Have you ever received service that didn’t fit the situation? As you may have guessed, I’m going to tell you about a recent experience of mine where the service was completely incongruent.

Susan and I are committed to at least one “Date Night” once a week. With our crazy hectic schedules this is a great way for us to refresh and catch up. We absolutely cherish this time together.

Last week we went to a nationally known chain restaurant to enjoy a bottle of wine and a nice dinner. The place was slow and we were seated immediately in a nice cozy booth – our visit was off to a great start. Our server showed up almost instantly and it went downhill from there.

Our server named Wes (I think that’s his stage name) had not learned that there is an inside voice and an outside voice. Throughout the visit he used the latter. It seemed rather obvious to me that we were involved in a quiet conversation which didn’t seem to matter much to Big Wes. He was going to serve us his way regardless of the situation.

It began with him sharing his somewhat sketchy knowledge of the wine list. Susan and I settled on a nice medium-priced Merlot. Wes informed us that we made a good choice but he recommended a lower priced option which he claimed had a smoother finish. (A dead giveaway they were trying to deplete some inventory). We thanked him for his recommendation but told him we still preferred the wine we selected. He walked off and reappeared almost instantly with a couple of small glasses of wine and no bottle. He then told us that there was some of the brand X he was trying to sell left in a bottle and thought we might like to try it. If it wasn’t free and it wasn’t wine I would’ve refused to taste it but we did and predictably it wasn’t very good. We told our boy Wes, thanks but no thanks. We are way too nice!

Wes went back to the bar and got us the wine we wanted in the first place and from that point forward he was on our table like a “moth on a polyester suit”, outside voice and all. Don’t get me wrong I’m all about attentive service however it’s important for servers to make adjustments based on the situation.

Overall the experience wasn’t horrible. The food was good (hot and fresh) and we never had to wait for anything because Wes was on top of us the entire time. On a different day this may have been okay. But on this particular night, a little softer approach would have been more appropriate.

Servers must be trained to adjust their styles based on the situation. A loud in your face approach may work with a foursome of guys stopping by after a game of golf but a different demeanor would have worked better in our situation.

We want our service people to be themselves and allow their personalities to shine, however it’s important for them to understand how their behaviors affect the guests. It would have been real easy for Wes to realize that we were there to converse with each other, not to be interrupted to taste some cheap wine we didn’t want in the first place.

Great servers have the ability to adjust their styles based on the guests’ needs. If you are running a restaurant or you are responsible for training make sure you spend as much time as necessary teaching these important fundamentals of great service.

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Tags: customer, revolution, service, talent, training


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Comment by Bill Campion on January 28, 2010 at 9:00am
Paul - You are absolutely right. I like the dancing analogy. It all comes back to investing the time and money for training and of course hiring the right people. My question is who is doing a great job with this? Who is truly differentiating their service by teaching servers the fine details then holding them accountable for these behaviors? I'm dying to know your thoughts.

Comment by Paul Paz on January 27, 2010 at 9:43pm
Waiting tables is like dancing... the guest leads and we follow!
No enough attention is given in training service staff on soft-skills.
Its paying attention to the nonverbal cues and prompts that customers display very consistiently to commuicate a need or asence of service.
For example, several looks at their watch: time is an issue.
Stacking menus at the end of the table: urgent display of need to order NOW!
Water consumed quickly: they are thirsty so prepare for refills or bring an extra glass of water.
Spinning heads: somebody talk to me!!
Customers leaning into eachother in conversation: don;t interrupt me!
And so on.
Comment by Michael Biesemeyer on January 27, 2010 at 3:43pm
Don't forget Open Table comments...those are also a great resource for guest feedback.
Comment by Jeffrey J Kingman on January 27, 2010 at 3:04pm

I have been reading many Yelp comments here in Portland OR. I highly recommend servers spend five minutes a day to read these notes from the field, from the guest perspective. I also think managers could do some effective training using such material.

Great post and suggestion.
Comment by Terri Hitchcock on January 27, 2010 at 7:02am
Perfect post Bill. Perfect.




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