by Cordell Riley
It’s tempting to say that the ability to listen well is a nice thing for food servers to have – a “soft skill” that isn’t really critical. But that is simply not true. When servers do not listen well, the mistakes that result can do a lot of harm to your business . . .
- At a diner, a breakfast patron asks for whole-wheat toast with her scrambled eggs. When the order arrives, she gets toasted white bread. It seems like a small thing, but she has to wait to get the server’s attention, then wait to get the whole wheat toast she ordered. And the patron is thinking, “I’m losing time . . . the service here isn’t good . . . I think I’ll try that other diner down the street.”
- At an restaurant four customers at a table order four different entrees, each of which costs between about $20.00 and $30.00. When the entrees arrive, the server puts them in front of the wrong people, who have to pass their plates around to get everything located correctly. A small thing? Maybe, but the restaurant’s attempts to establish itself as an upscale eatery just took a few hits.
- At a busy coffee counter, a patron asks for a soy milk latte. The latte arrives, the patron takes a sip, and is pretty sure it has been made with dairy milk. It takes him four minutes to get the barista’s attention and ask, “Is this soy?” At least the barista has the sense to whip up a new soy latte at once, without wasting more time. But as in the cases above, a customer has been inconvenienced and a business has been harmed.
Training Listening Skills Is the Answer
Granted, small mistakes tend happen in all food service businesses. But that doesn’t mean you should say, “that’s just going to happen” and stop trying to avoid them.
To prevent mistakes, most restaurants review the systems they use to take and track orders. That is important, but it can only go so far toward eliminating mistakes. You need to teach good listening skills like these . . .
- Focus. Because most food service settings are noisy and busy, train your employees to shut out distractions and focus closely on what patrons are saying. One way is to visually focus on patrons’ faces while they are ordering food, while concentrating on every word that is said. A server who is looking around the room and checking on patrons at other tables seems inattentive and is more likely to make mistakes.
- Explain and ask. When a server says something like, “Your steak comes with roasted brussels sprouts and potatoes on the side,” he or she is really confirming the order. It’s a quick extra step that helps assure that he or she has gotten the server’s order right.
- Confirm what has been ordered. Some servers seem to think that good service means getting orders right the first time and never asking questions. Not so. It is wiser to train servers to repeat orders back to diners and confirm the details. It only takes a minute, and it prevents mistakes and patron dissatisfaction.
- Check and follow through. No matter whether you are operating an upscale eatery or a beverage counter, train your servers to check orders before delivering them to patrons – and to confirm that the food they are about to deliver is the same as what the customer ordered. Does that take an extra second or two? Yes. But it confirms that communications have not broken down in the complex chain of events that starts when a patron places an order and ends when that order is delivered.
Good Listening Is the Key . . .
What makes sure that all those events happen correctly and that your customer is satisfied? It all starts with training your wait staff to listen.