Quality dining room service is one of the most vital components of your restaurant. The virtues of the atmosphere, cuisine and location are all diminished if the customers are not treated well. Your hosts, servers and bus staff are your customers' first impression of your business. For the most part, your staff will remain the face of your operation throughout the dining experience. Well-meaning intentions are good to have, but a thorough system needs to be in place to ensure that the guests' needs are met 100% of the time.
Hire those who fit your concept and vision. Restaurant themes vary from the intentionally campy to the highly refined, but you must look beyond mere talent when recruiting potential staff. Consider skill level, but also assess applicants' personalities as best you can throughout the interview process, and choose staff who will buy in to your mission statement and philosophy.
Train everyone thoroughly and in the same manner. Have a program, and stick with it. Outline your customer service and dining room principles, and leave no stone unturned. At this stage, there is no room for well-meaning generalities; details must be instilled in everyone.
Read the guests. This is important for everyone working in the dining room, not just the wait staff. Hosts need to be able to gauge customers to give them favorable seating arrangements and appropriate servers. For example, a business crowd might be better suited for a more meticulous, less verbose waiter.
Anticipate the guests' needs. If a group of people is out to celebrate a special event, servers should cater to the needs of the occasion — for example, by making wine or champagne suggestions for anniversary dinners. If it is a business lunch, servers should be prompt and more to the point.
React to intangibles. The kitchen is bound to have an off night every now and then, and it is up to the dining room staff to keep their cool and, more important, the guest happy. Offer a free drink or appetizer, for example.
Give the guest control of time. Whether or not he wants to stay all evening is his prerogative, but make sure that it is his choice and not the result of the server's failing to present him with the check in a timely manner. Don't hold people hostage.
Dave Stanley has covered sports, music and hard news since 2000. He has been published on CBSSports.com and various other websites. Stanley is also a feature writer for "WhatsUp!" magazine in Bellingham, Wash. He studied journalism at the University of Memphis.