• SERVICE: Separation anxiety

    Tags: Service

Paul Paz is a "career waiter" turned hospitality consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the author of "Service At Its Best: Waiter Waitress Training—A Guide to Becoming a Successful Server" (Prentice-Hall), and operates the hospitality information Web site Waitersworld.com.

Know how to get a cold, steely stare from a server or cashier? Ask for separate checks.

Despite the frequency of this request, restaurant staffs still make too big a fuss over it. When asked, many servers grimace as if it's the worst hassle imaginable, which leaves diners confused and annoyed because to them, it's a simple request.

I've been in this business long enough to know your staff will get more requests for separate checks as the weather warms. Why? Because large groups dine out together more often when the weather's nice. So prepare your staff for it ahead of time with these suggestions.

Separate but equal

Get the jump on them: I recommend servers stage a "preemptive strike" by offering parties separate checks in advance of the order. Why? It positions the staff to stay in control of the group. There's nothing worse and more chaotic than trying to separate checks for a large party

Paul C. Paz

at the end of the meal. Add in the rush of a busy night, and you've really spiked the stress meter. So rather than feeling victimized by a party's late request for separate checks, make it easy on yourself and offer them up front.

Added bonus: I've found that when you offer separate checks up front, customers are pleasantly surprised. It immediately sets the tone that unexpected and exceptional service is on the way, and it's likely that will be reflected in the server's gratuity.

Major 'No-no': Never force guests to separate the check. Not only is this an aggravating end to a group's meal, that frustration likely will be reflected in the tip. Rest assured, a group project like this makes the math murky at best, which can hurt gratuity as well.

Separate checks make it easier to figure gratuity and increases the likelihood of a higher tip percentage because it's easier for guests to calculate.

It's easy, so do it

Most POS systems make ringing up separate orders for larger parties a breeze. Unfortunately, it's common to see servers who avoid offering separate checks because they don't know how to get the POS system to do it properly (i.e. sending one combined ticket to the kitchen, but separate tickets for each guest).

Operators and managers, check with your staff to make sure they understand this procedure, and don't be shy about asking them to demonstrate this skill. The purpose is not to catch them doing something wrong, it's to make their jobs easier while enabling them to increase their sales and tips.

If you don't have a POS system and use a manual paper pad, design a simple system for organizing paper checks for a group. Key points for taking separate check orders are identifying each check's customer name, or using a pivot-point sequence (i.e., making one guest #1, and numbering subsequent guests #2, #3, etc., as you move clockwise around the table) of order-taking to minimize "auctioning" food at delivery. Some POS systems even require seating order sequence at the input stage to ensure all food is delivered correctly.

Overall, the resistance from restaurants to calculate separate checks is another value-added service routinely overlooked. Settling the check is the last exchange and impression of your establishment, and failing to regularly and graciously offer separate checks can be perceived as bad or irritable service--a bad last impression to make.

Worse, any reluctance to provide separate checks can create an adversarial climate in which your customers become less inclined to listen to suggestive sales pitches from your server. Think about it: Wouldn't you ignore a server who didn't appear accommodating at the outset of the meal?

In this industry, customers have more than enough options, and those pizzerias whose staffs don't make a memorable impression through good service are encouraging customers not to return. And as you know, bad impressions spread more quickly than good ones. I'm not sure any of us can afford that.

In the meantime, Make It Fun ... Make It Easy ... Make Some Money!

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