5 Fatal — Yet Avoidable — Service Errors

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Here are the five service errors I have identified to be extremely harmful to independent restaurant owners that can be fixed with systems.

“Let’s just take turns.”

David Scott Peters
David Scott Peters

You know, kind of like being a car salesperson. “I’ll get the first people that walk in the door, you get the next and so on, until it’s my turn again.”

While this sounds good in theory, ultimately it can be a fatal mistake.

In reality, every server ends up with tables all over your restaurant, even outside (for those with outside seating), giving servers incredible ground to cover, keep track of and monitor. This spells disaster when it comes to providing top-notch service.

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Tables get lost because they all assume someone else has already taken care of the new table that just seemed to seat themselves. But what really happens is nobody ever gets to the table, often resulting in a lost customer.

Never let your serving staff take turns. It is a recipe for disaster and will ultimately destroy your business.

“We can’t make any money if you add another server to the floor.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that one, I could buy a new Porsche.

The reality is, if you hear that from your servers, they probably already have too many tables in their sections and aren’t providing anywhere near “WOW” customer service. The general rule of thumb, in a full-service restaurant with a host who staggers the seating, is a server should be able to handle up to seven tables at a time.

The only way to build your sales is to provide incredible service levels, which is even more important to independent restaurant operators who have to separate themselves from the chains.

“Look, I just don’t have time to do that and take care of my tables.”

You must teach your serving staff one of the golden rules to walking the floor: “Nobody enters or leaves the kitchen with empty hands.” This means that for every pass a server takes to and from their tables, even if they aren’t going into the kitchen, they should be pre-bussing their tables. Plus I will take it one step further; they should be pre-bussing other server’s tables, too!

I know you’re probably thinking, “How do I sell that one to my servers?”

You have to get the concept across to your serving staff that just because a guest is sitting in someone else’s section today doesn’t mean they’re not their customer. If each guest doesn’t have a great experience, they aren’t coming back. And if a server can ensure they do have a great experience and they do come back, they could be sitting in that server’s section the next time. Ultimately this means more money for the server in the end.

“You’re kidding me, right? I’m not paid enough to do that!”

Try this line on them: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

Their first reaction is almost always, “I don’t get paid enough to do that.” Here are two tactics to overcome this:

1) Explain to your serving staff how much they make in tips. And then explain that they are really independent business owners themselves, but unlike you, they have no risk or expenses. Explain to them that you provide them everything they need to sell their product — the building, the utilities and even the product. To keep their business in place, they are responsible for the guest experience.

2) You need to pick up a rag and help too! The only sure-fire way I’ve used to get line employees at all levels to do anything extra, especially cleaning, is to lead by example. So practice what you preach and be a team player.

“All that does is slow me down. That stuff isn’t really necessary, look at my sales.”

When you dine in a chain restaurant, nine out of 10 times you will have a server introduce themselves, ask you if this is your first time here, tell you today’s specials and offer an appetizer. To a server at an independent restaurant, this seems ridiculous because there is usually no training program in place and a lack of follow through by management.

Again, if you find your serving staff saying this to you, they almost definitely have too many tables and think the more tables you have, the more money you make. As I’ve already explained earlier, this is a recipe for disaster and couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

Learn from the chains! Ultimately training your serving staff to follow the steps of service (exactly, every time) is the key to guest satisfaction. And guest satisfaction is what will increase tips and increase your bank account.

Yes, all of these service errors are avoidable!

To increase your sales and attract more business, you need to separate yourself from the chains and provide the best service possible. Do this and I guarantee your sales will go up.

David Scott Peters is a restaurant expert, speaker, coach and trainer for independent restaurant owners. He is the developer of SMART Systems Pro, an online restaurant management software program helping the independent restaurant owner remain competitive and profitable in an industry boxed in by the big chain restaurants. Download a free report to discover the #1 secret to lowering food and labor costs and running the independent restaurant you’ve always dreamed of. Learn more about how David can help you at www.TheRestaurantExpert.com.