How to… excel at customer service

25 May 2012
How to… excel at customer service

Looking after the front of house is rarely commented on as a stand-alone topic, with the focus falling to the chef and food. But it's my belief that without a warm and personal atmosphere, any customer's experience would be very much lacking, no matter how high the standard of food is.

When people visit a restaurant, they deserve to be looked after. They're often visiting as a treat or a celebration and it's down to the front of house to make sure they feel relaxed and leave with great memories of their whole experience.
Lindsey Johns is co-owner of the award-winning East Yorkshire restaurant Artisan


1 Make it personal It's important to make customers feel special when they enter the restaurant. Smile! If it's a return visit try to look back to when they last visited, remembering names and small details from past conversations is a wonderful way to put customers to ease. If it's their first time dining, try to make them feel as comfortable and at home as possible. Friendly chatter, taking coats and, above all, big smiles are incredibly important.

2 Be natural Sometimes front-of-house staff can appear robotic in their welcoming and conversations throughout the meal - customers will pick up on it instantly. Try to instigate and gauge some common ground and go from there.

3 To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail If the guests are pre-booked tables, drinks and appetisers should all be ready - this provides a seamless experience right from the very beginning. There's nothing worse than being seated for half an hour before being approached about drinks or starters. Having some nibbles and drinks appear quickly gives customers the chance to settle in to the restaurant, chat, relax and enjoy themselves.

4 Be confident and know what you're doing If you do have lots of staff, be sure they know exactly where everything is - it's not great mid-service if your waitresses haven't a clue where a certain wine is, where the toilets are or know nothing about the history of the restaurant or the food they're serving. Take time to learn about the wines you're offering and the dishes that are provided. Note if foods contain nuts or if they are suitable for vegetarians, coeliacs or other allergy sufferers. Customers need to have faith in you and confidence in your answers to their questions is a must.

5 See things from a customer's point of view This isn't the same as saying "the customer is always right", but if you do have a difficult guest try to understand their problem and provide a solution. But it's important to know your limits, there's no need for rudeness in 99.9% of situations. Be assertive at all times.

6 Have an eye for detail Look out for small things such as dropped cutlery, clothing stuck under chairs, creased napkins, and so on. Sorting things out quietly and quickly will make your guests relax and trust you. After a lifetime in the police searching for fingerprints, you won't find any on my glasses or cutlery!

7 A sense of humour is a must! Being able to laugh with guests (and at yourself if things are going a little pear shaped) is an absolute must if you want to stay sane in the restaurant business. Running the front of house can be tough, and as well as loving what you do, you must be prepared to laugh at yourself.

8 Let customers get on with their night Once you've served the food, be sure to allow customers to chat between themselves and enjoy it. Don't hover round their table constantly asking if things are okay and if you can do anything for them. At the same time, always try to be aware of everyone in the restaurant, pick up on those trying to catch your eye and be ready to remove plates and glasses when they've finished or need a refill.

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