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13 Restaurant Customer Service Mistakes You Need to Know

It takes work to maintain a high level customer service. Once you think you've nailed it, it can be easy to fall into a rut without knowing it. Here are some customer service gotchas that you or your servers may not be aware of.

13 restaurant customer service mistakes you need to know

Not greeting customers as a guest

Be a host. If you welcomed someone into your home for a meal, the first thing you would say would not be a question such as:

  • "How many?"
  • "Do you want to sit in the dining room or bar?"
  • "Just one?" (if dining alone)

Greet guests like guests. Welcome them with a warm hello, then perhaps asked if they've visited before, and move into the dining situation.

Making substitutions difficult

Make an effort to accommodate your guest's dietary needs, allergies, and related restrictions as much as is reasonable. It shows you care. If the substitution isn't feasible, apologize.

Standing by your policy, no matter what

Front-of-house staff, not just management, should be empowered to make decisions that will make the customer happy. A server doesn't want to have to stand and defend a policy that unreasonably punishes all customers due to the bad behavior of a few. Many policies are put in place because of a situation with one bad customer that ruined it for everyone.

Passing the buck

No one wants to hear that it was someone else's fault they were delivered the wrong entree or an incomplete order. This follows on the point above about giving your staff the the opportunity to fix problems on their own, and providing a sense of accountability.

Guessing instead of confirming

If you forgot to ask about a detail of an order, go back and ask. It doesn't make you look forgetful, it makes you look like you actually care. Delivering the wrong order a customer has been waiting for is not worth the risk. Just ask. You're not expected to be a robot.

Failing to return within one minute after the entree is delivered

One minute is enough time to find out what's wrong, if anything.

Checking up on the guest too often

Your guests are enjoying the experience of being at your restaurant, being in the company of friends, and your great food. Walking by the table and watching for eye contact is just as good as checking on the table. If no one is trying to get your attention as you walk by, they probably don't need you right now.

Asking "Are you still working on that?"

Food isn't work. The phrasing is bad. It's probably OK at some very, very casual places, but not most.

Ignoring a table because it isn't in your section

Customers can't see the invisible line you have that delineates areas of responsibility for staff. They know who their server is, but should be able to get the attention of anyone front-of-house.

Gossiping and talking business in front of customers

Avoid these topics within earshot of customers:

  • Speaking about operations
  • who is taking what shift
  • personal stuff
  • gossip
  • talking about employees in front of customers

Reprimanding an employee in front of customers

If an employee needs to be "taken aside", then take them aside, away from customers. Reprimanding or correcting the performance of an employee in front of customers will embarrass your employee and make customers uncomfortable.

Allowing guests to leave the restaurant without being properly thanked

Thanked by someone other than the tip recipient, that is.
The thanks should be from someone who is not getting the tip. There should be a genuine smile and eye contact as people leave.

Letting your service run out of steam

Many of the problems happen in the last hour of service. The kitchen staff is running out of energy, front of house are dead on their feet, and everyone just wants to get out of there. It's important to be most on-point during these final hours.

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Olivia Bachman

I graduated from the University of Utah in 2007 with a degree in Communications. I've worked as a freelance restaurant journalist, and full-time as a beverage director. I love creating cocktails!

Salt Lake City, UT
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