So I’m a picky. I’ll admit it. I’m picky about how my restaurant experience is and if it doesn’t meet my expectations from the get go, I’ll walk out. However, I’m fiercely loyal to places that provide good service, excellent food and an overall feeling of value from spending my hard-earned cash.
Over the years, I’ve tried to lower my expectations, thinking maybe I asked for too much. But at some point of wading through the muddy waters of mediocre and sub-mediocre service, I realized I could leave at any time. I simply began to walk out. And now, I’m no stranger to walking out in the first 10 minutes.
Here is a short recall of some recent observations and experiences to avoid:
Really Bad Music
I was once at an establishment that played “Red Red Wine” and “Kokomo” three times back to back. After laughing at the first round of the two songs, I began to fear that there was some sort of auditory torture experiment going on. Searching for answers, I inquired with the server about why this was happening. He met me with indifference. Had I not ordered a gigantic beer and paid for it I would have been out the door faster. Needless to say as soon as my frosty beverage was gone, so was I.
Try streaming satellite radio in your restaurant. Trial subscriptions are available and regular service offers musical variety with stations named after the genre or era of your choice.
A sushi restaurant in my neighborhood frequently held bento box lunch specials. Excited to eat good sushi at a price point I could live with for lunch, I was immediately deflated at the sight of the interior. A large blue neon dolphin illuminated one wall while random fake potted plants were scattered in various other areas of the restaurant. The room was windowless and felt like a dark plastic jungle with a glowing neon dolphin moon. I didn’t instantly walk out, but I never returned.
Create an inviting environment for guests to sit and stay for awhile. Whatever your style, keep it consistent with your restaurant’s concept.
Let’s also add dirty booths, dirty chairs and lots of dirty tables to this list. Although this would seem obvious to most, it is a scarily common problem. If there are scraps of old food visible, wadded up napkins under the table or smatterings of crumbs along the aisles, I will grab my purse and friends and high tail it out of there. Dirty menus are another stop sign for me. Presenting customers with something that is sauce stained shows a sign of carelessness that may indicate a dirty kitchen. If I can see this mess in the front of the house, it makes me imagine what the back of house looks like (and it’s not good.)
Train your servers or bussers to thoroughly clean tables, floors and chairs after each party leaves. Instruct hosts and hostesses to give each table a quick check for cleanliness before seating a new party. Have floor sweepers and brooms in out of sight, but accessible areas.
This is one of the quickest ways to gross me out: grab my glass by the rim and set it down in front of me. Yep, right where I’m going to make contact with my mouth. Put your hands all over it and present it like a little germy gift made just for me.
Emphasize the importance of safe food and beverage handling to every cook, server, busser and bartender.
Call Me Honey
Or sweetie, hun or whatever little cutsie wootsie name you would like to insert. Especially if you are a decade younger than me, it makes it so much more ironic and endearing, except it’s not endearing. In fact it is enduringly annoying.
Learn regular guest’s names. Keep pet names for loved ones back home.
I once walked into a cheery looking margarita joint with a friend for happy hour. We chose to sit at the bar, which I guess was our fault. The bartender took our drink orders and then proceeded to tell us all about how cool the new 89PX50 video game was, or something like that. He was having trouble remembering that we ordered drinks as he trailed off into a monologue. After 10 thirsty minutes, we left. The bartender was astounded that our departure was so abrupt. I think I heard the faint calls of “Where you going? Do you still want some drinks?” as we walked out the door.
Watch out for slack service during slower hours of service. Place importance on providing every guest with service first and to ease into any small talk after it has been initiated by the guest.
One brunch outing found me and a group of friends sitting in a comfy booth and watching a server dusting light bulbs. We were sat by a lovely hostess who had mentioned that someone would be right over to get us some drinks. As we sat we watched a few more servers walk past our table without a glance. After 15 minutes we became restless. It was as if we weren’t even there. So we weren’t. A befuddled server called out something like “wait…” as we strolled out the door.
Greet each guest within the first two minutes of being sat in your section. If the place is jamming have a plan for support staff to help out with the initial drink orders.
I order a drink, the server communicates my order to the bartender, and the bartender gets it ready to go. I watch my drink go onto the bar mat at the service station. My drink sits there in the server station mocking me. I wait and wait. I debate whether or not it is necessary for me to walk across the room to fetch it myself. I see my server talking to a co-worker. I try to make eye contact, but the connection isn’t made. I stand up, put my coat back on and leave.
Commit to your table. Walk through your section frequently and remain visible to your customers. Value your customer’s time as well as their money.