10 Common Habits of Ineffective Restaurant Service


It’s easy to overlook small and seemingly mundane tasks in pursuit of big-picture goals. Consistently getting small tasks right, however, will set the best restaurants apart from the rest.

"Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves." —Dale Carnegie

In the daily routine, it is easy to overlook small and seemingly mundane tasks in pursuit of big-picture goals. But I've learned from my 20 years of experience as a restaurateur and industry service training developer that getting the small tasks consistently right will distinguish your restaurant from the pack.

Avoid these 10 common service pitfalls to ensure seamless service and a memorable guest experience.

1) Overlooking Cosmetics

Wobbly tables, sloppy or empty condiment containers, creaky chairs, wet table tops, improper sound levels, messy bathrooms, empty paper or soap dispensers, and the list goes on. Any one of these seemingly small occurrences can mean big annoyance for guests. Incorporate a daily survey of everything guests come into contact with into the day’s work. Don’t neglect the basics.

2) Not Greeting Everyone

An empty, unattended podium is unprofessional and a negative first impression for customers entering your establishment. Make it a must to greet all guests verbally and with a smile.

3) Not Introducing Yourself by Name Immediately to New Tables

In the midst of a busy rush, many restaurant wait staff fail to make a quick initial introduction to new tables, opting to hold off until they have ample time to make a formal greeting and take drink orders.

This is a mistake.

Once guests are seated, servers should make it a priority to immediately acknowledge the table—even it’s just to say hello and introduce themselves by name. This small initial gesture prevents guest frustration and also buys servers time to multi-task.

4) Poor FOH Communication

Restaurant hosts and bussers are valuable beyond the logistics of seating and clearing tables and represent eyes and ears that are often attuned to the needs of guests. Too often however, guests and hosts fail to properly communicate new tables or customer needs to servers. Great service should be a team effort where hosts, bus staff, and servers all interact to serve the guest. Communication and the prompt relaying of information is key.

5) Weak Product Knowledge

Knowing the menu and where the restaurant shines is wait staff job No. 1. It’s more important than charisma and even trumps a server’s ability to sell. The response "I don't know" shouldn’t happen, and is an instant negative impression on guests.

Remember: If your staff doesn’t know it, they can’t effectively sell it! Tip: In addition to discussing additions to the menu in pre-shift meetings, use that time to challenge wait staff to role play and demonstrate exactly how they plan to sell the day’s or night’s specials.

6) Letting Hot Food Sit

Guests expect their order within 20 minutes. Longer than this and they become annoyed. Food will also cool the longer it sits or can easily overcook if left under heat lamps for too long. Make it a priority and team effort to move hot food to tables once ready.

7) Not Putting Kids First

Happy kids mean even happier parents.

Kids get restless waiting for anything—especially when hungry. Instantly gain favor with parents by training wait staff to take and input kid’s food and drinks first. Of course, many intuitive restaurant staff already do this—but making it a policy ensures a consistent experience. And servers can make kids feel “special” by insisting that they get to order before their parents.

8) Surviving Not Selling

Great servers are great sellers that know how to control and guide the dining experience.

According to Dictionary.com, the word server means to “wait on a table.” To wait is passive and implies inaction. The word “sell,” on the other hand, means “to persuade or induce (someone) to buy something.”

Restaurant staffs need to stop “waiting” and start selling.

Too many servers operate as order takers instead of taking the opportunity to sell. Guests rely on servers—who know a restaurant’s menu the best—to make the right suggestions and provide an "experience." And when your staff are trained to upsell, everyone makes more money. Satisfied guests become repeat diners. When they share their experience in positive online reviews and social media, the benefits are amplified.

When tables control wait staff, it’s easy to fall into the swamp of missing critical sales opportunities.

9) Not Offering Favorite Choices

Many guests who walk into your restaurant will be often timers who don't know what's great. If wait staff is not informing customers and suggesting favorites at each step of the meal, the restaurant is losing sales and guests likely are receiving an ordinary dining experience.

The purpose of wait staff learning menus is to confidently make authentic, educated recommendations about what guests will enjoy. Offering guests multiple choices increases servers’ odds of making the sale.

Restaurant staff should always suggest their own favorite appetizers, entrees, and desserts. When choice A is raspberry dream cheesecake, choice B is chocolate peanut butter blast and choice C is a “no” answer from the guest, all choices have an equal 33.3 percent chance of success. By presenting two dessert choices, servers double the odds of making the sale: 67 percent vs. 33 percent for a “no” answer.

10) Not Acknowledging Mistakes and Solving Immediately

Mistakes are inevitable and common in busy restaurants. It is how mistakes are approached and solved that determines repeat business. Common sense and the golden rule goes a long way in effectively solving issues that arise with guests: treat others as you’d like to be treated. Be responsive and always extend the same courtesy you’d expect were the roles reversed.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Roger Beaudoin

Roger Beaudoin is a second-term board member of the Maine Restaurant Association. He has been a restaurant owner/operator for 20 years. To learn more about the sales and training techniques he uses to ring over $1 million in just four months at his seasonal restaurant, visit www.restaurantrockstars.com.


Nice & Concise. I would extend the not greeting everyone to include not saying good-bye to everyone.

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