Guests have questions.
Whether they’re frequent diners or are visiting your restaurant for the first time. Whether they have a regular standing order or want to try something new. It’s inevitable that questions about your menu will come up during service. After all, a server isn’t just there to write down orders. Their work is much more complex, as the human face of your business and the guests’ guide through the dining experience. And setting your servers up to succeed in their job means preparing them for those tough menu questions. Below are some menu details your servers should know so they can best answer guest questions.
Can I eat this if I’m allergic to _______?
It can be a struggle for people with severe allergies to go out for a nice meal. And guests will be more hesitant about how adventurous to be with their order if your server can’t give them an answer about ingredients in particular dishes. Cross-check a list of common allergies and make it a point to train servers on the dishes that have these particular ingredients in them. Even better, encourage your servers to be proactive in asking about allergies up front. It will show that your server is prepared to provide those answers and avoids guests having to awkwardly bring up the topic themselves.
Can I have it this way? What about that way?
Many guests are very particular for one reason or another (whether they have health issues, can’t stand spicy food, struggle with lactose intolerance, etc.) and will request specific changes to the dishes they want to order. Can the fried fish be grilled, baked, or cooked another way? Can the chef substitute out dairy products? Are there vegetarian options for menu items normally prepared with meat?
Just because a guest asks for changes doesn’t mean your chefs can accommodate them — sometimes it’s just not feasible — but your servers should know how to answer if the requests do come up. It’s not a great experience for a guest to be told their fish can be grilled instead of fried in one moment, only to be informed ten minutes later that the type of fish isn’t appropriate for grilling. Make sure the server knows the limitations of the kitchen and is educated on suggestions to make if a request isn’t reasonable. Can’t have fried fish? Perhaps your guest would enjoy the grilled salmon entrée instead.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
Providing menu recommendations seem like a no-brainer. After all, how many times have your servers been asked how spicy a dish is? Or whether the fish is fresh? But this will also help them answer the quintessential guest question: “How’s the ____?” Instead of simply saying “It’s very good,” or relying on his or her own preferences, your server should be able to describe the flavor and what makes it so good. If a guest is very indecisive and feels lost among the choices put in front of them, this is an opportunity to sell customers on the more popular or well-known dishes at your establishment.
Knowing the menu is important for your staff, but that expectation is only reasonable if you have given them the time to taste all the dishes. Sure, you might offer them a shift meal, but that doesn’t mean they’ve tasted the whole menu. Taking the time out of a staff meeting or training day for a full sampling of at least your main dishes — if not your entire menu — can give your front of house staff a world of information to help sell dishes to your guests.
What exactly is in this? Does this include fries?
While this information should be readily available on the menu, having a sense of what sides come with the entrees can help your servers anticipate any issues with what’s been ordered together.
For instance, maybe your guest hasn’t noticed that the seared tuna comes with a dressed bed of greens and proceeds to order an additional side salad. An accomplished server would helpfully point out the greens in the entrée and suggest another side to pair with the fish if they were looking for some variety. This response still encourages the guest to purchase a side, but also lets their customers know that their server is focused on their best interests. Maybe they really wanted both sets of greens — and if so, your server should of course happily provide. But either way, your server is putting his or her best foot forward in providing a fantastic dining experience your guests will undoubtedly appreciate.
Your staff should be aware of all the intricacies of your chef’s preparation techniques and ingredients. Do they use organic ingredients? Does your establishment have its own garden? Is a particular dish a family recipe? These are all details that highlight the thoughtfulness of not only the server, but also the restaurant itself — and may very well be the thing that distinguishes you from the competition.
Training: The Foundation of Server Success
It takes time for servers to learn the answers to all of these questions. Some of these answers will come with experience, getting used to the rhythm of your restaurant and what the average guest is like. But as a manager or owner, it’s crucial to support your servers’ efforts to know your menu, inside and out. Taking time out of the daily grind to train your staff (including offering ongoing menu training) will help ensure everyone is on the same page. Encouraging individual accomplishments during this training and afterwards — and rewarding them when you see them put what they’ve learned into practice during service — is also important. And of course, you should know these answers as well. Part of being a great owner or operator is leading by example in knowing your menu inside and out.
Want tips on rewarding your employees (and ensuring their loyalty along the way)? Check out our look at how to retain great staff: