To thrive and grow as an independent restaurant, you’ve got to make yourself known for a few things: your menu, your ambiance and the outstanding service your team provides. Each of these pillars is important but today, we’re going to focus on the service element. Here’s how your front of house staff can better connect with customers by asking the right questions and building instant rapport with anyone who books a table. For personalized advice, please reach out to Morton Food Service. As always, we’d be pleased to hear from you!
Everything starts with the front of the house
When you walk into a restaurant or book a reservation online, you’ll often be asked the same question: are you celebrating anything tonight? This is standard everywhere from family restaurants and pubs to fine dining establishments. It sets the tone for the evening and immediately creates an expectation that something special will follow any information you share—an expectation you’re now obligated to fulfill. For example, if you tell the front of house staff that it’s your anniversary or someone’s birthday, it’s natural to expect some sort of action to follow—for example, a piece of cake delivered at the end of the meal, or being led to a romantic table near a fireplace. If you fail to do so—even if the food and service are otherwise excellent—you’ve failed to meet that expectation.
This brief interaction starts a conversation with your customers, and it’s up to you how to respond. Here are some additional questions your front of house staff should be asking patrons every single night:
- Do you live in town? If yes, ask if they’ve been here before. If no, ask where they’re from, welcome them and give them a brief introduction to your establishment including any popular menu items or special features.
- What are you doing tonight? This is important over the weekday lunch hour, but it applies to evening service as well. If they say they’ve got a concert or movie to see later, ask them about timing and make sure your speed of service reflects their schedule. Alternatively, if they have no other plans, suggest coffee and dessert (or another round of drinks).
- Do you have any questions about the menu? Ensure that your staff has tasted the dishes on your menu and can answer questions intelligently. There should never be any “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t tasted it myself” in their repertoire.
- Do you have any dietary restrictions? Consider allergies, gluten-free or dairy-free needs, vegetarian or vegan diets and more. Always communicate any food allergies to the chef immediately.
- Would you like recommendations? Ask them if they like spicy food, what they normally order and what they feel like eating tonight—for example, seafood or a steak vs a pasta dish or hearty salad. They may even want a table full of apps instead of a big meal. Follow their lead!
- Would you like a cocktail or other beverage to pair with your meal? Ensure that your staff is knowledgeable about the drink menu and can pair beverages with meals—for example, a great red wine to go with the steak they’ve ordered, a prosecco to complement those apps, the perfect craft cocktail for those who like sweet, dry, sour or even savoury drinks.
All of this should happen as soon as the customer is seated (and often, it begins at the front door). If you’re serving a large group, ask if they’d like separate bills and if they prefer their food to arrive all at once or staggered (the latter being common when a group of friends are sharing drinks and appetizers rather than ordering individual entrees). If there are kids at the table, ask the parents if they’d like the children’s meals to be brought out immediately or with the rest of the table. Everyone has unique preferences, so get to know who’s at your table!
The goal of these questions is to engage on a personal level, cater your speed of service to their plans for the evening, and make the customer feel comfortable and at ease. Your staff should be able to read customer cues and respond accordingly—for example, letting them know it’s okay to linger at the table after the bill is paid, or telling them you’ll bring the bill and payment machine right away if it’s clear they’re in a rush. Read between the lines and personalize the experience based on their comments and cues!
Start with an upsell
One final tip: if you’ve got an outstanding dessert that requires 30 minutes in the oven, have your front of house promote it to every single guest and suggest that they order it with their meal. This results in customers ordering dessert before they’ve even had a bite of their appetizer, ensuring that you’ve completed that upsell while making them feel like they’re getting something really special at the end of the night. (Just make sure it’s as delicious as you’re saying it is!)
While this advice can be adapted to suit the needs of any independent restaurant, we’d be pleased to offer personalized guidance based on your specific needs and clientele. Some processes are better suited to fine dining than pubs, and many can be worked into your reservation process to save time. Please contact us to speak with our expert staff—we’d be pleased to hear from you and look forward to helping you implement some of these suggestions.