How your waiter is trained to 'read' your table – and the grumpier you are, the better the service may be
As many a New Yorker can attest to, a waiter can make or break a meal.
As ubiquitous as the familiar diners' welcome, 'Hi, I'm your waiter for the night,' may be, it is increasingly being replaced by something far more personalised.
According to the Wall Street Journal, restaurants are pouring resources into training their staff to move from a textbook manner to something more nuanced and situational, depending on who is eating, what the tables' dynamics are and the diners' moods.
Service with a smile: Waiting staff are being trained to read a table and tailor service accordingly with the hope of creating the best possible dining experience
The key to the individualised approach
is to be able to 'read' a table within just seconds. If children are at
the table, don't make a fanfare of bringing a dessert menu, if one diner
seems tearful and upset, spread the word among staff to give that table
Rather than interrupting a conversation
with a word, some are trained to place a hand on the table to lift
diners' eyes to theirs, writes the Journal.
It reports that there are 'crucial' economics behind the drive for well-judged service.
According to a study by market research firm NPD, restaurant numbers are more or less flat-lining and will grow by just one per cent – slower than population growth – by 2019.
That worrying prospect, combined with increasing customer awareness of just what goes on in kitchens and beyond the walls of the dining room thanks to TV reality chef shows and food channels, is making diners more powerful than ever, says the Journal.
And, far from a trend that is limited to the upper echelons of dining, major chain restaurants are also taking to the individualised approach.
Demanding: As busy as some restaurants may be, dining numbers are flat-lining and are not expected to grow above one per cent by 2019
Applebee's, TGI Fridays, Cheesecake
Factory and even Denny's, writes the Journal, are getting on the act,
delivering fine service techniques to value settings.
Mark Maynard-Parisi, managing partner of Blue Smoke restaurants in New York told the Journal that timid guests are put at ease by being invited to take their time over the menu, while those who make eye contact and smile or ask for a cocktail menu 'are saying “hey, I want to engage with you and I want you to make me feel really important.”'
'If they smile and make eye contact, they are saying “hey, I want to engage with you and I want you to make me feel really important”'
Training for seven days teaches his
staff that 'the most important thing is to read the dynamic between the
group,' meaning that waiters and waitresses judge body language to gauge
tension, points of contention – such as alcohol – and are able to
respond, holding back or jumping in where appropriate.
The old urban myth of a disgruntled waiter or chef spitting in food holds no sway with the new way of thinking. In fact, a grumpier guest may well get better service, says the newspaper, as staff scramble to placate and not upset things further.
Bringing the bill is yet another area that employees pay special attention to, with a slowly settled check or an error on the bill potentially ruining a meal.
Wayne Vandewater, vice president of learning and development for Applebee's, told the newspaper that, in the end, the idea is all about standing out from the crowd.
'Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it's not easy to copy our people.'
READING THE SIGNS: HOW A WAITER APPROACHES YOUR TABLE
Chattiness may mean you're there 'to party'… Be prepared 'for more offers of drinks, dessert and a talkative waiter.'
Moodiness may mean better service… 'Waiters may be more careful to get every detail right when they believe a table is already in a bad mood.'
Saying it's OK may mean you are not happy with your meal… 'The waiter or manager might dig for more information to fix the problem.'
Questions about the menu signal being inquisitive or lost… Waiters will either help steer you around a menu or give you detailed descriptions of particular dishes.
Holding the wine list… Means the waiter will turn to you to give 'explanations and questions about refills.'
Arriving early and looking dressed up could mean you have elsewhere to get to… Service could be very prompt.
A table wearing suits at lunch signals business… And usually prompt, swiftly-moving service, or slow, leisurely service if a client wants to show off.
The leader of the table will be picked out and 'deferred to'… While 'no obvious leader' can be a 'struggle to figure out whether to be chatty or invisible'.
Source: Wall Street Journal