The weekend is upon us. Friday and Saturday nights get busy and take a lot out of us. The pace is faster, the side stations are more crowded, and all of the saucers in the restaurant seem to hide. The guests do not seem to understand any of this and have far less patience. This leads to frustration on our part and the feeling of a battle. A normally nice restaurant turns into a fortress. The staff fortifies as an army defending against the invading hordes. Trying to get them fed so they will retreat. The evening ends with the restaurant looking like a battlefield. We gather our wounded at the end of the night and plan our invasion of someplace that stays open later than our restaurant does.
Friday and Saturday nights are called “amateur hour” because the guests are less restaurant savvy. They are not as aware of the burdens they place on us by all deciding to come out to eat on the same night. They are less patient, less informed, and less generous. We wish for one moment they could step in our shoes and know our struggles. Yet, how often do we extend them the same courtesy? Take a couple minutes to watch this video before answering.
I first saw this video on the Crazy Waiter blog and it really made me stop and think. I truly believe that people are not evil. Most of them do not make the reservation hoping to have the opportunity to make us miserable. They come into our restaurants to get away from the problems they face in their lives. Our workplace is where they go to escape.
This presents us not only with a challenge, but also an opportunity. We have the chance to make a difference in our guests’ days. We have an opportunity to interact with people in the way most jobs never allow. For an hour, or several hours depending on the type of restaurant, we are linked to our guests. It is up to us how we use that time. It takes two to tango and it takes two to fight. We cannot control their attitude, but we can control how we respond to it.
We can make a difference. I know it sounds cliché. It is repeated so often because it is true. How you interact with a guest can change the rest of their evening. The key is to attempt to make a difference. I received a link in my email this week from my mother that I think demonstrates this point very well. It is only a couple minutes long, but I think they are well spent.
The key to this story is not that Johnny tried to follow a corporate mandate. He was not trying to get better tips. There was nothing self-serving about his thought of the day. He just wanted to do his part to make people happy. It was a simple gesture that produced impressive results.
Obviously I am not suggesting slipping a “thought of the day” in your check presenters. Instead I am advocating taking the time to find a way to make things better. Servers have far more interaction with guests than a bagger would. We have the opportunity to make a bigger difference because we have the chance to know more about our guests. They will drop hints about their special occasions or why they are dining out that night. Make their celebrations special even if they are just celebrating having a baby sitter.
Making a difference doesn’t start with trying to get a bigger tip. It starts with trying to make your guest’s dinner more special. It begins with not taking a table off. A good friend of mine, an exceptional waiter named Jeff, works at a local country club. He has for a few years and he told me something the other night that resonated with me. He said, “Most of our guests are older. For some of them it will be the last time they get to have a nice dinner with their friends. You can’t screw up that meal.”
The strange part is that the more you focus on improving your guests’ experiences, the smoother your night goes. Earlier this week I finally posted something I wrote about having a good night as a server. The difference between that night and most others was not that I tried harder, made more money, or had friendlier guests. All of those were true, but they were not the key ingredients. The key was that I was making people happy. I was able to make a difference in their evening. Regardless of all of the other things that happened because of it, I had a great night.
Focusing on the guests and making a difference is the easiest way to improve your night. The weekend will be busy. It will be filled with stresses you would rather not deal with. Instead of focusing on those stresses, focus on the guests. You cannot make those saucers stop disappearing, but you can make the night memorable for more than your search for them. Find a way to make difference in their night and yours will improve dramatically.
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