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4 Ways to Serve Up Great Service in Restaurants

Everyone goes out to eat, right?

It is the tradition of first dates, mother’s day, birthdays, and anniversaries alike – and that means there is more baggage than meets the eye when it comes to serving restaurant Guests.  I really believe that if anyone wants to understand leadership and delivering meticulous detail under pressure, they should work in the restaurant business for even a short time.

I have many colleagues in many different industries who tell me that the time they spent as a server, dishwasher, or drive through cashier in high school taught them some great lessons.

This week, in my 10 part series on Customer service, restaurants are on the menu.  Listen, I warned you last week that I wasn’t done with the puns just yet.  Food is such a personal thing and a part of our everyday lives that it takes a special kind of focus to deliver a memorable experience for Guests.

I’d like to begin with a shout out to all those who throw on the chef coat, suit, or bowtie and go out to serve food every day.  It isn’t easy – and it is as much a calling as it is a career.  Well, for some, that is.  The funny thing about restaurants is that you can find the passionately committed “lifers” who love to cook, serve, and lead – and then on the other side of the boat you have students, would-be actors, and those between jobs looking to make a living before moving on to something else.

So that dichotomy creates its own inherent set of challenges. 

This is a constant cause of consternation for those who work in the business – the fact that dedicated help is hard to find.  Yes, that is the truth – but those in the restaurant industry don’t have a monopoly on struggles to find great talent.  It exists everywhere, so my first piece of advice is to double down on finding great people and stop wasting time complaining about it.

Before we go any further, in case you missed the previous week’s industry articles, you can get caught up here:

So let’s talk about the BIG 4 when it comes to delighting Guests in the restaurant business:

THE MISSION Remember we are always looking for the mission bigger than ourselves when it comes to any industry or business – otherwise the passion is never sustainable.  When it comes to food, the mission is crystal clear (but that doesn’t mean its easy).  Food brings people together and is a part of their celebration and culture.  It has become a generational touchstone that is photographed, tweeted, snapped, and shared in the moment.  Food has an uncanny ability to bring back memories of the childhood dinner table as well as be the glue that ties a celebration together.  So that’s the trick to be sure. . .to find what has really brought the Guest to the table that day.  You have to embrace that you are helping folks celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary or that they got into the perfect college or that they are moving on to a new job.  You are serving the first steak a couple might have on their first date or the much needed night out the new parents are having (while nervously watching their phones for signs of trouble).  Some just see it as a night out and a mini vacation because this is what they can afford right now.

THE GUEST PERSPECTIVE We live in an age when everyone is attending the Culinary University of Food Network.  Never has the food craze been such an obsession with diners; and all you have to do is watch them tasting their food with their knives and giving a critique of their cheese sticks worthy of a network cooking competition.  They are looking for a getaway on a plate, and in some cases they are ready to be transported to another location on the globe through your cuisine.  They could also be in a huge hurry and your drive through cheeseburger is exactly what they need to keep their day moving.  I can tell you that one of my go-to foods when I’m having a stressful day is the Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich.  Everyone has “that” food that really makes them feel better when they are stressed – it could be ice cream, pizza, or meatloaf – but most folks have something they lean on.  That brings us to the emotional connection to food; everyone had a family member who made what they considered to be the best chicken pot pie or chocolate cake, and you are just playing for second.  Food is very personal and when we understand that, it becomes easier to deliver.

THE PITFALLS It is easy to forget about the most important thing when it comes to food – and that is food safety.  We don’t like to think about it, but food can make people sick and that is a big responsibility.  Remember that you should never take any chances with allergens or with food handling, because it just isn’t worth it.  When it doubt, check the ingredients and never push the boundaries of any food safety practices.  The best way to win with Customers is to be sure that you mind the cleanliness in your dining rooms.  Customers often only see a fraction of a restaurant’s operations, so what they see must deliver confidence.  If a Guest sees clean tables, menus, and bathrooms, then they assume all is well in the kitchen, too.  If your menus are stratch-and-sniff because they are so dirty, then you are making them wonder what is going on behind the scenes.

Also, stay grounded as you create menus.  It is fantastic to have a vision for an innovative new concept, but be mindful that at the end of the day you want to serve food people want to buy so you can make them happy and stay in business.  Would you rather be the humble BBQ joint with a line of diners around the block or the fussy, over complicated bistro with an empty dining room on Saturday nights?

HOW TO WIN Winning in the restaurant business hearkens back to the point I made in the last section.  Your goal is to make people happy with food and experiences that keep them coming back and spending money.  You are only as good as your last meal, and that is a point that every business can learn from.  It means that you have to deliver excellence for Guests not just once, but every time.  Customers can have a fickle streak, and it can only take one bad experience to drive them away.

You hope to build up enough currency with them that they will cut you some slack if you have a bad day, but in businesses such as restaurants, one rude server or under-cooked chicken can drive away Guests forever.

You have to remember that they are looking for an experience in many cases – and one that they are sharing with friends or loved ones.  It is a huge responsibility to help people celebrate a milestone in their lives and keep them safe while doing it.  So yes, it is all about the cheeseburgers and lattes, but about so much more as well.  Help your teams understand that and they’ll help you delight and cultivate loyal Customers.

So to all those preparing their mise en place for dinner service, good hunting tonight.  Likely you’ll have many birthdays, romantic dinners, or retirement parties to delight tonight with food.

And whether you are serving up lobster or chicken wings, you can deliver food that will make your Guests feel like cherished friends.

Next week we will speak directly to those in the grocery store industry.  This is a multi-billion dollar business and there are certainly some opportunities to deliver fantastic service experiences.


Tony Johnson is a Customer Experience Expert, Keynote Speaker, and Author with a wide background including decades in retail and restaurants.  He regularly speaks and coaches organizations to IGNITE THEIR SERVICE PASSION using his common sense approach to Customer engagement.  Tony has spoken to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to unlock their amazing capacity for excellence.

Check out Tony’s FREE Resources and Training Tools: Web: YouTube: Twitter:

Check out Tony’s book: RECIPE FOR SERVICE Now Available on

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