In all my years of coaching restaurant owners and managers, I have found five common service errors that have the potential to chip away at your restaurant’s quality and your customers’ support. The good news is each of these service errors can be fixed with systems. 

“Let’s just take turns.”

Number one is the car salesperson rotation. “I’ll get the first people that walk in the door, you get the next and so on, until it’s my turn again.”

While this sounds like a good sharing of the customer traffic, ultimately it can be a fatal mistake.

What ends up happening is every server ends up with tables throughout the restaurant, even outside when outside seating is available. This gives servers too much ground to cover and requires them to keep track of and monitor customers over too much distance. This is a no-win situation for providing WOW customer service.

Tables get lost because they all assume someone else has already taken care of the new table that just seemed to seat themselves. But what really happens is nobody ever gets to the table, usually resulting in a lost customer. 

Never let your serving staff take turns. It is a recipe for disaster and will ultimately destroy your business.

“We can’t make any money if you add another server to the floor.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this argument, I could buy a vacation lake house. 

If you hear this argument from your servers, they probably already have too many tables in their sections and aren’t providing anywhere near the WOW customer service you expect. The general rule of thumb, in a full-service restaurant with a host who staggers the seating, is a server should be able to handle up to seven tables at a time.

As an independent restaurant, it is important to offer incredible service to build sales. An independent restaurant’s service is a key way to distinguish it from the chains. 

“Look, I just don’t have time to do that and take care of my tables.”

This is a common rule in restaurants: “Nobody enters or leaves the kitchen with empty hands.” This means that for every pass a server takes to and from their tables, even if they aren’t going into the kitchen, they should be pre-bussing their tables. Plus I will take it one step further; they should be pre-bussing other server’s tables, too! This is something they must accept and take on as part of their serving duties. 

Depending on the restaurant’s culture and leadership, this could be hard to sell to a team of servers. But it’s a must. 

The serving staff must accept and enforce this rule. Just because a guest is sitting in someone else’s section today doesn’t mean they’re not their customer. If each guest doesn’t have a great experience, they aren’t coming back. And if a server can ensure they do have a great experience and they do come back, they could be sitting in that server’s section the next time. Ultimately this means more money for the server in the end.

“You’re kidding me, right? I’m not paid enough to do that!”

Try this line on them: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

Their first reaction is almost always, “I don’t get paid enough to do that.” Here are two tactics to overcome this:

1) Servers are really independent business owners themselves, but unlike the owner, they carry no risk or overhead expenses. In fact, the owner provides them with everything they need to sell their product—the building, the utilities and even the product. To keep their business in place, they are responsible for the guest experience. 

2) Every owner should be willing to talk the talk. Pick up a rag and help, too! To get line employees at all levels to do anything extra, especially cleaning, an owner must lead by example. Practice what you preach and be a team player.

“All that does is slow me down. That stuff isn’t really necessary, look at my sales.”

When you dine in a chain restaurant, nine out of 10 times you will have servers introduce themselves, ask you if this is your first time here, tell you today’s specials and offer an appetizer. To a server at an independent restaurant, this seems ridiculous because there is usually no training program in place and a lack of follow through by management.

Again, if you find your serving staff saying this to you, they almost definitely have too many tables and think the more tables you have, the more money you make. As I’ve already explained earlier, this is a recipe for disaster and couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

Learn from the chains! Ultimately training your serving staff to follow the steps of service (exactly, every time) is the key to guest satisfaction. And guest satisfaction is what will increase tips and increase your bank account.

Yes, they’re all avoidable!

To increase your sales and attract more business, you need to separate yourself from the chains and provide the best service possible. Do this and I guarantee your sales will go up.