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First impressions count, and they set the tone for everything in life. So why not improve the first impression your members have at your restaurant. When you are evaluating the food and beverage experiences in your restaurant, look no further than your host stand.

Most of the fundamental issues with service in a restaurant can be traced back to the door.

The host stand in any restaurant is a critical point in the entire experience. Not only is it the first AND last impression your members have, but the employee who hosts the stand controls the flow of members into the restaurant and therefore the experience that you are able to provide to Every. Single. Member.

First (and last) impressions are defining moments. The warm welcome a member receives will set the stage for everything that follows. Yet so many locations do not invest in a host at all, OR they forego having one during slower periods or shifts. The responsibility of greeting and seating invariably falls on either:

  1. The manager, who should be otherwise engaged in managing the entire dining room, checking on the flow of the floor, ensuring that all members have everything they need AND nothing they do not. Checking the pace of food coming from the kitchen, ensuring your standards are being hit. Interacting and engaging with every member of their team AND every member in the dining room.
  2. The servers, who should be greeting their tables, taking drink orders, describing food and specials, taking food orders and guiding the members’ experience, paying attention to the tables in their section and moving seamlessly through their sequence of service.
  3. Any other member of the team who happens to be passing by and may or may not have a clue what they are doing.

Therefore, the first thing to add to every shift is a designated host. On busy shifts it will be necessary to have two (or more). One as an “anchor” and one to seat each member.

The moment someone other than a host is seating members, all other aspects of the service drop slightly. Members arrive to no warm welcome, look for someone to seat them, or, even worse, they seat themselves.

Next, look at what exactly hosts should be responsible for and what their duties should include. They should own the floor plan of the restaurant.

Each shift, they should equally assign sections to the servers working that day. Sections are important as each server (and the leaders) should know who is responsible for each table in the dining room. Clearly assigning sec­tions improves communication and accountability.

The sections need to be rotated each shift amongst all servers. Every team member therefore gets to take care of every section on a rotating basis.

A great host will plan out these floor plans several days in advance according to the team schedule.

The host team will be answering the phone, taking reservations, making note of special requests, preferences and needs and often handling to-go orders. Your hosts also manage the flow of members into the dining room; it is on their shoulders to make sure members are seated in a manner which protects the integrity of the restaurant.

This means that we should not double/triple seat any server sections. We should not fill all the dining room tables within a short window of time.

When we make errors in seating, it has a domino effect on the entire experience. The door gets overwhelmed, then the servers, then the bar, then the kitchen, then the runners and then everyone leaves at once.

We would never entertain sending 40 guests out onto our golf course in a 20-minute window, yet we do it in our restaurants frequently and it has a negative impact on our a la carte dining.

As restaurant managers, we also need to encourage reservations. We need to have a system for taking reservations.

Let your members know that if they want the table of their choice at the time of their choice, they need to call ahead for a reservation. The same way they would if they wanted their choice of tee time.

In the private club industry, it may be hard to make this culture change. So how do you start? Firstly, acknowledge it can be difficult to make a significant change outside of a crisis.

Therefore, do not let a complaint go to waste. Timing complaints, complaints about slow or inconsistent service…are they the result of a poorly paced flow of members into your dining room?

Use data to drive change. Get buy-in from the board and committees, communicate the why and ask for their support. Give committee members and insiders a look into the bottleneck effect of over seating the dining room.

It is the end of the evening, members have finished dining, they sign the check, take a deep breath and sigh, “Another great meal at our club.” They get up, gather their belongings, and walk towards the door.

Do they leave with or without a fond farewell, walking into the night without a thank you? This is the final impression and last memory. Having a host will ensure that the latter does not happen.

Make the experience count from the very first to the very last interaction because it really does all start and end at the door.

All this sounds great, but what if it will not work in your restaurant, what if you cannot control the door?

Then something else has to give: Reduce your menu items, simplify options, renovate the kitchen to increase production volume, add staff, add grab-and-go items, introduce buffet concepts. There are many other alternatives.

But as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

About the author….

Annette Whittley, is a food and beverage training consultant and search executive with Kopplin Kuebler & Wallace, a consulting firm providing executive search, strategic planning and data analysis services to the private club and hospitality industries. Annette can be contacted at (561) 827-1945 and at annette@kkandw.com.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINE – May/June 2021

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