Service Nightmares: A Wake-up Call

Pop culture often mocks or exaggerates the behind-the-scenes frustrations faced by foodservice employees — and their reactions. From the 2005 film Waiting to MADTvs Bon Qui Qui, the exaggerations can be humorous to some and frustrating to others in the foodservice business.

But what happens when real service-horror stories hit the web and go viral?

The photo accompanying this blog has popped up in several places online. It was supposedly submitted to a website by an “anonymous bystander at a lunch counter in Oregon Caves National Park."

I’d like to point out, not only did this diner reach a level of frustration that drove this action — but our vigilante condiment-artist was left alone long enough to use both ketchup and mustard in a three line message. Where was the waitstaff?

Luckily for the owners, I haven’t seen any establishment’s name officially tied to the photo. Imagine the nightmare of your restaurant being the subject of such an Internet meme — especially when there are easy ways to avoid this situation.

For service-industry businesses, like restaurants, customer service can create raving fans or ranting critics. This makes hiring the right talent to ensure great customer service essential. One of the quickest ways to hire the best people is to pre-screen applicants with hiring assessments.

Assessments are tools that predict future job performance. This is based on three kinds of information: what candidates have done, what they can do and what they want to do. Screening applicants saves time, identifies characteristics crucial to success and generates a significant return on investment.

Hiring based on resumes alone brings up difficult judgment questions. Is this person dependable? Does this person share our business values? Will he or she steal? Assessments take the guess work out of answering these questions. They also help identify people with a service-mindset before they interact with customers.

Research by a leading assessments provider in the service industry space found that hiring assessments detect candidates who are:
• 18 times more likely to assist coworkers who need help
• 14 times more likely to go above and beyond whenever possible
• 9 times more likely to be consistently friendly
• 5 times more likely to remain upbeat

Feedback I’ve received on assessments from people in the restaurant business is incredibly positive. Scott Wise, CEO and founder of a Pots and Pans Production, once shared that, “What we’ve found using [a talent management solution] is a significant amount of decrease in the turnover by just allowing someone to be screened out of the application process by getting red flagged in the assessment.”

While in this case, Scott calls attention to lower turnover, studies indicate that the use of the management and hourly hiring assessments improves the experiences of key audiences, such as managers, employees and customers.

A case study held by one assessment provider showed that restaurants using hiring assessments saw customer loyalty improve by 19 percent. The locations that screened actually out-performed all other company units combined on customer experience surveys.

Reduce the risk of your restaurant being the subject of a viral photo or other service nightmare by hiring the right people. To improve employee performance and satisfaction, you need a team of people who believe in your company and have the right skills to succeed in foodservice.  Assessments are proven to help your retention rates and increase customer satisfaction. The end result is a happier workplace, strong customer loyalty and no service nightmares.

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  • Its been my experience that many times the problem with bad service does not usually stem from the staff. Often times it is the service delivery systems that are to blame. There are a number of restaurant owners who have pieced together lots of good ideas they have seen work elsewhere and then plug in to a physical layout they use. Often, a system may work well because, in the original setting, the bar or a dining room table is in close proximity to say, the kitchen. The original staff, with fewer steps to a service area could easily get back to a customer efficiently and quickly. But in the new layout a good idea seen elsewhere may not work so well. I was once charged with improving speed of service in a hotel dining room. From both watching the staff and asking for feedback I determined that simply adding a small booth in the far end of the dining room as a place for water pitchers, set-ups, extra condiments,dirty dishes, etc, the station would cut the steps down for the dining staff running all the way back to the kitchen allowing more "face time" between servers and guests. The Hotel Manager also could not understand that something as simple as a palm branch invading the "personal space" of a diner is also a negative and I was further chastised for moving it with the rational that "we have a contract with the foliage service !" Sometimes it is the systems that are wrong, not the staff. Perhaps the over-inflated egos of management, unwilling to consider they have made errors in designing the service flow, should look more closely at WHY service is slow instead of WHO is being slow.   

  • I kinda call shenanigans on that picture. It's a countertop, not a table.

  • I agree with you, Patti. We do need to change the public perception. To effectively do so, we need to change the way employers and employees interact in the workplace. My company has this as our mission and together with others who believe the same way, we will achieve that goal.

  • Great article that touches on the importance of a good waitstaff.

    We really have no idea what actually happened in that diner and it's curious that from the photo, it looks like they were sitting at the corner of the counter. How could they not be seen? Puzzling.

    I have been away from this site and maybe have missed out on many articles, but the fact that this photo made it around the internet, again shows how large the audience is in the food service community. We need to get the messages out that are different from what has been shown in "Waiting" or "Waiter Rant" both of which are not positive images. Not saying anything about the quality of the works, rather the content.

    Maybe the industry will draw the desired employees when the industry as a whole is respected and that hasn't happened yet as far as the FOH is concerned. Anyone can be a server right? At least that's what the public believes. We need to change that!

  • Hey Nate, thanks for your response! At PeopleMatter seems like a great service and I'm going to look more into it to learn more. 

  • Michael, thanks for your feedback and thoughts. You comment that the “right team can improve customer loyalty” but that “it's [not] enough for a restaurant to just do that.” I would say that hiring the right people — and not just in a FOH capacity, but everywhere in the company — is the first step to solving most businesses’ problems. If restaurant owners hire the right leaders, finance team, kitchen staff, brand developers, etc., then the restaurant is better positioned to succeed. Your people are your greatest resource. While in this blog post I focused on the service role, hiring assessments can help identify key talent throughout an organization.

    I completely believe that customer feedback plays an important role in the success and development of a restaurant. If restaurants aren’t listening to what diners say — both in direct feedback and by monitoring online conversation — then they are choosing to ignore a key information source. Customer feedback is one of the ways a business owner knows if his or her practices are successful or not.

    There are companies that offer individual solutions to solve some of these issues. At PeopleMatter, we tie it all together. Our mission is “to change the way employers, employees and customers interact in the workplace and make it better.” Check out our website where you can see demos of the Platform in action.

  • Hey Nate - great post! Really good servers is one of the hardest things for restaurants to find and one of the most important. If the service is bad, the customer experience suffers, followed by the restaurants reputation, and ultimately their profits. I like how you incorporate the case study in the post - very insightful. I completely agree that the right team can improve customer loyalty but I not convinced it's enough for a restaurant to just do that. While service is of huge importance for a restaurant, here are several other things that contribute to the customer experience that an owner may or may not be aware of unless they get honest customer feedback such as issues dealing with food, ambiance, menu items, and the overall personal connection a patron has with a restaurant. How do you think these items compare? Also, let's say a restaurant wants to start employing a hiring assessment methodology - it will be a while for this to have an impact on the location's workforce since they can't just swap out half of their employees. How can a restaurant identify problems with their current service in the short term to improve - do you think customer feedback collection plays a role?

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