The food industry has changed dramatically in the last few decades, with many more styles of dining becoming popular. From shared-table joints to business-casual bistros and the ever-popular food truck, there are always two things they’ve got to get right for that elusive ticket to success: customer service and the food. Depending on what style of dining it is, restaurant service standards may vary, but some standards are industry-wide.
No matter what diners are paying for their food, it needs to arrive in a reasonable time, taste great and come with great service.
Apply for any serving job at a restaurant and you might get asked, “What are the seven steps of service?” It’s a memory trick to help servers stay on their game.
While the wording may vary and such, those seven steps are as follows:
- Greet the table. After they’ve been seated by the host, within 2 minutes the server should appear, introduces themselves, mentions the specials and then let the guests consider their options.
- Take the drink order. The server shouldn’t ask closed questions like, “Can I get you a drink?” Instead, they should ask if the guests have had a look at the wine list or if they’d like any suggestions. When the drinks are delivered, the server should remember who ordered what.
- Get the appetizer order. Guests should be asked if they’d like to order appetizers or their whole meal. Some prefer to consider the main dish while they enjoy an appetizer and others like to order it all at once.
- Serve the meals. The appetizers get served and once everyone is through, the dishes are cleared and any used silverware or dinnerware is replaced. Silverware should shine and be spotless. When serving the main course, the wait staff should ask if any sides or condiments are needed for full enjoyment. Serve meals hot!
- Check in. While food is being enjoyed, the server should pop in after two minutes to see if the food meets the guest’s standards. If not, then it needs to be handled as required — re-fired in the kitchen, remedied if possible, comped or whatever is required.
- Clear dishes and mention dessert. This is when to ask again how everything was while clearing away the dishes. Good servers ask what dessert they can bring the customer, not whether they want dessert. If they do want dessert, then they’ll need corresponding silverware.
- Present the check. The server should bring the check and place it in the center of the table unless someone has gestured that they’ll be paying for it.
For those who own or manage restaurants, there are six different steps for them on the path to securing great service. It goes more like this:
- Hire great people. Use servers who love meeting people, make eye contact and smile naturally. Look for great banter. A must-have is a great memory for details both about the customers themselves as well as the orders they place.
- Train them well. Training isn’t just about how to write down an order, it’s understanding everything about the restaurant. How are the meals prepared? Why is the chef making those choices? What substitutions are available? If possible, have new staff shadow the most senior staff so they learn how to go the extra mile.
- Automate. Implement systems that can make service better. A good POS terminal, portable payment devices, service-summoning buttons for tables and other on-site solutions can make a difference in customer satisfaction. Beyond that, many restaurants now have proprietary apps and ordering platforms. Online and mobile ordering are becoming big business for many companies as well.
- Delivery. Offering delivery was always difficult for restaurants because they’d need to make sure there was a balance of staffing for orders coming in and deliveries going out.
Today, though, apps like UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash, plus their many competitors, are all making it possible for restaurants to offer delivery without having to oversee another facet of service. With nearly 40% of millennials reporting that they order delivery once a week, meal delivery is how to increase profit and make customers happy without injecting capital in new space or new hires.
- Get customer feedback. There’s no reason to not get customer feedback in this era. Many restaurants will incentivize feedback by printing a message on their receipts that tells their diners how to give feedback, and if they do, they’ll get a free drink on their next visit or $5 off the meal, and so on. It’s a way of letting them know you care about their experience, but it’s also how to bring them through the doors again.
- Don’t stagnate. When people tell you what’s not working, or what is, learn from that. Listen to their feedback and act on the great commentary. Maybe they’ve got new dish ideas or it’s complaints you’ve heard before about the hamburger. Whatever it is, always be looking for ways to improve and diversify. Especially if it means you retain already-earned customers.
When providing a dining experience, whether it’s in Italy's Hotel Savoy or your neighborhood McDonald’s, there are several inarguable service standards.
- Hot food hot, cold food cold. Temperature isn’t a guideline with food. People want their hamburger and French fries while they're still hot. They want their salad to be cold. The kitchen and service must be well-coordinated, no matter what the dining experience is.
- Squeaky-clean. Cleanliness isn’t just a cosmetic factor, it’s a health and hygiene matter. Restaurants can spread illnesses, so the space needs to be clean, but so does everyone who works there. Staff has to practice great hygiene so consumers aren’t worried about their food safety.
- Make waiting transparent. Don’t try to trick customers into waiting longer by telling them inaccurate times. Be honest. Offer a seat at the bar, if there is one. For customers who look impatient, suggesting a text is possible when the table becomes free might allow them to take a walk or distract themselves some other way.
- Repeatable experiences. Some restaurants thrive on ever-changing menus, but most don’t. The offerings must be made the same way, served the same way, time and time again. If a customer had a great Moscow mule two weeks prior, they should be able to order the same cocktail and have it taste nearly identical.