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How to Become a Better Restaurant Server (6 tips and secrets)

Being a good server at a restaurant isn’t just about ensuring the guests get their orders on time, or smiling as you guide them towards their designated tables. It’s also about focusing on the finer details of their customer experience.

The best restaurateurs realize inspiring the best from their top servers is as critical to the success of their business as having a great menu and great ambiance.

The good news is that truly great restaurant servers are made, not born. They fulfil a customer’s underlying needs through hard work, desire and professionalism. Put simply, every server out there has the potential to live up to guests’ expectations – they just need a bit of extra training.

Whether you want to hone the serving skills of your staff or train them to lead by example, following a few tricks can help the be the best at their job.

Let's start with a few things servers should NEVER do:

  1. Do not make any guest feel unwelcome, always greet them with a smile.
  2. Do not leave the guests to figure out things on their own. Pay proper attention to each guest, no matter how busy it gets.
  3. Never interrupt conversations.
  4. Do not hover over the guest for long, it may make them feel watched or rushed into placing an order or finishing their meal. Work according to their pace.
  5. Do not ignore a table just because it is not assigned to you. Lend a hand wherever needed.
  6. Never say "Nice choice!" to anyone's order, it may imply to the other guests that their choice isn't as good.
  7. Do not give recommendations according to your personal favourites.
  8. Never counteract customers or be rude to them. Listen to what they are saying & try to help them with any issues they may be experiencing.
  9. Do not leave empty glasses or unused place settings on the table.
  10. Never bring the bill unless asked for, the diners may feel rushed to leave.
  11. Finally, never let your personal mood reflect on your service.

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Now that we have got the "DON'TS" out of the way, here are a few "DOS" that will help a server be better at their job:

5 Tips for Being a Better Restaurant Server

1. Know the menu


An important thing to remember is that your servers are the main touch point for the diners and are often the only ones with direct contact to them.

It's crucial that they are well versed about everything that's on the menu and know it inside out so that they can answer any questions posed by the diners, or they will be running around the floor trying to get clarity.

This includes knowing exactly what's on the menu and the ingredients of each dish in order to assist the diners with allergies & dietary preferences. If you aren't sure, be polite and let them know you'll find out for them, don't leave the hanging with a blunt "I don't know".

2. Be prepared for grunt work


A good server is always ready to put in the work regardless of the nature of a task. You’ll see them doing crappy jobs that people hate doing like filling condiments, restocking napkins and preparing linens without complaining and that’s what sets them apart.

You too can help prepare your servers for grunt work by making them run their plates, clean their section, and do any other non-core tasks you have in store.

Incorporating jobs that lack the glamor and prestige will help you test your servers’ limits to see how much they want to excel and how much they can take. Also, it’ll enable you to see which servers are okay with working crummy shifts and hours that everyone typically hates.

Top servers are usually ready to take whatever sections/tables/tasks their managers give them.

3. Memorize the specials


While you might think to yourself that customers should be able to figure out what they want to order, many patrons need a little prodding or just want to know what’s good on the menu. As such, servers need to be familiar enough with the restaurant’s specialities and top-selling items to describe them in detail.

Of course, you don’t want to build unreasonably high expectations (e.g., “This is the best rib-eye steak you’ll ever have!”), but customers do appreciate that you know your dishes.

And if you must play it safe, you can always train your servers to apply suggestive selling by mentioning dishes that are popular with other customers. Does the mulligatawny soup on your menu resonates well with your regulars? Suggest that to first-time guests.

4. Turn every customer interaction into an opportunity


Train your staff to make the most of their interactions with guests. One of our favorite server tricks is to offer free amuse-bouche.

Think about it, who doesn’t love getting a free teaser of the chef’s style before their meals even hit the tables? By providing customers with a complimentary amuse-bouche, servers can invoke a sense of appreciation without spoiling guests’ appetites.

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An amuse-bouche will also come in handy when servers have to suggest an extra side dish or one of the highest margin menu items later on. Because customers feel like they’ve already caught a break by getting something for free, they’re more likely to order a high-priced item from the menu. This, in turn, will help your restaurant increase revenue.

5. Be proactive in your service


Most servers know that some customers are unbelievably easy to handle while others sitting at separate tables can be incredibly difficult. What they aren’t aware of are the steps they can take to make things go as smoothly as possible when do get a high maintenance group.

For example, after they’ve served meals on one of their tables, rather than asking whether patrons need anything in general, they can ask about specific items such as refills, utensils or condiments.

By specifically calling items out, servers can minimize their trips over an extra spoon or a bottle of ketchup because the diner forgot to request it the first time around. Also, a proactive server can make your restaurant appear as detailed oriented and genuinely caring of its customers.

Moreover, it goes without saying, but refilling glasses before they are empty is always an indication of good service and shows that you’ve employed top servers at your restaurant.

6. Follow proper presentation and etiquette


Servers who know how to follow proper etiquette and present themselves and your food are a brilliant asset for your restaurant. This begins with ensuring their attire is pressed and they’re appealing for customers to look at.

Additionally, servers must get food and wine presentation right. For example, wine glasses shouldn’t be filled too high, and ample headspace should be given for the wine to aerate without sloshing.

In general, an effective presentation can make an average restaurant look good and a good restaurant look great. Hence, make sure to train your servers on getting all of the details right. From the correct placement of glassware to starting food service on the left, your servers must not leave any gaps in your presentation.

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5 Ways Managers Can Train Their Staff to Be Better Servers

As a restaurant manager, you can invest in server training to help create an effective, knowledgeable workforce. Servers who are trained to identify customer’s underlying needs and who have extensive menu knowledge to fall back on will be able to provide service that feels thoughtful, personal and authentic. Below are a few ideas for pulling it off.

1. Arrange a session for menu tasting


One of the best ways to begin server training is to arrange a menu tasting session for your staff. After all, servers can’t provide recommendations or answer menu-related questions if they’ve never actually tasted the items.

At the end of the weekly meeting, managers can invite staff members and do a menu tasting with them. This is also a great time to discuss allergen information, recap the frequently asked menu questions, and sample a variety of popular entrée options.

Even the simplest of menus still require briefing from time to time, and your servers should be as knowledgeable about the menu as possible. Menu tasting will help them get a feel of a cuisine’s actual taste and figure how a customer may react to it.

Only then they’ll be able to provide genuine answers and suggestions about a food item when guests come inquiring.

2. Make new servers shadow an experienced employee


If you’re recently hired new servers, make sure they perform a shadow session or two with the most experienced members of your staff. During shadow training, the novice server is essentially an intern and the credit for any tips earned goes to the trainer.

Interns note how the trainer speaks with customers, their tone of voice, their posture, their facial features, etc. Every tiny detail is crucial and if your restaurant is popular for upselling promotions, presenting specials, or even describing the aperitivo of the day, make sure the trainee knows the right way to manage these things.

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Also, when it comes to running food and drinks and picking up the speed, make sure the trainee gets familiar with the pace of your particular establishment and knows how to keep up with it.

During waiter or waitress shadowing, make sure the trainer helps interns to become aware of the most important parts of the restaurant, such as the kitchen, dry and cold storage, etc. Taking this step will help prevent new servers from running late and going into areas which could include blind spots for staffers carrying full trays of meals.

3. Create a server training manual


There are so many factors that affect the failures and success of restaurant servers, so you can’t neglect the value of a server training manual. This manual should list out everything from the mission statement of your restaurant to safety policies.

As the restaurant manager, this is your chance to pass on information about what your eatery stands for and the values it wants to uphold. The manual can even include scripts for how the serving staff should present your restaurant to the guests.

It’s worth noting that restaurant servers are not the best salespeople, so the training manual can also include tips that will help them encourage customers to order desserts, beverages, and upgrade meals with high-margin menu items.

Make sure everyone involved understands the importance of upselling and the perks of meeting their goals. Will they get a bonus for achieving a specific number of upsells? Make sure to highlight this in the training manual in order to increase server motivation.

4. Provide some space to assess progress


If your trainees are catching on quickly and doing their job well, back off and let them take the lead. See how they work without supervision. Let them commit a few mistakes so that they learn while making sure they don’t affect your restaurant’s dining experience.

It’s okay to give servers a little nudge now and then such as “What are you forgetting about that customer” or “Where are you supposed to start service from?” But other than that, let them take the wheel for a bit.

Additionally, you can conduct a performance review to evaluate servers’ progress. For example, you can ask customers to leave a quick comment about the serving, hosting and food once they are done with their meal.

Trainers can also help create performance reports which contain information and data collected monthly, weekly and daily. From these insights, you can assess the performance of each personnel.

A restaurant management software can also come in handy for gaining insights about your servers and to track & assign tables to them.

5. View training as everlasting


Many of the initial guidelines, such as the serving style to implement and the restaurant etiquette, may change over time, so it’s important to adopt a continuous approach to server training.

The ultimate task throughout the training is to make sure that the restaurant is in compliance with new industry regulations and whatever is taught is actually implemented.

Many times, servers go through the training, only to find out that their new skills are outdated on the floor. By designing a continuous training program, you can help equip servers with the latest etiquette and practices.

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Here are some of the outcomes you can expect from continuous training:

  • Better awareness of changing practices
  • Adequate knowledge of the menu
  • Successful identification of the restaurant’s most valuable customers
  • Improved compliance with sanitation and safety guidelines

Conclusion

As a restaurant owner or manager, you need to know that your servers are the face of your business. Not only do they interact with the guests during hosting or service, but they also promote your restaurant in other ways, including food presentation, etiquette and style of service.

By constantly honing the abilities of your servers and helping them stay up-to-date with industry standards, you can help them become better at their job, more tuned in to with what customers want, and more efficient at taking steps to increase restaurant revenue.

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