Why Your Restaurant Experience Stinks

Poor Restaurant Experience

Ever wonder why you are told there will be a 30-minute wait for a table, but there are plenty of empty tables in the restaurant? The universal “whys” are always the same, and I’ll answer these questions for you. But just so you know, it shouldn’t work that way.

Have you ever asked yourself:

1. Why is it when the restaurant is empty the food takes longer, and you get less service?

This is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe. You enter a restaurant where you are one of the first tables sat and yet the time you wait for your food and accompanying service feels like the restaurant is closed.

WHY? The answer to this is simple. Management hedges their bet on minimizing labor expense by bringing in servers on a later, staggered schedule to accommodate peak volumes. You will notice how efficient the restaurant becomes once it is busy. The kitchen will be in their normal routine and there will be enough staff working the floor to provide appropriate, overlapped service.

How does a restaurant fix this? Adding labor when it is not needed is not the answer. The better way to solve this is through proper side-work checklists and better management presence during these startup times. With side-work assigned at the end of the previous shift and inspected by the manager, this will reduce the amount of work the opening server is required to rush and do prior and during the arrival of the first guests. This includes mise en place for the line as well. Also, with the manager being on the floor at the start of the shift (instead of doing emails and other office tasks) greater support can be given to the line and opening service staff in providing customers the level of service required when there are limited staff on the floor.

2. Why is it when you need something, you never can get someone’s attention?

Part of the answer is having proper supervision on the floor during restaurant operations. This helps with inspecting what is expected of the service team, but also by providing leadership and presence for customers to see and seek when needed. However, the larger issue is in proper training. Teaching service staff to be service professionals who know their job, beyond taking orders and delivering food. Proper training and effective Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will create improved service.

3. Why is it that when there is a problem, no one comes and talks to you?

Fear. The simple answer is fear, and lack of training. When something goes wrong with your order or service times are taking much longer than expected, all you really want is some communication. Whether the manager approaches the table or the server returns to update you, keeping in touch with you is a basic expectation. Fear comes in when the error is taken personally, and the staff has not be trained in conflict resolution. Things happen. Service professionals must be able to approach you with empathy and empowered with a sense or resolve. When this is not part of the service culture, service staff will hide in fear until you demand the manager. What’s the likelihood you will return anytime soon? There are studies showing that a problem resolved well creates much greater loyalty than if there weren’t any problems at all.

4. Why is it that you asked for XXX, but got YYY?

Lack of listening and menu knowledge contributes greatly to order mistakes. This problem is exacerbated when there is a divide between the front and back of house. In restaurants where the Chef has an integral part in service training, these issues are minimized. Testing menu knowledge and preparation, along with daily special presentation to the service team is essential for every successful restaurant and will eliminate problems like this.

5. Why is it that you are told there will be a 30-minute wait for a table, but there are plenty of empty tables in the restaurant?

Too often the entry position in a restaurant is the host or hostess. Unless a manager is running the door, the host or hostess must have significant training in how to manage the flow of seating and effective staging, while communicating honestly to waiting guests. When this doesn’t happen, they won’t have the proper skills in managing both the reservation book and walk-ins during un-forecasted demand. More than likely, there weren’t enough servers at that point of demand to handle new tables, or the host / hostess over-sat a section and has created overwhelming pressure on the service staff. The only thing the host or hostess knows how to do is to stop seating guests until the servers are able to take more patrons. This problem is usually accompanied by the lack of good leadership on the floor by a manager or supervisor. Being able to comfortably stage waiting guests in a reasonable flow for service staff to maintain quality service to their tables takes practice and training. Investing time at the door can make all the difference in guests having a great experience and service staff effectively providing the expected level of service.

6. Why is the ketchup, salt and sugar caddy empty?

This is a management problem. Just like not having a clean bathroom, these little annoyances contribute to overall perception of how the restaurant is managed. Proper checklists, SOPs and management inspecting what is expected, eliminates these problems and vastly improves customer satisfaction and rating.

7. Why are things on the menu you can’t actually get?

Laziness … lack of attention to detail … lack of nimbleness? Perhaps all three? The truth is that things change, and things get sold out. Restaurants call that “eighty-sixed.” But it is not the guest’s problem and yet it always feels like it is when you are told that what you want is out of stock or unavailable. Great professionals will be able to proactively set the expectations of what is and what is not available on a menu with a timely welcome and approach to the table. Management also makes it more difficult for the servers and customers with menu formats that are not adaptable or changeable when items are “eighty-sixed.” Laminated or expensive menu formats limit how nimble a restaurant can be with change. This is particularly evident with wine lists. Regardless of this, the best example of how to make this more professional is for the server to have great alternatives available to sell in place of what you were considering ordering.

8. Why don’t they advise you that the tip was included?

Whether added on to the bill for parties of six or more or for restaurants trying to supplement escalating wages, this can make any guest angry, leaving “a bad taste” as the last impression of their dining experience. You feel judged that you won’t leave an appropriate gratuity or worse that the restaurant is taking advantage of you. The best restaurants will leave the judgement up to the guest and often find that they are more generous than the fixed charge they placed on the check. Great service will be appreciated appropriately. If the gratuity is included, the server should just point it out as proper communication and often it may surprise them that more is given for their honesty.

For each of these Whys, there is an appropriate fix.

Brett L. Magnan