A Bit of Publicity and the Response

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For those of you who missed it, this blog was written up in the local alternative weekly paper.  If you want to check out the story (or just find a really cheesy waiter pic of me), click here.  I do feel it necessary to point out that I am far more humble than the article and perhaps this whole blog may make me come across.  With that disclaimer, onto the topic at hand.

After I did the interview, I really put a lot of thought into what I would want as the first story on the homepage when it came out.  I wanted something that would appeal to servers and to guests.  I wrote up a manifesto of sorts proposing a truce in the elevating hostilities between servers and guests.  I showed it to some family members and they all thought it was a bit cynical.  They disputed that there was really this unspoken tension between servers and guests.

The article came out and I don’t think they can deny it anymore.  The comments after the story prove my point pretty effectively.  There is a great deal of hostility towards servers.  You will notice in reading these comments that most of them deal specifically with the actions servers are trained to do.  The training manuals of most every corporate restaurant tell people to do the exact things the commenters are complaining about.  They complain about the topic while proving the point that restaurant companies need to fundamentally change the way they train their employees.  Teaching methods that repel guests, making them mandatory, and then sending in secret shoppers to spy on the staff is what created this tension.

Without further ado, lets look at some of the comments:

Faith says:

“Ok, I get where he’s coming from. But I think that you can’t train someone to be a server, really. Someone is either good at it, or they suck at it. Period. No in between. Being a server is hard work, no doubt. But if you’re meant to be a server, the training comes naturally, IMO.”

 

This one really boggled me.  Take a second and replace the word “server” with “doctor”, “lawyer”, or any other profession.  I think we all bring certain skills into any job, but even Tiger Woods didn’t pick up a golf club for the first time and drive the ball 300 yards.  Michael Jordan didn’t pick up a basketball and dunk it.  Serving is a skill.  Think of how many things you do on a daily basis that you couldn’t have done on your first day.  Each of these things can be done well or poorly.  Practice and training are what makes someone good.

Jjskck says:

“I certainly agree with that assessment, Faith. I think he’s aiming at taking those who have the personality and aptitude to be good at (and maybe even make a living at it) and give them some tips that could make them a few extra bucks. I’ve had plenty of good, pleasant, competent servers who do a great job on the service part, but don’t do much in the way of suggesting anything (the “upsell”).

In other words, they certainly get a good % tip from me, but it’s a good % of a smaller amount than they could have had if they sold me that “unbelievable” dessert or au poivre sauce on the side.”

 

I truly hate the word “upsell.”  Upsell was not a server term.  It is a term used by corporations to demonstrate why selling is good for the server.  You will not find the term “upsell” anywhere in this blog.  Rule number five states: “Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours.”  Upselling to increase the check is part of the reason for this hostility.  I advocate selling things only to the extent that they will make your guests’ experience more enjoyable.  It does take sales to convince someone to get a nicer bottle of wine or a more expensive entrée.  This should only be done to improve their dining experience, not to raise the bill or the tip.

William says:

“jjskck, I guess you must prefer people puckering up and kissing your ass. I used to serve and I would serve my tables the way I liked to be served.

“Upselling” is something I never did, unless it was sincere. Most people can smell bullshit a mile away, no matter how you spin it.

Servers should make themselves available and be competent, I don’t need some stranger putting on a show for my own personal entertainment. If I wanted a show I’d go to the movies.”

 

I don’t think he caught the irony of his response.  I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt as an available and competent server.  What kind of tip do you think he would get from the previous commenter?  I think the height of server egotism is to say that you are going to give tables the dining experience you would want.  You have to give your guests the dining experience they want.  A server is there for the guest.  There is no one size fits all way to wait tables.  Each table is different and whether you treat them all the way the training manual says or the way you would want to be served, you will alienate guests.  Learning to read your tables is the key, not a generic approach that annoys as often as it impresses.

freps says:

“I do not care what my server likes. I do not care what my server’s name is. I do not care what his or her favorite dessert is. I do not want to be asked if I have been to the restaurant before. I am literate. I will read the menu. This guy is my worst nightmare.”

 

I don’t think I have ever been called someone’s worst nightmare.  I think I am going to take that as a compliment.  Makes me sound like some sort of super villain.  Unfortunately, it is actually untrue.  Does anyone who actually has waited a table think that a server came up with the idea for most of these things?  I hate the idea of asking if someone has been to the restaurant before more than he does.  He might get asked it once a week, but I had to deal with the hostility from guests it annoys several times a night. He doesn’t like hearing it and I didn’t like saying it.

I trust that my guests are literate.  I also trust that they have not tasted every item on the menu.  I have.  I also trust that they don’t know that the grill cook called in sick so a new guy is working the grill.  I do.  I also trust that they don’t know when the fish comes in fresh.  I do.  I also trust that they don’t know when the menu makes something sound far better than it is.  I do.  I understand not wanting to be sold something.  We are inundated with marketing and carefully crafted descriptions of items we are supposed to buy.  I always ask if guests want recommendations.  If not, I will leave them alone with the menu written by people in marketing full of carefully crafted descriptions of what they are supposed to buy.

While there is a certain tongue in cheek factor in this post, I think the message is clear.  We need to change the way servers are trained.  Over the last fifteen years in this business I have seen corporate training manuals tell servers to do the exact things that these guests are complaining about.  I have been on the front line fearing a secret shopper and facing the eye rolls of guests as I go through the corporate script.  Guests are hip to the script and they are tired of it.  We as individual servers did not create this hostility we face, but we must do something about it.

We as servers must step up our game.  We must evolve.  We must take into account all the servers doing things that annoy our guests and adopt better methods to overcome their hostility.  We cannot make people better guests.  The change must come from us.  The challenge is there, but so is the silver lining.  There has never been a better opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack.  We know what most servers are doing wrong and we must work on a way to stand out by doing it better.

Congrats on making it through the longest post in the history of this blog.  If you want to leave a comment in reply to these commenters, you can always click here.  Also feel free to join in an already lively conversation regarding taking kids out to eat by clicking the colorful words that preceded these.

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8 Responses to A Bit of Publicity and the Response

  1. yellowcat May 17, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    A question that always makes me cringe is, “What’s good?” I would really like to have a good response because I believe everything is good or I wouldn’t work where I do. Also, I am allergic to beef so I am not going to recommend any of the beef dishes since I don’t like to recommend something I’ve never eaten. And judging by my co-workers’ shudders, I do weird things with food so what I think is good, the customer might think is disgusting.

    I do not believe in “upselling” because most of the time it’s a lot more work for a very small return. Nothing puts me in the weeds faster than someone ordering dessert. For the extra 50 cents I make off that ticket, I’m losing dollars from the other tables who aren’t getting served because I’m elbow deep in ice cream and chocolate syrup. Asking if a customer wants cheese on their hamburger is one thing; offering something that is going to take me 5 minutes to make is another thing entirely.

  2. yellowcat May 17, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    A question that always makes me cringe is, “What’s good?” I would really like to have a good response because I believe everything is good or I wouldn’t work where I do. Also, I am allergic to beef so I am not going to recommend any of the beef dishes since I don’t like to recommend something I’ve never eaten. And judging by my co-workers’ shudders, I do weird things with food so what I think is good, the customer might think is disgusting.

    I do not believe in “upselling” because most of the time it’s a lot more work for a very small return. Nothing puts me in the weeds faster than someone ordering dessert. For the extra 50 cents I make off that ticket, I’m losing dollars from the other tables who aren’t getting served because I’m elbow deep in ice cream and chocolate syrup. Asking if a customer wants cheese on their hamburger is one thing; offering something that is going to take me 5 minutes to make is another thing entirely.

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