When I receive exemplary service in a restaurant, it’s not only unexpected, but absolutely astounding… I frequently write about my travels around the country. To quickly reiterate, and it really doesn’t matter what city, 9 times out of 10 I get what I call the “ORDER TAKER”. That is they take the order, deliver the food and bring the check. In my book, that is an ordinary experience and no matter how great the food might be, I won’t return to that restaurant.
Now that’s just the service part of the equation those restaurants are missing, never mind the significant potential sales that could have resulted with a different approach… a hospitality approach. I learned a long time ago that hospitality is absent, when something happens “to” you and hospitality is present when something happens “for” you.
And so it was recently on a trip to Springfield MO. Much by chance, I Stumbled across a very unique steakhouse. Here, I was quite surprised to find rare exemplary service like you might expect in Europe where hospitality is a career. By contrast for many young people in America, working in a restaurant is just a stop on the way to someplace else and training often reflects this.
My dining experience began with two friendly hosts on the podium who welcomed me in and asked if I would prefer a table, a booth or a seat in the lounge. I asked if I might see the different seating areas. “Of course” was the instant reply and after viewing my options, I selected a comfortable booth. I was seated no more than a few seconds when another team-member came to fill my water glass and informed that my server would be Eric and that he would be right with me.
Sure enough, before a minute had passed Eric welcomed me again and introduced himself by name. My cell phone had died and I did not see an outlet beneath my booth. I had actually brought my own charger in to the restaurant. Eric asked if he could assist and that he would be sure to return my phone as soon as it was charged.
The thousands of little details in a restaurant matter and this was not lost on Eric who also had many other tables in the room to serve.
Next, we discussed the wine list. This is a steak house after all, and I was in the mood for wine. Eric asked my preference for red or white and then proceeded to make a few recommendations. In an instant, he returned with several bottles and explained that he would pour me a taste of any to help me make my selection. Again, this was unexpected.
The wine was poured and I was really anticipating what would happen next. The menu was extensive with much variety and although several items caught my eye, I always appreciate a suggestion. Eric offered several explaining the nuances and preparations of each, including a nightly off the menu special. He further explained that I had three salad choices. I could select the salad bar and create my own salad or choose a blue cheese wedge or signature house salad. After deciding on the blue cheese wedge; which in my opinion is the perfect prelude to steak, Eric quickly brought me a steaming loaf of warm homemade honey-wheat bread on a cutting board with bread knife. I was hungry and the bread was thoroughly enjoyable. Before I could take a breath, another third team-member re-filled my water glass and brought me another bread loaf without me having requesting it. This is what I call a “choreographed” team-approach to service where the customer truly feels recognized, acknowledged and served. Believe me when I say, except for the truly five-star establishments, this level of service is truly rare in this business, regardless of the price point.
I had selected the New York Strip steak with baked potato and Eric asked if I would prefer an addition of Burgundy wine mushrooms which really add to the flavor profiles of the steak. I did. He asked if I would prefer my baked potato steaming hot with butter or with “everything”, which he explained were chives, bacon bits, shredded cheese and sour cream. That was an easy selection.
I thoroughly enjoyed my salad. The lettuce was crisp and the dressing not overdone, but bountiful in blue cheese chunks. Eric was armed with his peppermill and asked if I would prefer fresh cracked pepper. Again, I rarely experience even this detail in restaurants any longer. In most other places, I continually ask myself “what happened to service in a service business? Now here’s the kicker. As my steak arrived, Eric asked me to please cut the center for him so he was sure that the N.Y. Strip was expertly prepared to the correct temperature I had ordered. I can’t recall this every happening in any restaurant over my long career. Again, he had many other tables to serve, but he missed no detail for my experience and I am certain he provided the same exemplary service to all his other guests that evening.
Remember the definition of a hospitality approach I spoke of earlier?
Now on to dessert. The list was extensive and each sounded tantalizing, but I’m a big fan of cheesecake and so I placed my order. Eric informed that the New York Cheesecake was available in traditional style or capped with fresh strawberry compote. This choice was also easy to make. Through each stage of the meal, Eric brought the food to life so I could visualize and taste each choice in my mind before it came out of the kitchen. Again a rare skill and high level of personal service.
As Eric set the cheesecake before me, he also returned my phone fully charged.
This service went above and beyond any expectation I had for dinner this particular evening. I had flown in that day, was tired and hungry and was simply looking forward to checking in to my hotel. Eric was unaware of my special needs, yet intuitively took a personal approach to making my experience and all his guests that evening special and memorable.
We can all take a special lesson in this true hospitality approach from Eric and I hope you think of ways to apply this approach to your own operation.
Go out there and Rock Your Restaurant!