What would you say is the difference between an ok dining experience, and a great one? More often than not, it comes down to the staff.
The whole point of going to a restaurant is to have an experience, rather than just a meal. And the dining experiences that guests actually appreciate and remember are the times when a server has gone the extra mile for them - be it by asking about their day, recommending their own favorite dishes, or just making the effort to be friendly.
In fact, a study of customer satisfaction in the restaurant industry found that the knowledge, politeness and attitude of employees was more important to customers than anything else, including price.
A good team of servers is the best weapon in a restaurant’s arsenal. That’s why we’ve put together some of the top qualities we think a restaurant employee should have, and how you can nurture those qualities in your staff.
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1. They should be knowledgeable
A big part of a server’s job is answering guests’ questions and providing them with information about the food.
What does the steak come with? What kind of sauce is on that burger? What are your gluten-free options?
Restaurant employees have to be ready for any question that might get thrown their way, which means knowing the menu inside out. They should be able to tell you the ingredients of each dish, including - and this is absolutely crucial - any allergens that guests should know about.
In addition, bar staff should know every cocktail recipe by heart, and all staff should know pricings and be aware of any discounts, offers or promotions.
It’s not just about the knowledge employees have, though - it’s about how they use it. Just because staff have been trained in health and safety procedures, for example, doesn’t mean they actually follow them. Just look at the recent Popeye’s scandal, where a worker was photographed preparing a chicken sandwich on top of a trash can.
Thankfully, these incidents are rare. But even so, it’s important not to underestimate the value of staff that take what they’ve learned on board and utilize it.
This kind of attention to detail does not go unnoticed. A well-informed server can vastly improve guest experience, and boosts the restaurant’s brand image as the kind of place that hires professional and conscientious staff.
2. They should be customer-focused, always
Any customer-facing role requires a certain amount of social skills. Being friendly and approachable should be the minimum requirement for working in hospitality, but a truly great server takes those natural skills and hones them to create the best possible customer experience.
Part of this is knowing how to read the mood of a table and adjust your approach accordingly. A friendly chat is pleasant for some guests, whereas others find those niceties a little forced and would prefer not to make small talk. Reading both verbal and non-verbal cues, really listening to and understanding the customer’s needs, are therefore essential to providing the perfect experience for them.
Interacting with guests can be challenging at times - anyone working in hospitality has dealt with their fair share of rude or difficult customers. The very best employees, though, will know how to deal with incidents without losing their cool, always keeping the customer top-of-mind.
3. They should be able to adapt to any situation
Anyone who’s worked in hospitality know that you’re constantly in demand, with your attention split multiple different ways at all times. Everything is running smoothly one minute, then next thing you know the lunch rush has started and you’re run off your feet for the next two hours.
Deskless workers like restaurant staff should be flexible and adaptable - jumping from serving customers, taking phone calls and bookings, clearing tables and everything in between isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Quick learners who are always ready for a challenge will thrive in this environment, and that enthusiasm should be nurtured.
That brings us to how, exactly, restaurants can encourage these qualities in their staff.
Although all of these characteristics are desirable - essential even - to building a restaurant team that will provide guests with an impeccable dining experience, there is one thing that must never be forgotten: employee engagement.
Unengaged employees across all industries cost the global economy an eye-watering $7 trillion a year, according to Gallup.
Solving the dilemma of employee engagement is in the hands of employers. But where to begin?
Check out our new eBook to find out: A Guide to Restaurant Employee Engagement.