How to Give Great Restaurant Customer Service

Waiter serving food
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 A reader asks: 

My restaurant is a year old and we are doing okay, but I have had some staff turnover in the past few months and I feel like my new staff isn’t offering the best customer service. I don’t have a front of the house manager. I try to stay on top of issues that come up, but I can’t be everywhere at once. What are some ways that I can train my existing staff as well as new staff to give good customer service consistently, without me standing over their shoulder all the time?

Here's My Answer 

Good food and good atmosphere are no good without good customer service. The first year of establishing a new restaurant is hectic, to say the least. From my own experience, the hardest part of owning a restaurant was dealing with staff. I had a great staff, for the most part. But there were always the occasional oops, why did we hire you? Some people are just naturally good at dealing with customers and waiting tables or tending bar. Others need more training, and eventually come round. Still, others just need to find a new profession.

So, back to your question, how do train your staff? First, establish clear guidelines about what is expected from them. This is where an employee handbook is helpful. A good restaurant employee manual outlines all your expectations for job performance as well as job descriptions, safety procedures and any other communication you want to convey.

If there is ever a dispute with an employee, about policies, behavior, etc. You can pull out your handy dandy employee manual for the correct answer.

Next, have clear expectations about what is good customer service. There is the basic stuff: smile, make eye contact, be polite. There may be other steps you would like staff to follow, depending on your restaurant concept.

At one of my favorite fine dining restaurants, the host always holds the chair for any ladies in a party and the bus person crumbs the table between courses. They are trained as part of their job to offer these small perks to all their guests. Maybe you are a family friendly restaurant. Train your staff to ​treat kids like customers too, to ensure they (and therefore their parents) have a good dining experience.

Go above and beyond what is expected. For example, I was out to dinner at one of my favorite pubs with a friend, who asked for coleslaw with his burger. Coleslaw wasn’t included with burgers, but my friend had ordered it on other occasions without any problem. The waitress, who was new said point blank, “No, the kitchen doesn’t like to mix up orders like that.” Not only would she not accommodate his request, she wouldn’t even ask the kitchen or manager about it. We were both happy when our regular waitress was there the following week. Communicate to your staff that it is okay to ask questions if it means making a customer happy is important. Coleslaw is one of the cheapest items a restaurant can offer. It wasn’t going to cost the pub anything to throw a scoop of it onto the burger plate.

If a customer has a reasonable request about their meal, always try to accommodate it. If you can’t then offer an alternative. The point is to show them that you care about their dining experience, and that you value their business and you want to make them happy.

Encourage your wait staff to anticipate customer needs, rather than waiting to be asked for something. Don’t wait until their water glass is empty, refill it at half empty. Offer up a dessert list; don’t wait for the customer to ask to see one. Not only does the customer feel taken care of, small steps like these can help staff upsell, increasing check averages and their tips.