One of the most valuable skills of an exceptional server is the ability to create regulars. Having a core of customers that come into your restaurant and ask for you can insulate you against the slower times of the year. It also can make you look outstanding to the managers and hosts that frequently hear you requested. Most servers mistakenly view this as something that happens naturally. In reality, specific techniques can be employed to increase the likelihood that a guest will ask for you to be their server on their next visit.
The key to creating regulars is to provide them with an experience that they feel is superior to taking their chances with a random server. There are a number of ways to do this. It is important to try to give every guest the best experience possible. This puts you in the best position to develop a regular. There are additional steps you can take to increase the chances of creating your next regular or call party.
Here are some techniques to keep in mind in order to turn a random table into your regulars:
Stand Out: I often refer back to the third rule of serving, but it is because its importance cannot be overstated. You cannot build regulars as a generic server. You must be distinct and have something to offer than most servers do not. I spent a number of years trying to look like a generic server. Premature grey soon added a bit of character. I eventually embraced this concept and developed a style. The slightly messy grey bed head that I sport is thoroughly thought out. It intentionally does not match my service style. For those who judge on such things it lowers expectations to the level that I will smash them to pieces. It stands opposite of my demeanor and creates the perception of personality long before any is shown. It also leads to guests frequently asking for “that server with the messy grey hair.”
In addition to appearance, you should have a distinctive shtick. Mine is simple. I know more about seafood and steaks than any human being really should. I know the stories, origins, and trivial facts about the items on the menu and walls. This leaves the guest with no doubt that they are in the hands of a professional. Your schtick may be different. I have a coworker from the northeast that has developed a tremendous number of regulars in a very short period of time. His accent and service style (which I would define as “professionally pushy”) are a stark contrast to the other servers in the building. Your shtick should not be the same as someone else’s, but it should be memorable.
Ask Them To Ask: The number one mistake most servers make that prevents guests from becoming regulars is failing to ask them to request you. Many guests do not know this is appropriate and worry about insulting other servers. Asking them to request you gives them permission and is often a relief to guests. When I feel I have developed sufficient rapport with a table for them to become a regular, I will say, “You all really have been a pleasure and I would be happy to serve you next time you come in if you would like.” If you work at a restaurant that uses a computerized reservation system, you can even let them know they can have the host add you as their preferred server on their guest profile.
Other ways to encourage them to ask for you is to repeat your name at the end at the meal. This will help reinforce the memory. I will often write my name on the back of my boss’ business card. I find this is superior to having my own cards because it also creates the potential for them to send my boss a flattering note about me. Another trick that produces surprising results is to be in the lobby to wish your guests goodbye again. This forms a memory of you in the location you hope they will ask for you on their next visit.
Do Your Part: Part of the expectations a guest has when they ask for you is that you will remember them on their next visit. This is natural since they extended the effort to remember to ask for you. The difficulty is that you have waited on hundreds of guests since. Try to keep a few basic notes in your computerized reservations system if you can. If this is not an option, it might be worth taking some notes on your phone or a notebook kept at restaurant to jog your memory. Additionally, if they are not sitting in your section on the next visit, you can pass along these notes to another server. You should also stop by during their visit and thank them for coming in. If the guest shows any sign of guilt for not requesting you, explain that your section is pretty full, but that you would be hope to get to serve them on their next visit.
Creating a pool of regulars is vital to supplementing you income during slow times. It also is very helpful in improving your perception amongst those you work with. The key is to provide an experience that is memorable and distinct. Guests will request you based on the expectation that their meal will be better with your server. Meeting this expectation will not only help you, but help the restaurant as well.
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