• Mike Hughes

The Table Visit

Let’s face it…Table visits, disaster prevention and guest recovery are our world. Or at least they should be.

It is one of those measures that terrifies newer managers and can beleaguer seasoned managers.

If you don’t remember your first guest recovery table visit, shame on you…It should stick with you like the flies on the fly paper in dry storage you forgot was hanging in the corner. Generally there are 2 types of table visits; the kind we do “voluntarily”, better known as doing our job and the kind where we need to go right away because something horrible has happened. This Blog article is going to drift towards the latter.

What about this process is so intimidating? Is it because you are basically put on stage to try to perform your way out of a bad experience? Going to an irritated guest armed with a solution is one thing…Being blindsided out of the blue is another, and if you’re lucky, you can get them both on certain shifts.

Either way, they typically are not enjoyable experiences…There are ways you can lessen the pain, but more importantly, give the guest a reason to feel better about their decision to choose your restaurant. It is a fact that a spectacular recovery can yield more miles than an average experience where nothing goes wrong. Raise your hand if some time in your management career you were “too busy” to go to a table for a problem, or worse yet you handed your manager card to a server to "take care of it". I have also learned this simple tactic…It’s not new or mine: Consistent table visits and manager to customer engagement throughout the shift can nearly eliminate major problems. You already have your finger on the pulse of your business AND you most likely have built some rapport with the dining room visitors. A keen M.O.D can spot and fix issues before a server sees them. Like that 2 top in the corner that 8 servers thought were in the other ones section, and have sat for 25 minutes doing nothing but watching everyone around them get served. That happens too often.

For someone who is still actively managing restaurants, I actually dine out often. There are plenty of times where I don’t see anyone who resembles the manager on duty. If we are in that role, we need to be visible, available and engaged. If you are hunkered down in the manager office or counting the cooler, those critically important things need to be accomplished when you are done serving guests. In fact, when are guests most likely to be “ignored”? Usually when they are first in or last in during a restaurants operating hours. Not only is the last guest of the night sometimes subject to less than stellar service and food, but they may also be the target of pissed off staff who are now being kept away from the pub by a few minutes. What’s worse is that the guest can feel and even hear this. You as the MOD should probably not be doing a safe audit at this time, but ensuring that the food and service is the same as during the rush when everyone is on point.

So, a wait staff member comes to you in a panic and tells you that table 4 found a foreign object in their food....What next?

First of all…Take it head on and gather all the information the server can give you. Drop that important paperwork you are hiding behind and go. Arrive with the solution, apologize sincerely and make that guest feel like they are being heard and the issue was resolved.

Own the problem and avoid placing blame. The guest really could care less “who” did it…As far as they’re concerned, it’s you. Your focus needs to be singular: How can I turn this issue into a positive guest experience. Also, be aware that there is something scary now that didn’t exist when I started managing. Social media! Yeah I am not a huge fan of YELP but it can literally either drive traffic to your door or speeding past it to your competitors. Instead of a disappointed guest telling their neighbor and garbage man, who may tell 10 others, it’s now broadcasted to millions. Always remember that.

Next tip…Don’t be too stingy if things go sideways. If a server forgets to ring in a table and the guest waits an hour, a free slice of pie won’t cut it. Err on the side of the guest. It absolutely burns them up to be under compensated, and will most likely cause you troubles down the road. No manager wants to give away the house, but do the right thing. A great takeaway is this; it is WAY cheaper to retain a guest that has already found your restaurant than it is to acquire new guests. So we should be absolutely embracing the people in our seats now!

Early in my management career, my tables visits weren’t always Oscar winning performances…Here are a couple examples that I wish were crazy, fictitious examples…They are however, very real.

It is the mid 90’s and I am still a relatively green manager. I am asked to go to a table because of a problem. I didn’t ask the server why. I just swiftly went out because I am “empowered” to fix things. Upon my arrival, the woman, who is absolutely beyond angry, says, “Look at the edge of my salad plate”…I looked down and there was a band aid, all shriveled up on the edge of the bowl. My immediate assumption was that it was not hers. Great call Mike…I then utter the words that have echoed in my brain for years; “I take it this isn’t your band-aid”. The woman’s head is now about to spin off her head. Not really knowing how to fix this or how to “make her happy”, I offered to comp her salad. Yup…Buy her the $7.00 chicken Caesar salad after she nearly ate a used band aid that must have slipped off a prep cook’s greasy finger when rinsing the lettuce. All I can say some 24 years later is that our mistake cost the CEO a limo ride for 10 to any restaurant in town on him. He also paid for the medical testing to insure she didn’t get sick…or worse. I am not sure a recovery solution exists that will ever drive her back in to this restaurant, but it sure wasn’t FREE LETTUCE!

Same restaurant 6 months later…I get called to a table…I wise up and ask the server why. She said that a woman found gum in her salad. (Yes we had a salad prep issue)…So out I go, knowing that this one will cost me. Hi ma’am, what can I do for you? “You can turn back the clock so I don’t have to chew someone else’s gum”. Oh Christ…So she was rightfully angry…It was a party of 3. The entire bill was paid by the restaurant and she had lost her appetite when I offered her something less gummy to eat. She was just “ok”. I am guessing we never saw them again. The root cause of both of these issues was a careless prep cook. There were also several pairs of eyes, including mine, that could have caught this from the time it went from prep sink to the table since issues like these are nearly unrecoverable. Prevention is your best recovery.

Ok, last one, and I have done HUNDREDS since 1993. Called out to a table and arrived to a guy that was actually smiling…He lifted the cheese from his burger. Under the cheese was a slice of deli paper. Under the deli paper was a sharp piece of metal that turned out to be a piece of a grill brush that must have fallen off. Now I am thinking I’m screwed here…I am concerned he may have cut himself…Nope, fortunately for the deli paper, that was his cue to stop chewing. I then go into apology mode…He states, “Its cool man, shit happens.” I try to take the burger away and he stops me and pulls the paper and metal shard out and says, “I’m good man”…Holy shit. It was a party of 2 and they both ate for free despite him fighting me on it.

I could spend weeks spinning yarns this topic, like the time I was called to the host stand because the waitress threw coins in a guest’s face and proclaimed, “You need this more than me", or the time one of my employees hit a child for pushing his little brother, but I prefer to keep these blog posts in a format that doesn't take 2 days to read.

Now I admit, they are no more fun now than they were then, but the ultimate fact remains; our job is to insure that our guests are thrilled that they chose our restaurant. Any less means we failed. There will be times when the restaurant will crash and burn and you literally have to start at table one and work your way around the dining room trying to recover people. If you have been Managing for more than 6 weeks, you most likely have had a bad shift or at the very least a mad guest. I’ve worked 6,420 shifts and counting, so you know I’ve had my share. A point I made above bears repeating; throughout a shift, if you as a manager spend 75% of your shift touching tables and talking to guests, you WILL avoid big problems, high comp numbers and guests that never want to see your face again.

Another thing about table visits and problem prevention…Don’t half ass it. Look for cues at each table and learn how to read facial and body languages. If you ask a guest how their food was and they reply with, “it was ok”, then it wasn’t. Be sincere and demonstrate that what you are doing is really something you want to do. I worked for a company that “required” every manager to actually physically touch tables (remember that technique?) In hindsight, I felt it was a little intrusive. So we would actually do things like remove a dirty napkin or a straw wrapper, and that would count. If the guest can tell you are just going through the motions, then the table visit was a fail.

Dining room and kitchen disasters may rear their ugly head now and then in your career, but knowing your role and how to prevent and recover will make your life and the hourly staff that depend on gratuity, much easier.

In closing, here is one last thought. As your career ages and your shifts worked mount, you will most certainly have your own stories to tell. I sincerely hope they don’t include things like, chewed gum, band aids, metal chards and physically assaulting guests. ‘

See you next week!

#Managertablevisit #Guestrecovery #customerservice


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