Common Restaurant Mistakes: Service Mistakes and Missed Opportunities

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In a series that will run for several weeks, RMGT magazine talks to restaurant consultant Aaron Allen who reveals some of the most common mistakes that restaurants make and how they can correct them.

This week we look at The Most Common Service Mistakes and Missed Opportunities:

1. Being greeted with “how many” or “do you want to sit in the dining room or bar” rather than a proper greeting, warm welcome and having someone play the true role of “host” 

Hosts/hostesses should be excited to welcome people and it’s a lost opportunity if they don’t. Restaurants should instill that hosts welcome people and that’s the primary function of their job.

2. Asking “just one?” instead of “will you be dining alone today?” 

This is a common phrase that people don’t put much thought into but it can be offensive. And don’t try to put single diners at the bar—they deserve a table. This is not a place to try and save money; solo diners will feel awkward and not want to come back.

3. Removing the diner’s drink to refill rather that replacing or refilling at the table 

This stops the meal since the diner has nothing to wash it down with, and it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget to take a drink back. Don’t fill drinks at the table to save time; save it somewhere else.

4. Handling the top third of the glass or cup (servers should always handle the bottom half only) 

Managers can help prevent this by putting a visual in the handbook to show how to handle a glass and by reminding servers about it regularly. It’s often not that they want to break the rules; they just don’t know that it’s inappropriate.

5. Failing to pause long enough during the initial greeting to make eye contact with each guest 

Slow down. We all expect, especially in a busy restaurant, that there are pressures on the staff. But servers often cut corners in areas that aren’t saving them much time. Any extra 10 seconds to give eye contact can make a huge difference and can make a guest feel welcomed. This in turn might make patrons happy to wait or put up with things because they feel more valued because eye contact goes a long way to personalizing the experience. It says that when the server is there, the customer has his or her full attention.

6. Failing to recommend a favorite or popular item

Some people don’t want to make any more decisions. And a server can sometimes help them make the decision between two items. This is why people like chef’s tables. It also helps guests feel validated in their choices. If a server really doesn’t have a favorite dish, he or she can just tell diners which the most popular meal is—but never give a blanket “it’s all good,” which is too bland.

7. Sloppy uniforms, disheveled appearance, bar stamps still on hand from night before, etc.

The staff should reflect the restaurant and what they are wearing shouldn’t draw more attention than the restaurant itself. A restaurant should have a personality, a story, a positioning strategy and when you have that, your marketing is built into the concept. It also becomes a lightening rod for everyone to stand behind and rally around. When you have it, you attract like minded people—both customers and employees. So hire people who really believe what you’re doing.

8. Being ill prepared (not bringing a steak knife with steak, a spoon with soup, etc.) 

It might be an easy mistake to fix but it can ruin the dish. What does the patron do while waiting for the missing item? Forgetting something and taking a long time to bring it can sometimes override the value of the whole meal. If you do forget something, you can easily fix it, and the best way to do that is to ask the guest “How can I make this right?” Often they’ll ask for less than the restaurant is willing to give. Empower the staff to make things rights, otherwise it can be frustrating to have to wait for a manager.

9. Failing to return within one minute after the entrée is delivered 

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

10. Failing to offer to replenish beverages in a timely fashion (especially costly when it is that second $11 glass of wine that the customer would have ordered if offered at the right time) 

As a percentage of a meal, a new drink is high. Not offering another drink is a real missed opportunity and it’s an easy fix. It’s a good idea to ask the guest before they’re finished a drink—maybe when they have a third of it left. This can help them avoid any embarrassment about ordering another drink while they still have one.

11. Allowing guests to leave the restaurant without being properly thanked (by someone other than the tip recipient) 

The thanks should be from someone who’s not getting the tip so it’s not just about a financial transaction but about great hospitality. People come in to a restaurant to feel better, not just to get their bellies filled. There should be a genuine smile and eye contact as people leave.

12. Rewarding front of house staff just on tenure rather than merit 

This disincentives new employees coming in and it can make senior people not work as hard. This helps keep the restaurant fresh.

By Amanda Baltazar

Other Common Mistakes:

  1. Service Mistakes and Missed Opportunities
  2. Design & Facilities Maintenance Issues
  3. Interior Design and Facilities
  4. Menu Design Errors
  5. Marketing Errors
News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


Ah, let's see...servers who pick up a check where the diner has deposited cash and ask "Do you need change back?", essentially asking for their tip right there.  Or, as the server returns to survey the table and asks the oft-used "Are you all set?" rather than direct pointed questions, such as "Is that steak prepared to your satisfaction?", "Can I refill your coffee?", "Would you like me to take your plate?", "Would you care for an appetizer?", "Are you ready to order?", "Can I bring the check for you?"  We live in an era where many of our employees are incapable of articulating what actually needs to be mentioned, and at what juncture of the meal.  And, as contrived as it sounds, they need some solid training and continuous reinforcement in how to speak to their guests.I mean, I'm like...really?!!!

How about addressing the guests as "you guys" or "girls" (to females clearly over 21).  Guest are exactly that; they are not your pals.

One of my pet peeves is a wait person who addresses ALL tables as "you guys" especially if the table is all women!

While I appreciate a restaurant manager approaching each table to inquire about the meal, it's often an awkward interruption followed by a generic, "how is everything?" The GM should visit each table with a purpose. Put a plate down, fill a glass, fix a napkin when someone gets up. Use these activities as a way to stay visible and/or as a way to open conversation. It's just so awkward to loom over a table smiling and disrupting conversation. 

"Are you still working on that." Is a improper phrase. It is food not a job. Please don't say that.

@GHPNNY - I agree. That means that the server does a check back and then the manager approaches the table with the same question. So disruptive and silly.

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