SERVICE: It takes a desire to please the customer to deliver exceptional service

Nov. 3, 2003
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

In a service economy that often suffers from a lack of good service, it's actually pretty easy to define exceptional service.

The way I see it, exceptional service is similar to setting the world record in the 100-yard dash: the winner gets the spoils, the attention, endorsement contracts and career opportunities. The world wants to do business with winners.

But what's the difference between those in the rest of the pack and the one hitting the tape first? Sometimes the separation is just hundredths of a second, while other times the distance between winners and loser is wide and obvious.

And so it is with customer service. The only difference between average customer service and winning service is a hair's breadth of preparation and anticipation by the staff.

Preparation is simply being able to meet the minimal (and reasonable) expectations of your customers. This would include having change on hand for a delivery customer, a wine-key for opening a bottle of wine at the table, knowing all the specials by heart so they can be recited warmly—not mechanically—over the phone or at the table. It also means wearing a clean uniform and being groomed. For delivery drivers, this should include a car that's at least presentable and clean on the outside.


Paul C. Paz

on the other hand, includes the ability to provide proactive service that keeps the customer from having to request it. Recently I was at an automotive store that was out of an advertised special. The clerk curtly announced, "We don't have any more!" I asked if a rain check was available and she responded with, "Oh, yeah," instead of offering it as soon as she told me they were out.

Her service was not proactive at all; it was, in fact, laden with "Not my problem and I don't care ... I just work here" attitude.

So it is with food service.

Here are some examples of exceptional customer service:

* When customers pay their bills, return their exact change quickly without saying, "Did you want your change?

* Serve a shared glass of wine, beer or milkshake in two glasses.

* Offer separate checks when you greet large parties.

* When making a delivery, compliment something about the customer's property: the nice lawn, the flowers, the intricate brick work, whatever you find. If they live in an apartment building, say, "Neat building. Is this a nice place to live?" People not only appreciate such compliments, they remember them—and you!

* Keep a local newspaper on hand and offer it to your single diners.

* Present a magnifying glass to diners who have difficulty reading the menu print.

* Present a mini-flashlight when it's too dark to read the menu—which can be the case in dimly lit pizzerias.

* Bring those "automatic refills" before they ask for them.

* Write down the order so it is accurate and complete when the meal is delivered.

* Approach your customer's table--or the door of his residence—with a smile and a sense of hospitality. You're not just delivering food, you're part of the entire dining experience.

* Where possible, greet customers by their name.

* Watch for visual cues that help eliminate a problem before it happens. For example, offer to remove the olives on that night's special pizza if you see their faces wrinkle at the word "olive."

Have you noticed that most of these examples are about what to do verses what not to do? Service is proactive and can only be described as action that benefits your customers. Non-action is the absence of service.

Service is a choice of making a personal connection with our customers. Yes, many customers choose your pizzeria for nutritional sustenance, but they also choose yours for nourishment of their spirit. They get to hide out for 30-90 minutes from a crazy world out there, and you, the service person, help them suspend reality during that brief encounter.

Think about this the next time you go to the table or the door: How many of your guests may have just lost their job (while you're still working), have a friend or family member in Iraq, suffered a death in the family, just had their first born move into their own place and who knows what else? Life is stressful, and customers expect service persons to reduce their stress. And if you think about it, it's not that hard to get their minds off their troubles when you give them exceptional service--and food, of course.

The margin between average service and exceptional service is very thin. Most opportunities to provide exceptional service happen very routinely. Too often we overlook these chances. So surprise your customers next time with exceptional service moments.

More advice from Paul Paz ...

* SERVICE: Schedule flexibility is a benefit -- not an entitlement -- of this industry
* SERVICE: Promote the pizza industry as a career choice
* SERVICE: Cheaters never prosper, especially in restaurants
* SERVICE: Say hello or they'll say goodbye
* SERVICE: Treat coworkers as courteously as customers
* SERVICE: What's There to Smile About?

Topics: Service

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