In part one of this interview, expert server Christopher Stark shared thoughts on training staff he’s developed over 17 years as a fine dining establishment server at California Grill in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. In part two of this generous and candid interview, Christopher now details his experience serving guests, the process of getting to know them, and how to manage upselling without disrupting their experience.
What do you think is a server’s biggest challenge at any restaurant?
Being able to read the guests. Figuring out what their expectations are and providing the closest thing to that experience you can. And doing that for multiple groups (who all probably have different expectations) at the same time, while making each of those groups feel like they are your number one concern during the time they are there.
What about your own experience with guests – what was a particularly challenging situation and how did you handle it?
Language barriers can always be an interesting challenge, when the guest knows only a little English and my grasp of their language is just as bad, if not worse. Being at Disney — and guest expectations being that much higher because, well, it’s Disney – can sometimes lead to challenges.
How do you handle that when it’s difficult to communicate with your guests?
Hope you can find someone who speaks the language! Try just basic words: beef, chicken, beer. Point at items on other guests’ tables. Or write down items when dealing with guests who are deaf, possibly reading the menu for guests who are blind. You just try and figure out how to make it work for the situation you are in at that moment.
Is there something that Disney does to manage customer feedback?
Disney has so many methods where guests can let their feeling of their experiences be known! Fortunately, they also have the methods to let us know both the positive and the negative. We try and correct the negative issues (or make up for it) before they become major issues.
As a server, knowing the guest feedback lets me know what I am doing right and what I may need to adjust in future interactions with guests. Being able to use that information helps me give the guests an enjoyable experience which they then will want to come back and experience again — and tell others about so they will come. The more people return and send new people, the more money the restaurant will make.
Mastering the upsell
Is upselling something you consciously think about or is that incorporated into reading the guests?
Personally, I find that upselling is something I do almost automatically. Not necessarily adding on the food side, but definitely when it comes to items from the bar. For example, when a guest asks for a rum and coke, I will ask if they want Bacardi or Captain Morgan. Or when a couple is each getting a glass of the same wine, asking if they plan on having more of the same and offering them the bottle. I personally try to not be too pushy about my upsells.
How do you keep the upsell more natural than pushy?
I try to just make it a question and move on if the answer is no. I know other servers who will try and sell the highest-priced items they can. Personally, I am more about the experience than the high-pressure sale. I would rather sell somebody a bottle of wine for $120 that will enjoy and feel they got a good deal then push them into the $200 bottle. In fact, with wine sales I will actually sometimes downsell. It adds to the feeling of a more personal experience. Plus, there is then the chance I can get them to buy another bottle of the less expensive wine.
As a server, what do you think about the controversy of no tipping restaurants?
I am curious to see how that works out. I have been working as a server for tips for so long now that I think I would have a hard time adjusting. At Disney, when a gratuity is automatically added to a check (for group size or with some of the discount programs), the server doesn’t see that money right away. It actually goes to the paycheck, where taxes and insurance are taken out. You will sometimes see those tables not getting the full attention as ones where the money isn’t guaranteed.
But to balance that risk of less attention in a no tipping policy, an owner or manager would need to hold the server accountable just like any other job. If you don’t do the job satisfactorily and end up having guests complain on a regular basis, then it would be time for some sort of discipline to correct the problem.
So what has been your most rewarding experience working in the restaurant industry?
The knowledge I have received about foods, and wine, and beer that I have been able to use in my own life and share with others. Also the positive affects people have told me I have had on them, just by my taking care of them for a couple hours.
Want customer feedback to accent server training and measure your guests’ experience? Rewards Network has a solution for you: