I’ve done many media pieces on running a restaurant but apparently although many readers and fans of Money Matters are reading them, few restaurant owners apparently are. That said, we all want better service in our local eateries so let’s put out our peeves (suggestions) once again.
There are cardinal sins, forgivable oversights and outright stupidity when it comes to how to run a restaurant.
Have I ever run one?
Nope, but my father in law had one of the most successful restaurants in the second largest city in the world, Sao Paulo, Brazil. I learned some from him of course, but most of the suggestions border on some obvious do’s and don’ts and frankly I am surprised I keep seeing at least a few of these mistakes more often than not when I dine out.
The cardinal sins are so obvious but seldom is a restaurant error free. I can think of one or two eateries that just have it down, then there’s the rest. I eat out a lot and although I am not a food connoisseur by trade (whatever that is) I know good food when I taste it and good service when I see it. And vice versa.
I am also not one of those who give glowing reviews on every restaurant I eat at under the guise “they’re trying and I am nice person and don’t want to burn any bridges”.
Hey, I don’t like burning bridges either but what good is a review if every restaurant I review is positive?
On the contrary, giving honest reviews is no jab against an owner. It’s an honest evaluation on how to improve and therefore get more business. So what’s wrong with that? Also for every one person that complains there are likely ten more that don’t. That’s the Pareto rule of eateries.
So here we go. Make these mistakes and you’ll find empty tables at primetime if not at all times.
How many of these do you recognize or are guilty of?
A customer should never have to ask for silverware or napkins, salt or pepper. I mean really. That’s kind of a no brainer but it happens more often than you would think. Owners: prepare your tables, and that include making sure they are clean, as in very. Also nothing is more unappetizing then left over food on the floor. Sweep up! Thoroughly and often. Check after every table is vacated.
Immediately upon sitting get their drinks! Don’t make them wait. Getting drinks right away makes customers more patient and if you serve alcohol, do it immediately. Like within 3 minutes. They’ll order more food, be happier, likely also order more drinks (a high profit item) and you‘ll make more money both on food and drink. Practice this one diligently and owners can increase check totals by up to 20%. Remember alcohol stimulates appetite, loosens up the pocket book, trashes common sense (good for the restaurant) and patrons have a better time. Tell that talkative bartender to zip it and get on his horse and quickly mix drinks! This one is the easiest way restaurants to make more money (a lot more money) yet many just leave patrons sit for 5, 10 or 15 minutes before their drinks are served. Stupid. Let’s fix that right now!
Don’t be a show off and memorize orders. Write it down. Nothing makes a patron more nervous than a showoff server memorizing 4 orders with sides and specials. They will be looking for mistakes and its nerve wracking. Drinks maybe, but not complete food orders. Use a pad Einstein.
Serving cold food. I once had a waitress tell me after I told her the food was cold she would talk to the cook. Think about that one. The cook had to use HEAT to cook it. Cold food meant it sat. That is the servers fault period.
Serve all dishes at the same time. Nothing spells disorganization more than dishes arriving at different times. An amateurish mistake and shows a disorganized cooking staff. And don’t forget the toast! And if you do, get it immediately.
Don’t forget the ________ (fill in the blanks). Salad, toast, cream ,sugar, a spoon, drinks, sides. Whatever. Make sure they get what they ordered and at the right time and correctly.
Don’t serve brown or wilted salad or fruit. Fresh is fresh. Serving ugly or old greens mean it made it by the cook AND the waitress. Note very good quality control. Each person in the restaurant should have the authority to stop food from going out and asking for a correction.
Don’t bring dirty dishes or the wash tub to an occupied table. Yuch. And don’t leave the dirty dishes out for customers to see. I once was invited to the fanciest steak house in Portland and they had the dirty dish cart full of dishes in the entry way. I kid you not.
Know what the soup of the day is. I can’t tell you how many times I ask the waitress what the soup of the day is and they answer “let me go find out”. Really? Check at the start of every day! And make sure its HOT!
Don’t ever say “I’ll get your waitress” for simple things like water or coffee. Every worker should have the authority to serve coffee or get something for a customer. Every customer is everyone’s responsibility.
Don’t ask how the food is when you see patrons eating and talking. They’re obviously happy. Don’t bother them. Walk by and take a peek instead. If they need something they’ll stop you. Be subliminally available, always looking but never interrupt them with full mouths or while they’re obviously doing fine without you.
Don’t clear plates before all customers are eating and done. So many restaurant staffer and owners alike think clearing dirty plates from patrons quickly is good service. It’s not. It’s rude and make patrons feel rushed and some like to pick. Fancy restaurants that know what they’re doing never do this. Don’t clear plates or offer to until all patrons are completely done.
Ask patrons if they desire dessert. Better yet, tell them the desserts in detail without them asking. If it sounds good enough they might just split one, or better yet order a few. Suggestive selling works and it’s why the smart fast food behemoths do it. Even a breakfast or lunch can be topped off with that homemade pie. Yumm. More coffee with that sir?
Don’t make people ask for their check. Another amateurish mistake. After telling them about and/or serving dessert, ask them if they are ready for the check. Don’t make them ask and don’t just plunk it down like a wet fish. Be polite and gentle. It’s the money part, be nice about it.
Finally make sure your servers are nice and friendly. If they’re rude, have an agenda, are snobby or are the ‘b” word, get rid of them. They are your FACE to the customer. A rude waiter or waitress can make a customer not come back. Then they will tell ten friends. Word of mouth can make or break you.
And if you’re opening a restaurant, be ready on day one! Many will only give you one chance. Blow the open and say goodbye to your investment. It’s very difficult to recover. First impressions in the restaurant business are SO IMPORTANT. Don’t make excuses like “we just opened”. If you’re not completely ready, DON’T OPEN. Then take the extra time to TRAIN your staff well. On all the above. And make it known anyone not onboard with this kind of knowledge and service will be shown the door.
9 out of every 10 new businesses fail. In the restaurant business, 14 out of 15 don’t make it pass the first two years. If you currently own a restaurant, review all your practices and make sure you’re not overlooking some of these no-brainers. Ignore at your own peril.
Marc Cuniberti hosts “Money Matters” on KVMR FM aired on 66 radio stations nationwide. He is a financial columnist for a variety of publications. Marc holds a BA in Economics from SDU with honors 1979.
His website is moneymanagementradio.com and he can be reached at (530) 559-1214. Visit him on Facebook (FB) under Marc Cuniberti and also on the "Money Matters” and “Money Matters Investing in Community" FB pages and You Tube. The views expressed are opinions only.