect is just plain ignorant. Anyone who is a fan of the cooking competition shows-Iron Chef, Top Chef etc., would know that even professional chefs do not execute their dishes flawlessly everytime. Just because someone is eating it doesn’t mean it’s exactly perfect or the guest as would like it to be.
There has to be a balance between being overly smothering a guest and being so nonchalant and aloof, arrogant and unavailable. In order to provide exceptional WOW! service, you must engage your guests and inquire if everything they are eating and drinking is to their liking. Again, I’m not talking about smothering and being annoying, coming every five minutes and saying “How is everything?” A good rule of thumb is once any item-whether food or drink has been served, ask your guests how everything looks and how it smells. Then inform them that you will be back in a couple minutes to inquire how their first bites/tastes are. You then return within a couple minutes (2-3) and check on them. Do not wait until they are half way or more finished with their food. If you can’t get back to them within a couple minutes, ask a manager or co-worker to do so for you.
If there is any problem with the food-as in something is not prepared correctly, or they just don’t like what they ordered, it is much easier to rectify the situation early into the course rather than later. It is very frustrating for a diner, who, once they’ve been served their food and it is not to their liking (regardless of the reason) to sit and wait, and wait and wait until their server reappears. The longer that guest has to wait, the greater chance that you will not receive a good tip, the restaurant will not get a good review and that guest will tell multiple people about the ‘less than excellent service’ at said establishment.
The first couple minutes after serving the guests are the most crucial (aside from the first impression) in the guest formulating their opinion of your restaurant. You can greatly influence their perception of you, your restaurant and the overall service there by being aware, available and timely in your visits to their table.
One place that seems to really understand this balance of the right amount of attention is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Not only do they understand it, they are pros at the execution of it. We have dined at the Fleming’s where we live in Summerlin and recently, (because our manager friend, Joaquin, was transferred to another Fleming’s in Vegas) we decided to go to the other Fleming’s.
From the way we were greeted and seated by the host team, to the introduction of our server, Brian-guiding us through the wine list and the menu, to the entire dinner-we had a wonderful dining experience. There was no one particular thing that made it special. Rather, it was the entirety of everyone on the team working together in unison that made our dining experience so enjoyable. Melissa, my wife- Michelle’s daughter, was with us and we were the guests of our friends- Wolfgang and Maria.
None of us had been to this particular Fleming’s before. And although, Joaquin, our manager friend, certainly welcomed us and even visited our table a few times, it was the efforts and the hospitality of every team member that really made our evening. The other managers, Leroy and Jay each came to our table as well to check on us. That may seem like a lot but it never felt like we were being bothered or being overly attended to. We enjoyed great conversation, laughed together, ate some wonderful food and partook of some great wines. Our experience at this new Fleming’s was just as remarkable as when we dined at the one in Summerlin. Consistency is something that is highly valued at Fleming’s. As is food quality, attention to detail, team mentality, and creating an exceptional dining experience for the guest. They really do all the above very well.
Providing excellent service is more of an art than a science. Some restaurant managers may be very specific and particular about how many minutes after each course or item is served that you must return to the table. I don’t believe it’s that cut and dry and it’s not an exact science. Every server is different, and every guest and situation is different. You have to find the balance somewhere between the two extremes we’ve discussed here-of being a gawking, overbearing, annoying, smothering server and being a nonchalant, aloof, disappearing, inattentive,never-inquiring-because-I’ve-been-doing-this-for-a-long-time kind of server. Striking the right balance may take time but with conscious effort and continual practice it will become second nature to you. You’ll get to the point where you find the right rhythm of when to return to your tables. It should always be with and for a specific purpose. You’ll eventually develop a feel for it.
This is just another example proving that there really is so much involved in being a Service and Hospitality Professional. And those who do it well, though they may make it look easy-it really isn’t. I applaud you have learned the importance of this balancing act. And I encourage those who may be new to the industry to ask yourself-where on the scale do you fall and what can you do to get to more of a balance between TMA-Too Much Attention and TLA-Too Little Attention?
If you are looking for a great example of how to strike this balance, I suggest a night out for dinner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. They are in about 30 different states. You may be able to find one near you.
Thank you for reading!!! I am so grateful for your support.
I want to extend a big WELCOME! to readers from the following new countries in the past week:
Pakistan, Bulgaria & Kuwait!!!
I appreciate each and everyone of my readers. You are helping take Soupfly global!!
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Thank you and God Bless you all!
Christoff J. Weihman
Las Vegas, NV
p.s. I will be finishing the manuscript to my book, GETTING TO WOW! First Class Restaurant Service by the end of October. It will then be ready to edit and be published. I will be taking Pre-Orders for GETTING TO WOW! very soon. If you are interested in being one of the first 100 to get a signed copy of GETTING TO WOW! please indicate that in the comment box. Also, next post, I’ll be asking you, my readers to help me choose the cover design for the book!! I’m very excited!