Fred Sirieix, general manager at Galvin at Windows and star of TV's Michel Roux's Service, talks about the three essential virtues for customer service - empathy, a sense of responsibility and a commitment to deliver excellence
All front-of-house staff really have the power, the capabilities and the duty to create and deliver the magic experience guests expect when walking into a restaurant. The very details of that service and hospitality need to be understood and shared by everyone on the team, and choreographed skilfully by the manager. To do so, it is fundamentally important to understand what people expect and want, as well as what makes them happy. It is about being socially aware and having an understanding of human nature and human psychology.
Also, I do not believe that one can deliver amazing service and hospitality if one can't put themself into other people's shoes, or in this case, the guests' shoes. As an exercise, I once asked all my staff to take off their shoes and wear somebody else's to make them understand what it really feels like to be in somebody else's shoes - it did make everyone think about this more.
There are three essential virtues which are often misunderstood or only partly applied when it comes to customer service: empathy, a sense of responsibility and a commitment to please and deliver excellence. It is the manager's role to teach and coach staff about these virtues because they are the key to success and everything one can do to satisfy guests is connected to them. Also, the benefits of incorporating them within your own value system are huge as they are transferable to all areas of your life.
So what do guests want?
Guests are all different but they all really want the same thing. They are all human after all! Guests and people in general want to be with, or close to, happy people who enjoy life and what they do. There is nothing more pleasing than being greeted by a smiley and happy face. Key values and qualities like professionalism, integrity and trust are very easy to convey and demonstrate when one really cares: simply ensure the venue is clean and well cared for, the staff well groomed and in position in their station waiting for guests. A restaurant with a clear vision and staff who have a sense of ownership can add value, class and elegance to what would otherwise be just another service in another restaurant.
Magic Touch and five smiles
The Magic Touch - referring to waiters being speedy enough to get to the chair when a guest is sitting down - which you may have seen on the BBC2 TV series Michel Roux's Service, is the easiest - and cost free - way to show you care and want to please. At Galvin at Windows, to motivate and inspire staff we run an informal competition for the best Magic Touches.
Another way to add value is through another touch which I call Five Smiles. From the moment a guest walks in to the moment they sits down - and get Magic Touched - five different members of staff would have made eye contact with them, smiled or said hello - even if only from a distance and from the nod of a head.
The Magic Touch and Five Smiles are simple basics which everyone can, and should, do. Yet it is only seldom seen because of a clear lack of commitment. Failing to deliver excellence in a restaurant has more far reaching implications than just that dining experience for a guest. It is really a failing to live, give and connect well with other human beings. When done well, and from the heart, there is no doubt in my mind that the Magic Touch and Five Smiles make the food taste better!
The detail of the guest journey, as well as the technical and operational aspects of the service delivery, is also very important. Good restaurants could not simply deliver quality nor stay in business without. This is why I have never understood - nor agreed with - owners, managers or waiters who say they have no time or money to spend on training. I mean, think about it, would you go to a dentist whose first ever training operation is with you? Can anyone imagine Manchester United not training every week? Of course not, this is about respecting guests and being committed to delivering excellence, first time and every time.
In The Art of Service there are 25 steps to the guest's journey in the restaurant, so it is easy to manage and measure for success. Detailed standards are necessary to maintain quality and it is important to have them written down, so that one can refer back to them or share them with the team, as and when necessary. Simple but effective standards contribute greatly to improving a guest's perception and the reputation of the restaurant.
In The Art of Service and at Galvin at Windows I use, for example, a standard called the Two-minute rule. Its aim is to ensure that no guest ever feels rushed or pushed to finish their meal - this is especially important when a table is on an early sitting. When guests have finished eating and stopped chewing, a waiter must wait a full two minutes before clearing their plates. The Two-minute rule is not just about two minutes, it is about teaching staff the importance of timing, respect, commitment to quality and putting them, for two long minutes, in the guest's shoes. Make excellence a habit!
The Art of Service board game
Fred Sirieix has created a board game to help restaurant and hotel owners, F&B directors and hospitality lecturers train high-quality service delivery. Called The Art of Service, the game challenges players to discuss concepts such as business vision, objectives and values.
Participants follow the guest experience, from booking a table to leaving a restaurant and explore and discuss best practice at all points of the journey. The game provides a creative and participative forum for learning the essence of good service.
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The Academy of Food and Wine service
The Academy of Food and Wine Service can offer more guidance on how to inspire your team to offer high-class hospitality. The professional body for front-of-house service, it is dedicated to promoting food and beverage service as a viable career choice and offers advice and training to raise standards across the industry.