4 Tactics to Encourage Top-Flight Service

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Happy and engaged employees naturally provide good service. Learn some ways you can create an environment that helps servers keep your customers pleased.
Female server carrying tray with food
©iStockphoto.com/Susan Chiang

Just like beauty is more than just skin deep, good service is about more than just refilling water glasses and making eye contact with customers at the counter. These standards can be trained, but truly good service comes from within. It’s given by employees who enjoy their jobs, respect their employers, and feel that they are doing something meaningful.

There are a variety of tactics that can be used to build this kind of service culture:

  1. Use pre- or post-shift meals as team builders. Many food service operators provide free meals, whether individually or as a “family meal,” and most employees consider this meal a valuable perk. But meals also represent an opportunity to sponsor team spirit as well as to train staff.

  • Sample or serve the night’s or week’s specials to familiarize service staff with what’s on offer

  • Utilize the staff as a built-in focus group to sample and gather feedback on proposed new menu items, or to do a post-mortem on the day’s service

  • Encourage staff to share favorite recipes that can be prepared as family meal

  • Acknowledge that sitting down to share a meal together is an excellent opportunity for crew members to bond with each other

  • Even if a group meal isn’t possible, allowing employees to order off the menu by rotation—and maybe even sit in the dining room and be served as a guest—gives them an invaluable opportunity to understand the customer experience

Try This: Make staff meals more fun by giving employees the same customization options that are offered to customers, like a mac-and-cheese bar with toppings, or an Action Station with sandwiches or other favorite foods made to order. This also helps allow for crew members’ specific dietary needs.

  1. Seek ways to maintain staff engagement. Staff will be happier, and they’ll give better service if they know management’s goals and are encouraged to share them. Identify and measure every touchpoint where customers interact with your employees. Specify what poor, mediocre, and exceptional service looks like at each of those points

  • Always be open to suggestions. Even new hires can offer perspective on other places they’ve worked, while seasoned crew members are in the trenches every day and may have all sorts of ideas for improvement. Millennials, in particular, want to problem-solve as a team

  • Encourage mentorship by pairing experienced staffers with newcomers in training and ongoing development, to encourage a sense of pride and belonging

  • Involve employees in decision-making about new menu items, hours of service, promotions, and so on. They may have thought of something you haven’t

  • Implement a job referral program where staff can be rewarded for introducing friends and family as prospective new employees

  • Consider cross-training so that employees know they can learn new skills and grow in their careers

  • Likewise, offer learning opportunities such as conference attendance, special classes, wine tastings, and the like

Did You Know? Applebee’s franchisee RMH Franchise uses a custom gamification program to keep its employees motivated and challenged, while at the same time building sales and decreasing turnover. This has also resulted in improved customer service ratings.

  1. Help prevent burnout. It’s no secret that food service work can be grueling, both physically (being on your feet for hours at a stretch) and emotionally (the stress of busy service periods).

  • Keep schedules flexible by allowing people to trade shifts, paying attention to time-off requests, accommodating availability, and other tactics

  • Watch for signs of exhaustion, drug use, personal problems, and other indications of burnout. Implement a no-judgment, open-door policy when it comes to discussing issues with crew members

  • Don’t let people work when they’re sick; it’s bad for them, and it’s also bad for customers and co-workers

  • Make sure employees have the tools they need, whether it’s a new piece of equipment to replace the old, poorly functioning one, or enough ice to stock the bar

  • Don’t run shifts so lean that people can’t do their jobs. Having too many tables or only one person on the broiler will stress out the crew and result in a compromised experience for guests

Did You Know? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, full-time employees (as opposed to part-timers) can improve customer service, boost sales, and drive down turnover and training costs.

  1. Say thank you, and mean it. Don’t be the boss who’s quick to correct and criticize, but slow to say “You did a great job today” or “It was really smart of you to handle that problem the way you did.” Saying thank you is the same as saying “you matter.”

  • If possible, give the whole crew a day off and treat them to a summer picnic, holiday party, brewery tour, or other fun activity

  • Tie sales promotions to rewards and prizes, from good ol’ cash to merchandise like t-shirts, event tickets, or a gift certificate

Tip: Use Foodservice Rewards® points to buy prizes for individual employees, or to get something for the whole crew, like a new TV for the break room.

  • Remember that Employee of the Month programs are tried-and-true for a reason

  • Work with local restaurants—or other locations within your own company—so respective staff can check out each other’s menus and hospitality