Features on StarChefs.com

Button It Up: Service Notes

The Bare Necessities of Good Service
by Anna Mowry
December 2007

Eleven Madision Park on StarChefs.com
Eleven Madison Park - New York, NY

Earlier installments of this column featured show-stopping luxurious service, like theatrical tableside touches or candlelit dinners atop plush beds at beachside resorts. But even the most glittery razzle-dazzle will fizzle if basic professionalism is lacking. We know that back-of-house demands may have unintentionally moved your focus on service to the back burner, so we’re sharing a refresher from Beth Casey, who recently held a seminar on service at the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs national conference in Newport, RI. A hospitality instructor at the California Culinary Institute in San Francisco, Casey has tips that include service fundamentals as well as extra flourishes that will raise your restaurant’s service to the high standard that every diner deserves.

Positive initial contact between a restaurant and customers is crucial and can largely determine diners’ overall impressions of the meal. Prominently display your venue’s phone number on your website, and be sure that customers can navigate it with ease. (We’re amazed at how many restaurant sites we come across that don’t have the phone number on the homepage!) Employ hostesses and reservationists who have proper phone conduct. Educate waitstaff on nightly specials so that they can spout polished dish descriptions after their guests are seated.

Diners can vividly recall how their meal started and finished, so make those moments stand out. Treat your customers to more than just bread: Perigee of Toronto gives every table a seasonal snack (right now it’s a mix of sugared almonds, toasted pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries). After their plates have been cleared and the check dropped, present customers with an edible parting gift. Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park sends his guests away with breakfast pastries in a to-go box which guarantees they’ll be thinking about their dining experience again the next morning. Complimentary items also curb the shock that’s brought on by the bill for a not-so-complimentary meal.

Gramercy Tavern in New York, NY on StarChefs.com
Gramercy Tavern - New York, NY

“Customers are starving for personal contact,” says Casey. “Make repeat diners feel valued by knowing their names, along with their favorite dishes and wine.” Take a trip to the dining room and chat up a few guests (but don a clean jacket and get rid of any dirty towels from your apron strings before your grand entrance). Collect a few names and mailing addresses from Open Table and send thank you notes; giving patrons the extra attention increases the chances of a return for another meal. Just be sure that servers don’t stray into overly casual territory: servers who address their guests as “you guys” are a common pet peeve among diners.

Of course, it’s impossible for you to monitor your servers’ appearance and manner constantly, so Casey recommends occasionally hiring a personal shopper to come in and report on service.

Recommended Reading on the Subject of Service:

Setting the Table: the Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer