7 Types of Restaurant Guests and How to Please Them All
7 Types of Restaurant Guests
(and how to wait on them.)
Different people are coming to your restaurant for different reasons. Each individual has an expectation of the evening and within that expectation is an energy. You are there to understand the expectation, read the energy and to deliver exactly what the guest wants.
The following is a quick list of the “type” of guests you will wait on in your tenure as a server. It does not contain every type, but it contains most. I’ve also included the type of service each is looking for.
Disclaimer. The following generalizations are just that: generalizations. There is no definite way to “deal with people” or make them happy. Mood’s change quickly, personalities are unique and the following ideas are food for thought. They are based on my personal work experiences. If you have been in the industry you may have different ideas and techniques that are 100% effective. Take what you want from my advice and leave the rest.
1. The Business Meeting
When a guest decides to conduct business at your restaurant, they are usually looking for attentive, intuitive, quiet, respectful, non-invasive service. The guest may be discussing important matters with colleagues or trying to impress a client—either way, they are not there to be entertained by their server. The less interruptions to their dining experience the better.
I have found that by identifying the host to the business dinner and asking him or her their expectations of the dinner, you can’t go wrong. While I tell you that the business group wants distance and attentive service, if you ask your guest what they want for the evening you may find that my advice is totally off base. There is no better person to ask than the host.
Here are some questions you could ask the business dinner host to ensure that the night goes exactly as they want it to.
1. “Are you entertaining this evening or discussing business?”
Their answer will help you understand your role and his or her mind set.
2. “Would you like to pick out a bottle of white and red wine for the table?”
Explain to the guest the benefits of this, which are:
Relieves the guest’s stress about what is acceptable to order and what is not. Less verbal interruptions by you to the guest. (Rather than asking each guest if they would “like another cocktail,” or having to tell a curious guest what the wines by the glass are, you can simply, quietly, elegantly refresh each guest’s glasses—without any verbal interaction.)
Keeps the host in control while still being generous and gracious.
3. “Would you like to pick out some appetizers/tapas/pre-dinner items for your guests to nosh on?”
If your restaurant offers appetizers it’s a nice touch to offer to help the host choose some popular items for his dinner companions to enjoy while they settle in. (OR offer to pick them out yourself.)
When assisting in than appetizer order for the table be conscious of Allergies.
- Find out if any guest has one.
- Consider avoiding appetizers that contain ingredients that could make a guest ill.
If the host or someone at the table orders an appetizer that contains an ingredient that disagrees with one of the guests, then do two things:
1. When delivering the appetizer to the table be sure to take it to the person with the allergy and tell them what it is, that it contains an ingredient they are allergic to and that you are going to place it on the other side of the table. That makes room for the food they can eat and lets them know that there is food on the table they should avoid, and what it looks like.
2. Place the appetizer on the other side of the table.
4. “When would you like me to explain the specials and take the order?”
Some business dinners have a time line and if they do, as their server you should know about it. By finding out when the host wants you to enter the picture, you can’t disappoint. (Unless you don’t do it.)
5. “How many courses would you like your guests to enjoy?”
Some hosts want everyone to order a lot of food, to experience as many pleasing tastes as they can. Your host may be one of these people. On the other hand some hosts are cheap or on a time constraint and want people to order minimally. Once you find this piece of information you can better assist the diners as you answer their questions, guide their experience and take their order.
6. “Are you on a time constraint?”
Some hosts want to have courses delivered at certain times, or have the entire dinner wrapped up by a certain time. By finding out about time constraints you can help the host achieve his/her wishes.
2. The Happily Returning Guest
When you work at an “it” place, people will begin to come in because they like your food and service, and they are back to experience that same great experience. The more times in a row you can create a great experience for your guest, the better reputation you will earn for it.
When they bring friends
When you have earned a patron’s respect and loyalty, they will inevitably bring in guests: friends, family or acquaintances, and it is vital that you treat the returning guest(s) as a VIP. You don’t have to bring free treats (but you can), but you do have to be vocal to the returning guest, in front of their guests, that you are so pleased to see them again.
I can assure you if your guest is bringing in others with the hopes of impressing them and you treat them poorly, without enthusiasm or even worse, average, you have lost their future business.
As long as you hit a few points through the course of the meal, you will be meeting this type of guest’s expectations:
Genuine happiness to see the returning guest.
If you don’t remember them, or have never waited on them but you see in their reservation guest notes that they are a returning guest bringing in friends or family, then you have all the information you need to know. An actual memory of them is not needed. In fact, they may not remember or know you, but it won’t make your job any more difficult. The fact is they don’t care that they don’t remember you, this night is about you “remembering” them in front of their guests. (Your helpful and professional host or maître de will assist you in finding out which guests in the party are the returning guests.)
Ask the returning guest about his or her guests.
“Who are these lovely people you’ve brought in this evening? Is this their first visit? Where are they visiting from? How do you know each other?” Etc. People love the opportunity to share their story of how they are connected. As their server, if you show interest in them and their guest, you will please them greatly.
Remember your guests.
If you can remember anything the guest ordered the last time they were in, mention it! “Would you like to start with a glass of sparkling wine again? The last time you were in I remember you really enjoyed the Laurent Perrier Brut.” This is huge brownie points.
Bring them a treat.
Some restaurants will not give you, the server, free will to do this, but if you happen to work in one that does, exercise it now. A special martini that your restaurant is known for, (or better yet, one that they loved last time) split four ways and served in small pretty glasses as a tasty gift to show your happiness at their return with their friends will go further than you can imagine.
3. First timers; they’re…
a. ready for show. Ready to be impressed!
b. ready to watch you fail. Ready to find fault.
This type of guest has probably heard great things about your restaurant and they are ready to experience it themselves. Most people are ready and eager to be wowed, while some are looking for a reason to be underwhelmed. Either way, you have your work cut out for yourself.
It is important that you, just like with all guests, show your genuine happiness that they have decided to dine with you tonight. Let them know that you intend to make their night enjoyable and you are there for them.
Your “first time?—Welcome!” spiel should be different than your “you’ve been here before and I’m so happy you’re back!” spiel. First timers want to know what all the hoopla is about, how they should order, what is most popular and why. If your menu happens to have a word that everyone inquires about, (“what’s this?”) tell them right away, “And there is one mystery word here, under the Opa entrée; it simply means blah, blah, blah.”
First time diners have a radar that many other types of diners do not possess. Pull out your bag of tricks for these people and you’ll have happy, returning guests.
Whether your restaurant is being used as a facilitator of romance or as a place to celebrate it, the romantic table is an easy one. They’ve come to you in good, hopeful spirits. They don’t want anything to go wrong so they are not on the lookout for error. They are in love and into each other. Rather than depending on you and the food to make their night special, they depend on each other.
Your role here is simple: take excellent care of them without many interruptions. Remember, they want great food, great service, full drinks, but they don’t want to interact with you too much. That is, unless things are going very well or very poorly. Some couples get into such high spirits that the date is going well that they like to include the server into the conversation. I’ve come up with a hypothesis as to why this is. You may disagree:
- They want to learn more about each other by listening to each other talk to you. New love is on best behavior in front of their newly beloved. By having a conversation with you, the server in which they feel no love for, they can listen and watch each other interact. It’s great fun!
2. They are looking for ways to unify their new bond. They are looking for “we” moments. If they engage you about a topic, say children, and you tell them about your child at home, one of them has the opportunity to talk about how much they love kids, now the other one can interject that they love kids too!–and now they’ve learned that they have a “we” interest. They can make babies together! What great fun?!?!
3. They want to show off. This is more often the case on anniversaries celebrated by couples who are still very much in love. “We’ve been together for 20 years and we’re still in love. Want to hear all about it??” Of course you do! That would be fun!
Simple read the cues of couples. They all want something different, but for the most part they just want a little help from you to ensure there are no glitches so they can stay focused on romance.
Family. This one is all over the board. Some families never get out of the house because they have so many food allergies they could all die easily. Some are fighters. Some are spoiled. Sometimes the dad is pissed off at his wife. Sometimes the daughter is pouting because dad’s a jerk. Some of them swear and laugh and drink and story tell. Some pray and are reverent and don’t drink and talk quietly.
Every family is different, but for the most part they are into each other, sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not.
6. Friend’s Night Out (Rowdy)
(The great ones)
Some people are fun, happy and pleasant. Because birds of a feather flock together these people usually befriend others who are also fun, happy and pleasant. When you get these people together for dinner at your restaurant they could possibly be your best table. How could they not be? They are great humans! If this is your luck, enjoy it! Get them their drinks and food in a timely manner, joke around with them, have fun with them and make some great money, too. Maintain your cheery attitude even if things get busy, loud, drunk or overwhelming. This group doesn’t want to see an ugly frown. They are here for fun, not to see you acting glum.
(The suck ones)
On the other hand some people are bitchy, rude and elitist. Because birds of a feather flock together these people usually befriend others who are also bitchy, rude and elitist. When these people get together at your restaurant for dinner they could possibly be your worst table. How could they not be? They are horrible humans! If this is your luck, endure it. It will be over soon.
With a group like this it is important that you do everything 100% correct. Don’t give any reason for them to complain. Doing everything 100% correct is always something to strive for, I’m not saying it’s not, but when you have a group like this it becomes imperative.
I have found a few techniques that can sometimes turn a group of people who want to hate you into a group that likes you and wants to protect you (from themselves and their crappy friends.) As I have said previously in this book, my recommended techniques are ones that have been taught to me or that I have developed on my own. They are not hard and fast fixes, but for me, they have worked. If they didn’t I wouldn’t share them with you now.
How to please guests who want to hate everything, including you:
Find the guest who is the most vocal about loving the food and the experience. When you check on this table make sure you ask that guest, specifically and in front of everyone, if they are enjoying their food and drink. When they give a loud and happy, “yes” it will bring everyone’s mood and judgment up by approximately 1/100th of a percent. But when you are dealing with a group like this, any little bit helps.
Find the person who is the most in love with him or herself and who seems to act as if this restaurant, you, the food, the wine, the menu, etc. is not meeting their expectations; the person who is acting like they are far better than this whole experience. Now, try to figure out what they love the most about themselves, or what they are the most insecure about. Maybe she has snazzy nails, newly highlighted hair, a unique purse, or he has a tie with personality, a big laugh or a unique speaking voice.
(Now comes the hard part.) Hunker down to them (if allowed at your restaurant) and in a conspiratorial sort of way compliment them. I told you it was hard!– especially if they are a pain in the ass and you sort of hate them. This is where you put your acting shoes on. Make the compliment as personal as possible, meaning that the compliment comes from you personally and genuinely. “Miss. Excuse me one moment. I have to tell you that I LOVE your hair! I wish I could wear mine as beautiful as that. It looks so good on you. I’m kind of jealous!”
The reason I “like” this technique is it calms Mr. or Miss. I-am-the-shit down. Once they realize that you, lowly server, realize that they are the most special person you have ever waited on in your life, that you admire and adore them and are honored to take care of, well, they can step back from having to prove it to you. Once they know that you know, they might, just might, settle the fuck down and quit being a pain in your ass.
Laugh! If they make any attempt at humor with you, give them your best laugh. Don’t tight-lip smile. Don’t (obviously) fake laugh. Do not use this as an opportunity to passively and aggressively tell them that you don’t like them, they are not funny, and you don’t want to be waiting on them. Instead give them your best, most genuine laugh. If they are using humor with you then they will automatically like you more if you find them funny.
(I love people that laugh at my jokes, don’t you? One time when I was dining out with a friend, I said something “funny” to our server, who let out a good a laugh and wore a genuine smile. My friend asked me, “Do you think that was a real laugh or was she faking?” I said, “I don’t give a shit either way. She laughed. Now I love her.”)
Sometimes people die. And sometimes the people that loved them feel sad while at the same time feel hungry. And sometimes those hungry, sad people will decide to eat at your restaurant. In these cases, don’t do what the owner of a previous restaurant I worked at did and tell the group they were acting lame and jokingly accuse them of acting like they just came from a funeral.
If you have guests who are acting reverent, sad, contemplative, or quiet, match that mood. Be respectful and calm, and just tend to their needs. Being quietly attentive is the best course of action.
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