Serving The Conventioneer


All of these people are really thinking about where to eat dinner.

After all the years I have spent in this business, I thought I had encountered most every type of guest. Working for over 13 companies in restaurants around the country had left me confident of this. My current job proved me wrong. My restaurant is located just blocks from the convention center. This has resulted in gaining a great deal of experience serving the attendees of different convention. It has also led me to the conclusion that serving this type of guest presents a unique challenge to servers.

The fundamentals of serving these guests are not significantly different than other guests. They have the same expectations as any other guest that dines at a restaurant. This blog is all about going beyond these fundamentals to provide the exceptional service that yields larger tips. This group’s expectations differ from other guests you might serve during the course of an evening. Understanding the unique nature of the group and how to offer them the additional services they seek will provide you with the ability to maximize your tips and maybe even exchange contact information through a digital business card.

The basics of this group should be familiar for those that serve business diners often. They are in from out of town and dining with a set of people they vaguely know. The difference is that roles are more distinctly defined in a business community. A group of business people will have an established hierarchy or archetype and will also have a discussion regularly to note the progress of the business. It could be a boss taking out those who work for them or a client being entertained by a supplier. Convention attendees are more often peers. They may know the other people at the table by reputation or have met them at previous conventions, but the hierarchy is far less defined.

This leads to a phenomenon that occurs is easily recognized for anyone who watches nature shows. There will be those who try to establish themselves as the alpha male or the queen bee. Be aware of this, but do not be fooled by it. With business diners this will generally give you the indication of who is picking up the tab and thus who to cater to. If you take this approach with a convention group, you only feed into the battle for dominance by giving the desired response. This in turn leads to others trying the same approach. Avoid feeding into this and establish early on if you need separate checks or if one person will be picking up the tab. Treat all of the guests the same, but defer to the person who is taking the check. This person often will not compete for dominance because their role is established by filling out the tip line.

One of your biggest assets in serving convention attendees is familiarity with your city. The one common trait shared by these attendees is being from someplace else. This will provide you with the ability to go above and beyond the service you provide during the meal by being able to recommend other restaurants, bars, and attractions. Being able to share a bit of trivia about your city will also impress them. Ask them how long they will be in town for and what they hope to do when not at the convention. This will start a conversation that allows you to highlight some other places they might enjoy. Have enough options in your referral repertoire to be able to recommend places that are suited to them. You probably shouldn’t send a group from a religious convention to a strip club or a bunch of drunken businessmen to a church.

Once you have established rapport with the guests and given them recommendation about where to eat tomorrow night, it is safe to ask them for something in return. You want to ask for two things. This is how I phrase this request at the end of the meal.

“I appreciate everyone coming in tonight and hope you enjoy your time in Kansas City. I was hoping you could help me out a bit. Tomorrow night when you go to (insert recommended restaurant) could you let them know that I sent you. It might cause them to return the favor and send me their cool guests. The other favor is that I hope you can tell some other people at your convention about us. Tell them to let us know that you sent them and we will be sure to make you look good.”

Generally, it is not advisable to make requests of your guests, but these are pretty safe. The reason why this request works is there are several compliments subtly expressed. You are asking for their help and if you have sufficiently established a rapport with them, they will gladly assist you.

Serving guests that are in town for a convention can be a slightly different process than other types of guests. Recognizing these differences presents an opportunity to showcase your skills. As with every other type of guest, you should cater your service towards their specific needs. Doing so will allow you to capitalize on this source of guests and revenue. This will allow you to host your own convention in your wallet that will be attended by the pictures of many dead Presidents.

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