Back to my roots. There’s something deeply moving and rejuvenating to go back to where it all started. My professional career began almost 30 years ago in a fine-dining French restaurant called “The Palm Terrace”. I started as a busboy, then worked my way up to various roles.
However, the job that transformed me; the one that made me feel like I was flying…the one that fully consumed me, was as a restaurant server. Oh, I loved that job. In fact, I still view myself as a server today! Many of the articles, books, keynotes and workshops that I’ve created were inspired by my time as a server.
I studied everyday in that role like I was preparing for a final exam. Wines, napkin folds, carving cote-du-boeuf table side, mixing caesar salads, perfecting the froth for the cappuccino. Aaaahhh.
In this article, I would like to share 7 non-negotiables that I tried to never (EVER) compromise on.
The guests should never have to wonder if they are seen. This starts from the moment guests were seated in my section of the restaurant. If a guest ever looked confused or looking around, I took that as failure on my part. Those guests were visitors to my “home” and I had to re-affirm their decision to come in the 1st place.
*Lesson: Always ensure that you acknowledge your customers before they acknowledge you.
Never just take the order. What would you like to eat? What would you like to drink? Cringe-worthy! A kiosk can do that. A robot can do that. I challenged myself to ask questions and read the table so I can make valuable and applicable suggestions. As a server, my role was not just to “take the order” but rather to help guide the guests on a dining journey that they would never forget in their life.
*Lesson: Suggest. Recommend. Advise.
The water glass should never be more than half-empty. A water glass that is more than half-empty is a sign of neglect (unless, of course, the guest declines the water). The state of the water glass is an accurate barometer of the server’s attentiveness.
*Lesson: Always make sure that you continuously provide what the customer expects (and more)..
Never walk past a table without checking on it. Whether it’s “your table” or not, the guest doesn’t care. I repeat…The. Guest. Doesn’t. Care. They could care less whose section they are in. After all, they decided to go out to a restaurant; not to a restaurant section. All they know is that anyone who works there should be able to assist period.
*Lesson: Every customer is your customer.
Never bring anything to the table without inspecting it first. The server is the last line of defense between the kitchen and the guest or the bar and the guest. The guest should NEVER have to notice something wrong first about what was delivered. That’s the server’s job. The question I always asked myself, “is this dish prepared the way our guests expect it?” Otherwise, it wasn’t getting delivered.
*Lesson: View the experience from the customer’s eyes.
Remove anything unnecessary from the table. Extra or unused cups, glasses, plates or silverware need to vanish. Clutter is not on the menu. Everything on the table should have a purpose. Otherwise, it should be removed.
*Lesson: Ensure the experience you provide doesn’t have distractions.
Before you present the check, clear the table. No matter what industry you are in, the payment process should not feel like a one way door that abruptly shuts the transaction. It should be an organic conclusion to a memorable experience, with an invitation to return for more memorable experiences. The fond farewell is just as important as the warm welcome (if not more important).
So, there you have it! 7 non-negotiables that were foundational to everything I did as a server. Fortunately, I’ve held on to them ever since, and those non-negotiables have pervaded every role I’ve held since then.
I am also grateful that I had countless leaders who mentored, coached, corrected and encouraged me along the way. Those leaders helped me view my work as an honorable one, filled with dignity, artsmanship, and class. I would not be where I am today if I had not been a server years ago. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t need to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t need to know Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”