The only people who think being a server is a straightforward job are those who have never been a server. Indeed, when it comes to multifaceted professional roles, being a server is right up there with the best of them.
Combining a razor-sharp eye for detail, a deep knowledge of often fast-rotating daily menus, the ability to treat the end of a shift with the same enthusiasm you had when you first bounded through the door, and nothing less than David Copperfield-level mind reading skills… well, it’s a job which deserves the utmost respect.
What’s more, as any good restaurant or bar manager knows all too well, the success of a business comes down in no small part to the success of individual servers. With that in mind, we’re going to be diving into the world of great service today, and seeking out the secrets and insider info regarding the tips and tricks of what makes a server stand out from the crowd.
Whether you’re a business owner looking for some insight into how to take your servers’ skills to a whole new level, or a server yourself in need of tips to create more tips, Beambox has your back.
Is Serving a Hard Job?
There’s a decent chunk of what makes a good server that’s ingrained in the individual embodying that role, and two million servers across the United States are carrying out that role on a day to day basis.
Not all of us are blessed with the extroverted personalities, listening skills, and overall cheerful, helpful, and approachable demeanour that makes a server so right for their job.
However, there is - thankfully - a lot which can be studied, learned, and implemented into your team through training, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on later in this how-to guide.
Before we get into the tips and tricks that will take your servers’ skills to new heights of excellence, let’s pause for a moment and think about why good service is so crucially important.
It’s perfectly possible to go to a restaurant and have a great time with mediocre-to-middling service, so long as the ambience and food ticks all the right boxes.
However, it’s the service - and by extension, the server - which takes the experience to the highest heights. From that first welcome to the recommendation of dishes, and from ensuring the customers’ needs are met to ensuring they leave with a smile on their faces, a great server can bring a wholly different dimension of delight to a visit to your establishment.
When we stop to think, the importance of this level of service becomes abundantly clear. Restaurants and bars rely on word-of-mouth recommendations to spread news about what they do best, and they also rely on repeat custom to raise their bottom line and ensure their longevity.
When servers are on-board with a restaurant manager’s vision, and looking after the fine details to ensure everyone who walks through your door leaves with the most positive impression, they’re securing further profits and a stronger reputation.
Ultimately, it comes down to that human connection; a feeling that the customer isn’t just a customer but a guest, a friend, and a valued aspect of the whole operation. Get it right, train your servers well and imbue them with the passion that led to your business being launched, and you’re onto a winner.
What Happens When Service Isn’t Good Enough?
Good service is memorable, and news of top-notch service at restaurants travels fast. Poor service, for better or worse, is utterly unforgettable… and it spreads like wildfire. With some reports claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on restaurant service, it’s key that restaurant managers keep this fact in mind at all times.
Unless you’re running an ambitious fine dining restaurant, most customers can excuse the presence of unremarkable or even mediocre food. Quite simply, the vast majority of restaurants aren’t designed to take customers on a journey of sensory exploration - they’re there to fill bellies and allow diners to relax for an evening without worrying about washing dishes. What is rarely excused or overlooked, however, is poor service.
When a server is rude, unattentive, forgetful, or otherwise uncaring of their customers, people quite rightly end up feeling like they’re wasting their time and their money in your establishment.
This is especially true in the United States, where quality of service is considered somewhat more highly than in Europe and elsewhere in the world (where nonchalance and even what could be perceived as rudeness can often be part of the dining experience), and people understandably expect to be welcomed as guests and waved off as good friends.
Without any doubt whatsoever, service that falls short of the mark in any regard is going to harm your business. You’ll miss out on those recommendations and word-of-mouth reviews, you’ll likely gather some vitriolic remarks on your social media and on review sites like Tripadvisor, and word will spread that your restaurant simply doesn’t care about its paying customers.
The worst part is that, just like in so many industries and situations, your quality of customer care is only as strong as your weakest link. One poor server has the power to not only sour the mood of your entire restaurant, bringing down morale or spreading negative practices, but also could result in providing a disappointing experience to a customer with some real sway on the dining scene in your city.
As a result, it’s absolutely essential to make sure that you’re consistently reviewing your service best practices, looking out for ways to make improvements, and keeping your servers as a happy, respected, and integrated part of your entire team.
How to be a Good Server: The Four Essentials
It goes without saying that every restaurant, bar, cafe, or eatery has its own personality and ambience, and the type of service you provide depends in some measure upon the finer details of the vibe you’re aiming at. However, when it comes to the human interaction between server and customer, some things are simply universal.
The team at Beambox has spent plenty of time eating and dining at restaurants of all shapes and sizes (it’s a tough job, we know, but somebody has to do it) in pursuit of the knowledge of what makes excellent service. Across many years and a couple of extra inches on our waistlines, we reckon we’ve boiled it down to four key essentials.
Great Servers Have a Great Attitude
It might sound like an obvious point, but it’s such an important one that it’s going to take pole position in our rundown of what makes an excellent server in a restaurant.
Having a positive attitude, a can-do approach, and a willingness to go the extra mile is an absolute essential when it comes to making customers, co-workers, and management feel as though everything is running smoothly.
It’s something which begins even before the customer has walked through the door. We all know that our personas at work aren’t necessarily an accurate reflection of who we are when we’re at home, and yet being a great restaurant server is about exuding positivity and efficiency at all times, and bringing that radiance into the heart of their team.
The chances are, the best servers reveal themselves right from the interview process. There’s no point in pretending it’s an easy job or one which doesn’t come with a unique set of challenges, so look out for those interviewees who speak of how they’ve overcome roadblocks to deliver consistently brilliant service, or those who can demonstrate how they have responded well to complaints and negative feedback.
Making an unhappy customer happy with great service, after all, is a surefire way to encourage repeat custom. What’s more, it’s an inevitable aspect of the job, no matter how fantastic your food might be.
Knowing how to diffuse dissatisfaction, handle complaints professionally and with composure, take initiative, and do everything possible to ensure all diners leave the restaurant feeling happy is where good servers become utterly priceless.
The Best Servers Have All The Answers
The restaurant industry has changed a lot over the past few years, driven by a whole new set of customer demands and expectations.
The public have begun taking a keener interest in the food they’re ordering and eating, and with servers on the front line of every client interaction, it’s essential they’re armed with the answers to the questions which will come thick and fast through each day’s service.
Are items on the menu adaptable to suit dietary requirements? Where are certain ingredients sourced? What are the health benefits of particular dishes? These questions - and dozens more besides - are becoming increasingly commonplace and central to the customer journey.
Be sure to train your staff to reflect these new curiosities, and seek out ways to highlight the best your restaurant has to offer.
Of course, it’s also essential that servers know their menus and specials inside-out, and to have the ability to showcase dishes and upsell items to customers in a natural, conversational, and approachable manner.
This is sometimes easier said than done. For example, if you’re running a trendy gin bar with a hundred different bottles on offer, it might be a bit of a stretch to expect your servers to be as well-versed in their various subtleties as your customers may expect them to be. In this kind of situation, there simply has to be a foolproof protocol which allows the server to access the information they need, as and when they need it.
Customers are, by and large, quite forgiving when it comes to questions being answered accurately, and generally appreciate the effort more than the information itself. What often isn’t accepted is an unwillingness to answer questions, or worse, to fob off the query with a fudged answer that insults the client’s intelligence or enthusiasm.
The bottom line? Servers need to brush up on their homework, commit to honesty, and know where to look when an answer isn’t immediately available.
Adaptability is Everything
Some customers are utterly lovely, and some customers aren’t. Some customers are curious and conversational, some simply want some peace and quiet in which to enjoy their food. Great service often comes down to ‘reading the room’ and adapting the approach to suit the individual or group’s needs, requirements, and wishes for their time in your restaurant.
Again, this is an aspect of a good server which might be a little difficult to train and instil in a staff member, and might come down to an innate set of skills or a particular personality type. Nonetheless, it’s hugely important; being able to approach tables in an appropriate manner, and make snap decisions on how interactions will be for the rest of the service will greatly help in improving the overall experience.
Adaptability goes beyond shifting your way of speaking to customers, too. It’s also about understanding your role alongside your place within a team, and recognising that the best restaurants rely on teamwork and stepping outside of assigned positions when necessary.
For example, waiting staff should be open (and willing) to lending a hand with bussing tables or collecting glasses from the bar during moments when the dining area is quiet, or helping out in other sections if a team member is getting overwhelmed.
Being adaptable really means knowing that restaurants are dynamic and often unpredictable workplaces, and approaching each working day as unique. If you can bring these values into the heart of your team, then achieving excellent service just got a whole lot easier!
It’s a People Thing
In an age of virtual connections and social media, restaurants and bars are among the last bastions of real, genuine, and tangible human interactions. The best servers remind us that people - along with food - have the power to make our moments special.
A lot of this comes down to the simplest of actions; listening carefully, responding thoughtfully, and engaging in brief moments of conversation when appropriate or invited. Servers have to like working with people, as it’s those extra steps to making customers feel comfortable, welcomed, and wanted that will bring them back to your establishment time after time.
How to Get Better Tips as a Server
In most US restaurant structures, many of which are replicated elsewhere across the globe, good service means better tips. Having this incentive to go the extra mile allows servers to explore approaches and styles which work for them, their customers, and the businesses they work for, and generally results in a higher level of excellence all around.
There are many, many, many different tips, tricks, and bits of insider wisdom on how to boost your tips and gain those little extras that end up making a significant difference. However, we’ve distilled them down into what we feel are the most pertinent and unmissable, and have packaged them neatly into five key essentials.
Naturally, there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to this subject, as once again, a lot of it comes down to target audience demographics, restaurant style, local legislation, individual personality quirks and much more besides. With that in mind, let’s look at the fundamentals of good practice, and check out how to keep those tips flowing.
Efficiency is Key
Efficiency for servers can be interpreted in a number of different ways. It goes without saying, for instance, that when it comes to serving times, this is more of an issue for the kitchen staff to be concerned about than those who are front of house.
Turning tables, on the other hand, is where a server’s efficiency and judgement really comes into play. Turning tables efficiently is essential for keeping a healthy profit margin. Despite this, there’s a real tightrope to be walked between keeping the dining room dynamic insofar as incoming and outcoming diners go, and making guests feel rushed or unwanted.
Thankfully, there’s a fairly universal timescale that servers can refer to when it comes to maintaining efficiency AND keeping customers happy. It looks something like this:
Within 2 minutes: the server greets the guests, seats them, and takes initial drinks orders.
After 5 minutes: Drinks are served, and meal orders are taken.
Within 10 minutes: Plates and utensils are set at the table, further drinks orders are taken if required.
When the food is delivered: The server checks if anybody wants anything else with their meal.
Within 4 minutes of the food being served: The server checks on the diners, answers any questions or responds to any feedback, and once again asks if drinks orders are required.
With this kind of system in place (or one which appropriately suits your restaurant style), the ball can be set in motion to ensure a realistic turnaround without diners feeling in any way rushed. The key is to be attentive, consistent, and approachable throughout, and nobody’s time is wasted.
Efficiency also covers another key aspect of great service; making sure that time is used wisely as part of a team. Servers should always be busy either helping their customers or their team members, and looking for small tasks to be undertaken to ensure everyone’s shift is a little more straightforward.
As we’ve mentioned previously, great service skills are, in essence, great people skills. Taking the time to get to know your customers, answer questions to the best of your ability, and having a moment to discuss the menu and the customers’ preferences is going to ensure a better experience for everyone… as well as increasing the likelihood of bigger tips.
We’re all guilty of making assumptions from time to time, and glossing over key questions which may end up being crucial to a guest’s enjoyment. By keeping small talk open and with a clear context in mind, and maintaining an approachable demeanour and friendly ambience, you’ll be able to pinpoint a customer’s preferences and create avenues for upselling, too.
Today’s restaurant visitors want to enjoy an authentic and personalised experience, and not to feel like just another customer. Treating each and every one as an individual, with unique desires and requirements, is going to make all the difference.
Make Real Connections
We get it - it’s not always easy to maintain amazing dining experiences for every single guest, and to make the kind of connections that lead to great reviews and return custom.
However, this intimate approach is probably the most effective way to bolster tips and ensure your customers leave feeling they’ve had a fantastic time.
This essentially means that servers should not and cannot simply go through the motions and regurgitate the same spiel for every customer. The best servers utilise eye contact, small talk, and real human connections to increase satisfaction, and there is no shortage of different approaches that can be taken to heighten this effect further.
From the very simple action of introducing yourself by name, to talking about personal favourite items on the menu, or to cracking jokes and sharing memories, servers need to bring together the personal and the professional to great effect.
The result? More tips, repeat custom, and greater table sales.
Undertaken poorly and without tact, upselling can be an absolute disaster area with the potential to dramatically backfire. Done well, it can enhance the feeling of a bespoke and personalised service, increase profit margins, and result in better tips and positive reviews.
Our advice is to once again bring a personal flourish to the procedure of upselling. This can be effectively achieved by asking ‘discovery questions’ to the diners, revealing more about their preferences and personal experiences, listening carefully to their answers, and tailoring your recommendations with their thoughts (and the restaurant’s profits) in mind.
When reinforced with personal opinions - for example, recommending a wine based on a real experience of matching it with the dish in question - this can be a hugely effective upselling tool.
Every server wants their guests to have a fantastic time, and one of the results of enjoying a great restaurant is not wanting to leave. The food is being savoured, the drinks are being poured, and conversation is flowing… who’d want to head out of the door and leave all that behind?
The problem is that every restaurant has an ideal turnover rate, and dealing with ‘campers’ - the industry term for guests who somewhat outstay their welcome - is something every server has to approach from time to time.
It’s pretty clear what not to do in this situation: making guests feel unwelcome or rushed has no place in the realm of excellence service.
In this instance, the best approach is often to be absolutely honest, and letting the diners know that another table is awaiting their reservation. If you have a bar area, you could suggest relocating over there to continue enjoying drinks and snacks, or you could welcome them back to the restaurant the following night and promise the same level of excellence they’ve so clearly been revelling in.
Twenty Secrets to Being a Great Server
Now that we’ve covered some of the more far-reaching fundamentals of good server skills, let’s head into the quickfire round.
Here are twenty additional insights and killer tips to being the best server on the restaurant floor, which you can either instil into your staff or embody in your work. Even if you bring half of these insider tricks into your work practices, you’re well set to make a real difference to your shifts, your clientele, and your business.
Sell the experience by speaking and listening to your guests. While there’s a lot to be said for encouraging people outside of their comfort zone, most of your guests know what they like and want it to be reflected in their experience.
Positivity, smiling, and seeming genuinely happy to meet new people is your most powerful tool.
Write ‘thank you’ on the check. It takes you less than two seconds to do, and yet it can make a massive difference to both the tips left and the impression made.
Know your regulars, and let them know that they’re valued. The same goes for VIP guests or those who have the potential to bring in more customers.
Make food and drink recommendations based not only on your customer’s preferences, but also on your own experience and favourites. Customers love to hear the truth from their servers, and will often take these recommendations seriously.
Work on remembering names, faces, and personal preferences. It’s impossible to put a value on how good it feels to be recognised as a repeat customer… and if you can remember their favourite drink, you’ve just gained a lifelong loyal client.
Be mindful of conversations, and try to avoid interrupting people in mid-flow.
When eye contact is made with a customer, be sure to smile. After a while, it will become second nature.
Practise ‘active listening’ by nodding, smiling, repeating key information that your customer is telling you, and asking appropriate follow-up questions.
Don’t know the answer to a customer’s question? Instead of letting them know you don’t know, let them know you’ll do what you need to do in order to find the answer.
Be conscious of good practice when handling glassware and plates, etc. The golden rule is to never touch any surface area a guest will need to be in contact with.
It might be tempting to let a guest order too much food, but it may equally reflect poorly on your attentiveness as a server. If it looks like they’re ordering far too much food, let them know what portion size to expect.
Be consistent with your service, and let your customers know you’re available, approachable, and there for them.
If a customer asks you to remove a plate from the table, ask them whether there was something wrong with the dish, and what they’d like you to do to rectify it.
When you’re taking a customer or group through the menu, make sure you tell them from the very beginning what the kitchen has run out of. Diminishing disappointment is just as valuable as accentuating enjoyment!
If a guest has a complaint, don’t take it personally and remain kind and courteous and professional. Complaints are more valuable than compliments to a business.
Always remember to place the check in a neutral place on the table. In 2022, there’s no room for assumptions regarding who pays the bill.
Your POS system is your greatest tool for managing service (besides a notepad and a pen). Ensure you know its ins and outs like the back of your hand.
Don’t leave plates, cutlery and glassware on the table if a guest isn’t going to use them.
Don’t overlook or ignore tables just because they aren’t your direct responsibility. Restaurant service is at its best when all servers are willing to help each other run things smoothly.
Your Customers Want Great WiFi
A top-notch customer journey goes beyond great service, and is something which is constantly evolving with the times.
Make no mistake, your clientele wants excellent WiFi at your restaurant, and there’s no reason nowadays to not provide seamless connectivity and superfast broadband. From encouraging on-the-spot customer reviews to promoting repeat custom and client satisfaction, having reliable and speedy WiFi comes with a broad array of benefits.
Here at Beambox, we specialise in providing WiFi services to the restaurant, bar, and hospitality industry. With highly satisfied clients up and down the country, we’re helping businesses just like yours provide better service to the customers who matter the most.
As we’ve seen in today’s blog, being a good server comes down to a number of different factors, all of which combine to provide an excellent customer experience.
It’s a uniquely winning combination of openness, positivity, meticulous attention to detail, and genuine pride in your work that has a remarkable power to boost business and encourage return visits. With a great team of servers, a handful of standout dishes, and restaurant amenities such as top-notch WiFi, there’s nothing stopping you from hitting the big time.