by Paul C. Paz –
Seasoned Views Magazine August 2002.

"The taste of the roast is often determined by the welcome of the host."

- Ben Franklin

Each dining event starts with a welcome to the establishment by a host. It may be the counter person at a quick service restaurant, the restaurant owner, the waiter, a formal greeter or a cashier. Regardless of who sees the guest first... the employee offering the welcome will have the immediate impact on the guest sizing up your operation.

These first few seconds of initial service interaction has the same impact as a job interview for an applicant. During the guest's first impressions they may formulate a preconceived impression of what the rest of their experience is going to be or even decide in that instant whether or not to continue doing business with you in the future!

The importance of front door dynamics are too often overlooked and as a result new relationships with your guests began as a rocky uphill struggle. It's difficult for customers to appreciate an operation's sincere invitation to visit while observing an empty lobby or dining room only to be told; "We're on a wait." Logically... why a wait when available seating is in full view? Maybe more restaurants should put a neon sign out front to make things easier: Go away... We're too busy to serve you! That's probably cheaper than buying advertisement to get customers to come visit in the first place only to have staff greeters persuade them not to come back because they didn't feel welcomed. While there are events beyond a facility's control that can inconvenience the customer, it is a reasonable expectation to be seated immediately if there are empty tables visible.

South African authors of Juiced, Arthur Gillis and Mike Lipkin, have this remarkable quote: "The ultimate irony: what we (customers) want more than anything else is for the people who serve us to take our stress away. And yet, the people who serve us cause us the most stress!" (

Customers are not responsible for how your place is organized or operated. All too often harried, inexperienced or poorly trained staff and managers ignore or misinform the customer. Ironically, they many times take out their frustration on customers for having reasonable expectations. It's the customer's fault that the staff was busy! And the staff has no problem conveying to the diner... you are a problem... you're NOT WELCOME! Boy, the customer had their nerve coming in here hungry... thirsty and expecting to be seated right away!

Erika Fratzke, hostess for El Gaucho, Portland, says, "If customers feel jilted or neglected upon entering the premises they might anticipate the same disappointing level of service from the rest of the staff".

Then customers might unconsciously assume an opinion causing them to search for examples to affirm their "I told you so" anxieties. That leads to each succeeding staff member engaging him or her to contend with an already disgruntled guest.

What's even more unsettling for guests is to be ignored by staff right in front of them as they enter a business. Vicki Sanborn, owner of Brews Bros., Colville, Wash., believes that eye contact is key at the front door. Located in northeastern Washington the town's population of 6,000, along with travelers on their way to Canada, compose the guest potential for the 40-seat café and deli. Vicki says, "A friendly smile of acknowledgement and hospitable eye contact are essential to greeting customers and making them feel welcomed no matter if you're a fancy restaurant in the big city or serving you neighbors and friends in Colville. Even my delivery person, Tammy Brozik, who delivers take out lunches to local businesses, knows that when delivering to a business or answering the telephone she has to put sparkle in her voice and eye contact no matter how big a hurry she may be in".

Cindy Byrd, Assistant Director of Operations for Holland/Burgerville USA, Vancouver, Wash., aims for an initial greeting of customers within five-seconds as part of the training for managers and staff at 39 QSR units located in Washington and Oregon. Great emphasis is placed on the nonverbal skills of projecting a sense of hospitality in the eyes, facial expressions, gestures and body language. Interestingly, she has an opposite position from the common complaint about hiring young employees who have little or no work experience, "Those new to the work environment are easier to train into the Holland/Burgerville USA customer service culture. They are more receptive to our coaching and directions as they have not yet developed negative service and communication attitudes or habits." Byrd appreciates the potential of these new employees as they bring a blank slate work ethic and skill level to their organization that is easier to shape and mold to Holland/Burgerville USA standards of performance.

Kara Lyons, lead hostess at the 320-seat Stanford's Restaurant & Bar, Lake Oswego, Ore. says, "Our host staff greeted over 430,000 guests in 2001. At times guests are arriving so fast it feels like passengers lining up to board a Boeing 757 preparing for departure! It can seem chaotic but I focus on the guests first and delegate to the other staff to play interference for phones calls, deliveries and guests looking for the restrooms." Lyons is well known among Stanford's regulars as she greets most by name and routinely inquires about their families and work. She has that "gift of gab" and can hover over guests seemingly to protect them from the din and edgy buzz of the restaurant rush hour. That's a knack so essential to relaxing the guests and putting them at ease."

With hotel environments, front door dynamics takes on a heightened significance. All staff members become greeting ambassadors. Whether a guest is seeking the hotel's dining facilities, the location of a banquet event or looking for the concierge, guest ease and comfort is paramount.

"The hotel shuttle driver, desk clerk or doorman many times are the first hospitality ambassadors for the hotel," says Armen Yousoufian, Managing General Partner of the University Plaza Hotel, Seattle. "Greeting guests should be an automatic reflex especially when staff observes guests displaying that 'I'm not sure where I'm at or where to go' look about them. It's the same reception and service sequence of getting folks settled in and comfortable as one would give a guest in your home." Yousoufian adds, "Plus there is the new dimension of house security especially since the 9/11 tragedy. Private individuals as well as visiting officials and dignitaries are entitled to adequate security. This is of greater concern than ever before. "

No one can be perfect. Glitches go with the territory. But if it's a regular occurrence and there is no leadership, by any staff, to meet reasonable customer expectations ... then it's the customers' tough luck.

Emergencies do arise in this business, but the best hosts and hostesses maintain that "grace under pressure" is their common goal. Customers should not be blamed that an oven broke down, that a waiter or cook was a no show, that the supervisor didn't set staff on-times correctly, or that lead staff member was hiding in the office instead of offering leadership at the front.

Remember customers have a choice and can go off to your competitor for a friendly, hospitable greeting while your organization tries to figure out what to do. In the meantime you may be facing an empty lobby, tables and guestrooms. It is those first few seconds of initial service that cements your relationship with your guests.

Front Door Facts
In the USA 858,000 locations will serve more than 54 billion meals in restaurants, school and work cafeterias in 2002 according to the National Restaurant Association. A guest's first encounter with your staff can make or break their experience and will help them in determining if return business is warranted.

Common Front Door Errors
Rob Gage, Director of Training for Pacific Coasts Restaurants, Inc., Portland, Ore. oversees all their training programs including that used by restaurateurs including Kara Lyon at Stanford's Restaurant & Bar, Lake Oswego.

He recently held a conference with the lead host staff from several Stanford's units to raise the bar on customer service at the front door. Resulting from that session he developed the "Eleven Deadly Sins: a guide of common host mistakes." Gage generously shares them with Seasoned Views:

The Eleven Deadly Sins For Hosts

1. Not stopping a conversation when the guest arrives.
2. Having your backside facing an incoming guest.
3. Stuck on the phone, alone up front when a guest arrives, but not acknowledging them.
4. Guests having a wait with open tables visible.
5. Missing the seven-second optimal time greeting.
6. An unattended front lobby or greeting station.
7. Not opening the door for arriving/departing guests.
8. Not saying good-bye or thank you.
9. Regulars not getting special treatment or attention.
10. Greeters and seaters standing still, waiting to be told what to do.
11. Debating in front of a guest with another person, or on the phone.

Originally posted with permission:

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  • Acknowledgment; that's what guests are looking for and often are not receiving. If only this industry could distill all its training efforts down to a few simple, universal concepts, how much better could we all be?

    Physical context: sense the all times. Your ability to act on their cues determines everything.
    Emotional context: to the best of your ability, place yourself in the guest's seat , and imagine the effect that each of your actions/choices/gestures have on their experience. Practice extreme empathy.
    Mental context: bring together all of your training, experience, food/wine knowledge, etc. into the moment and share that with your guests in ways that are both creative and appropriate.
    Spiritual context: approach service as an opportunity to develop a spiritual skill set (patience, empathy, exuberance, passion, kindness) in one of the most challenging work environments you could possibly find.
  • Man, this is great list. It irritates me to no end when I see open tables and have to wait. However, I've learned a really neat trick as a guest. We ask to sit in the bar area. Bar side of the restaurant typically give much better service (IMO).
  • Paul,

    I can remember when we didn't have to remind people of these "Eleven Deadly Sins". Did you see the NBC show last week featuring Uncle Jack's, if you did this list would be the "12 Deadly Sins". Great stuff!
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