Ten Common Mistakes in Restaurant Service

Everyone should be able to enjoy a meal at a restaurant. However, it is not uncommon that certain aspects of the service don't live up to our expectations as customers. As a result, we may leave a restaurant feeling disappointed or even frustrated.

So let's talk about restaurant service.

Here's the thing. Even if all aspects of a restaurant are carefully considered (e.g., the food, the music, the décor, the room temperature, the location, and so on), the behaviour, skills, and abilities of the service staff frequently influence, if not determine, the guests' experience. Here is a short list of ten common service errors that are easily avoided. And by saying easily, what is meant is free of charge.

1) No hello? No goodbye?

It is during the first few seconds of an encounter with a guest that first impressions are formed. And these first impressions matter because they influence the way guests will evaluate the rest of their experience. If guests are not greeted properly and perceive indifference or rudeness upon their arrival, they will most likely form a not-so-favourable opinion early on about the restaurant. Simply put: they will view their entire visit through a negative lens and will focus on those details that confirm their initial negative impression. 

Last impressions matter equally. A lack of a warm goodbye and a sincere ‘thank you’ is unprofessional and conveys the message that since the bill was settled, guests are free to leave. In order to avoid reinforcing a previously formed unfavourable image or tainting an otherwise great experience, guests should be shown gratitude for their visit.

2) You got it all wrong

Not all guests visit a restaurant for the same reason. Nor do they want to be treated the same way. Some guests may be out to celebrate a birthday, others to close a business deal, still, others to try a new cuisine, and the list goes on. Some people prefer to be pampered, while others prefer to be left alone. This means that the service style must be tailored to the needs of the guests at each table.  And because no one expects service staff to be mind readers, suffice it to say that being able to read guests’ behaviour comes with experience and proper training.

3) We've crossed the line

Hospitality is synonymous with warmth and cordiality. However, there is a fine line between what is perceived as hospitable and what could be interpreted as overfamiliarity. And, because perception is in the eye of the beholder, it is best to establish clear boundaries in interactions between guests and service staff to avoid situations in which guests may feel uncomfortable, or worse, outraged.

4) I don't know

To have a relaxed and enjoyable restaurant experience, guests must feel confident that they are in good hands, and a knowledgeable service staff helps to build customer trust in the business. Employees who are familiar with all menu items, how they are prepared, the ingredients used, and can describe the taste of each dish, signal competence and professionalism to customers.

5) ...you were saying?

Doing something else (for example, giving instructions to a colleague) or interrupting guests while they are attempting to give an order can be interpreted as a lack of attention or respect. Maintaining eye contact and focusing on guests is especially important for conveying the message that when it comes to the customer, everything else can be put on hold.

6) Fashion icon

Depending on the type of restaurant, certain rules regarding the appearance of the service personnel should be followed to ensure consistency and avoid confusion of the image that the business wishes to project to its guests. For example, upscale restaurants should have stricter rules about staff appearance, by requiring them to wear a uniform. Restaurants that prefer to maintain a more relaxed ambiance, on the other hand, can be more lenient when it comes to staff appearance. It goes without saying that personal hygiene rules should be followed at all times by all employees. Unequivocally.

7) I'm having a bad day

It’s normal to have a bad day, but frowns should be checked-out when service staff checks-in for work. Mood is contagious and is manifested through small gestures. No one expects to be served by Pollyanna, but a friendly smile and attention to detail can go a long way towards making guests feel welcome.

8) Back in a minute

It only takes a minute after the meal is served for guests to notice that they are missing something before beginning to enjoy their food – perhaps some fresh pepper or extra wasabi. It is also possible that they were served the incorrect dish by mistake. To avoid guests’ frustration or food going cold while waiting for someone, service staff should return to check on them as soon as possible.

9) How was your meal?

Guests should be asked this question for two reasons. Firstly,  to identify any potential sources of customer dissatisfaction and have the opportunity to rectify before the guest leaves the restaurant and then having to deal with a bad review. Secondly, in order to understand sources of customer satisfaction. Certainly, sales volume is a good indicator of which dishes are more popular than others. However, sales volume alone cannot explain why a menu item is popular. Any data or assumption cannot replace the richness of information provided by the guests themselves.

10) I have my preferences

A restaurant is typically an open space. This means that guests can see what is going on at other tables. Which can be both good and bad. It’s great when guests notice a dish that someone else ordered and request the same one. It is terrible when guests notice that a table is receiving priority service, or a complimentary drink because they “know the manager,” because they placed a large order, or for any other reason. Preferential treatment doesn’t go unnoticed. And it’s not fair.