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paramount service

Restaurant RockstarsRockstars know this: paramount service is everything in your restaurant. Deliver anything less and it’s suddenly all over social media. You can lose your good reviews and customers at your restaurant’s peril. That sounds a bit harsh, but it happens day in and day out. Customers vote for restaurants and choose experiences from word of mouth and online reviews… it will always be so.

Why not take a fresh look at your operation from the outside in? Start with your entrance, walk through the front door as if you were the customer. Look at everything from their perspective with a keen eye for every detail: the host area, retail area, bar or lounge, dining areas and of course the bathrooms. Then shadow your service team, listen to what they say to your customers, watch what they do. Is it up to your high standards? Is it paramount service?

Here’s a recent experience about the difference that paramount service makes in your restaurant for you to see what I mean.

My family and I just moved from one big restaurant town in Sun Valley, Idaho to another in Portland, Maine. They say Portland is close to San Francisco in number of restaurants per capita, so no matter your taste or desire, you’ll find it in Portland.

The previous day being my wife’s birthday, our family planned brunch at an old familiar restaurant on the coast. It had been many years since we last dined here, so I was eager to see if it had changed. I always enjoyed the food, service and ambiance on several occasions years before.

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The location at a New England boatyard is quite appealing. Yachts of all sizes lay in cradles around the parking lot undergoing repair. As you approach the restaurant, we first noticed an immaculately clean exterior with an upscale nautical vibe. The feeling you get from any restaurant entrance sets the stage for the experience to come.

A placard in the entrance announced a recent interior makeover from a well-known local designer. Once inside, we found a very appealing space with dramatic bar, comfortable oversized chair seating and floor to ceiling windows offering views of sailboats and yachts coming in and heading out to sea.

We were seated by an efficient host who led us to our table at an enclosed patio. Just beyond was open access to blazing fire pits and Adirondack chairs on the waterfront… the perfect place for a cocktail to watch the sunset. Overhead, heavy nautical ropes with contemporary lighting and heating elements lent an elegant ambiance to the space. The Service staff were impeccably dressed in black shirts and slacks with white aprons. Bathrooms were immaculate.

The brunch menu consisted of numerous choices… eggs benedict, omelletes, salads, sandwiches, crab cakes, mussels, etc. So far, every detail was meeting expectation and we anticipated our experience yet to come.

And then the service let us down. My daughters saw bread baskets being brought to other tables around us, as soon as they were seated. Yet we had been sitting quite awhile waiting for our server to appear. This restaurant features incredible breads from a local bakery that are a draw in themselves. I had enjoyed it many times on past visits long ago, so I was as eager as the kids. When our server finally approached, my kids asked if she could bring some bread. “Of course”, was her only response. She did not introduce herself, but instantly asked “would anyone care to hear about the specials”? I found this to be an odd question! My approach in training staff was always: “ASSUME THEY’VE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE and ASSUME the SALE! Don’t ask YES/NO questions – you’re the expert. Tell them what we know they will enjoy and appreciate and bring each dish to life in glowing mouth watering detail”.

Many tables had ordered giant Bloody Marys in tall frosted glasses constructed from Grey Goose Vodka bottles. The glass looked more like a flower vase than something you would drink from, but what a hook? A giant stalk of celery and a Jumbo shrimp adorned the glass. Our server never suggested this, but seeing them was just the invitation my wife needed to order one. “You deserve it, the server said”!

Our drinks came, but still no bread, and the kids started to get rambunctious. I believe that it’s always a best practice to keep the kids happy, so the parents are happy. Our server took our food order with pad and pen in hand, while making absolutely no suggestions.

I told the kids they had two choices – either wait and see if the bread comes, or go find the server and remind her. They chose the latter option and sure enough the server brought bread to our table and then admitted she had forgotten. Immediately after, a food runner brought our meals. Its all about timing in restaurants. We would have appreciated a chance to enjoy the fresh bread first before our meals arrived.

Next, the runner auctioned off our food. Who had the haddock? Who had the omellette? Nothing is more unprofessional in my opinion especially in a nicer restaurant such as this one.

On the plus side, the food was perfectly prepared to our taste and expectations, but that along with the ambiance is a given isn’t it? We expect that the food will be good and the atmosphere comfortable. It’s the paramount service that is the all important yet inconsistent variable in many dining experiences. I am constantly surprised no matter where I travel how often the service leaves something to be desired no matter the price point. I am absolutely astounded how this simple expectation is lost on so many owners and managers at all types of restaurants I visit. Service and Sales training is either given short shrift or is lacking all together. The kicker here? Generous gratuities have become a service expectation and almost an entitlement despite the quality of the experience provided. I believe that generous gratuities are only deserved for earning what I call “Paramount Service”. At this level, every detail is attended to, product and restaurant knowledge is demonstrated and suggestions are made that enhance each stage of the meal. Here, the server seemingly effortlessly delivers a consistent memorable experience to each guest no matter how many tables or how busy the restaurant.

This is the mark of excellence for true hospitality. A philosophy and approach to paramount service and business that starts at the top and is adopted by each and every member of the restaurant team. This is the only true competitive advantage in this most competitive space where relevance and consistency rules. Now go out there and Rock Your Restaurant!

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