Restaurant server skills are often overlooked by those from outside the foodservice industry. From the outside, a restaurant server’s work appears to be simple. After all, what could be easier to grasp than taking orders and carrying trays of food? The reality is that the apparent simplicity is deceptive. The job can be stressful and complex. Being a good server calls for what is sometimes referred to as “soft skills.” The most important skills for a server include:
One of the best ways to think about the work of being a server is to consider the role of the host. As a host, how would you treat a guest in your home? Better yet, how would you want to be treated if you were a guest? The key is to be unrelentingly polite and friendly. Your friendliness should begin with your greeting at the moment that the customer enters your restaurant and continue until they leave it. Be friendly to them even if they are not seated in your section.
While you should be friendly, it is important to not go overboard with it. You are not friends with the customers. Being too familiar can be just as bad as being cold and distant. Be friendly, but always be mindful of your boundaries.
Much of being a server involves being able to spot a need before a customer articulates it to you. This ability is what separates the second-tier from the greats, and it is a valuable skill for anyone in a customer service position. Meeting a customer’s need may be as simple as paying attention to the level in the wineglass from across the room or recognizing their desire to make small talk.
Being attentive does not mean that you hover over the customer. In fact, you should avoid any tendency to do this. No one wants their server to watch them as they eat.
Your ability to function as a server depends on your organizational skills. Much of being a server revolves around multitasking. Multiple tables, multiple customers at each table, multiple menu items. You will need to keep it all straight even on a busy night when the kitchen is being slammed, and you have four tables more than you usually do because a coworker did not show up for work. You will need strong organizational skills to function in a high-traffic environment.
Even as you focus on approaching your work in an organized manner, it is important that you do not make any customer feel neglected. Efficiency and organization should not come at the cost of good customer service.
A server is the quintessential front-line customer service position. They are often the sole contact between a restaurant and its customers. Ask any customer service professional with a few years on the job, and they will tell you that they have experienced humanity at its worst. They also deal with the constant deadline that comes with each order and the pressures of remaining organized. Everything from outrage to disappointment over a meal gets vented on them. Successful servers have thick skin and a tight grip on their emotions. When faced with a rude or unruly customer, you must respond calmly. It is easy to fall into the trap of responding to rudeness by being rude. This is always the wrong approach. A calm response is the most effective one for neutralizing aggression.
Being calm may not de-escalate every situation. If a customer continues to be rude or unruly, it may be necessary to call a manager.
The skills above can not only ensure that you are tipped well, but they can also be valuable to you in any customer service environment.