Time is the one thing we all need more of, right? That’s true for our guests, too. Make sure your restaurant service training includes teaching your staff to serve guests’ time needs. Keeping the meal going at a steady pace is what most guests are looking for, and servers can usually do this pretty well. Where they get into trouble, though, is when time seems to stand still for guests. It’s the dreaded “wait.”

Waiting for a Table

The first place guests might find themselves waiting is when they first arrive. During times when you have a waiting list, teach your host staff to “sell” the wait rather than “challenge” the guest. For instance, if there’s a 20-minute wait, the host or hostess has two options of how he or she could inform the guest:

Wrong: “Four for dinner? There is a 20-minute wait.” Translation: “Your move!”

Right: “Four for dinner? Great! Name, please? There is a short 20-minute wait, but if you’d like to have a seat at the bar I’ll let you know the minute your table is ready. The bartender can set you up with one of our great appetizers or specialty drinks!” Translation: “I know you hate to wait, but I’ll do everything I can to make that wait as short as possible. I’m happy you’re here!”

Waiting for Their Food

As much as we try to avoid it, sometimes the kitchen gets backed up or something unexpected happens to delay a food order. Train servers on these do’s and don’ts of serving waiting guests:

  • Do acknowledge the problem. Let guests know you’re aware of the delay and you’re working on it. The last thing you want is for guests to think their food is sitting under a heat lamp while you’re doing other things.
  • Do apologize. Tell guests you’re sorry for the delay, and mean it.
  • Do offer options. If the delay is going to be awhile, offer an appetizer you can prepare and bring out quickly.
  • Don’t point fingers. Even when the problem is directly related to something else going on in the restaurant, take one for the team. Never say that the kitchen is behind or a big party disrupted the service flow.

Waiting for the Check

There’s a funny habit restaurant customers have. They’ll sit leisurely at lunch or dinner, sometimes for hours, but once they’ve decided to leave, they’re in a hurry to go. The time it takes to get the check and/or have the server reconcile the check can be the last thing a guest remembers about their visit. Make it count. Teach your servers to walk no more than about eight steps away from their tables after dropping the check and then turn and see if the guest has put down payment for it.