SERVICE: Say hello or they'll say goodbye

May 25, 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

"The taste of the roast is often determined by the welcome of the host." -- Ben Franklin

Every eating event starts with an employee welcoming a guest. Regardless of whether it's a host, a cashier, the pizza counter person, the restaurant owner or a server, the impact on the guest is immediate.

It takes only a few seconds for a customer to form a first impression, accurate or otherwise, of how the rest of the experience will go, and possibly even whether they'll do business with you in the future.

Paul Paz

"Too often, the importance of the initial greeting is overlooked, and as a result, new relationships with your guests began as an uphill struggle.

Arthur Gillis and Mike Lipkin, authors of the book "Juiced," have this remarkable quote: "The ultimate irony: what we (customers) want more than anything else is for the people who serve us to take our stress away. And yet, the people who serve us cause us the most stress!"

Customers are not responsible for how your place is organized or operated. All too often your harried, inexperienced or poorly trained staff takes out its job frustrations on customers. When there's a line at the door or multiple lines on hold, they act as if to say, "It's your fault, customer, that we're busy! You're a bother, and you're NOT welcome!"

Greet and repeat

If customers feel disregarded or abandoned when they enter your place, they likely anticipate the same disappointing level of service from the rest of the staff.

Ironically, all that's usually needed to make a positive first impression is to give a customer a friendly smile of acknowledgement and some hospitable eye contact. This applies to every operation, whether it's a sit-down restaurant or a carryout unit.

Whether delivering pizzas directly to the customer or taking orders over the telephone, an employee's eyes and voice must reflect satisfaction that customers are calling -- not the stress busy they are. Operators should emphasize the use of nonverbal skills that project hospitality at every turn: in the eyes, in facial expressions, in affirming gestures and in posture.

I know no one is unflappable, and cracking under the pressure on occasion comes with the territory. But the real pros, more often than not, display incredible grace under

The Eleven Deadly Sins For Greeters

1. Not stopping a conversation when the customer arrives.
2. Having your backside facing an incoming customer.
3. Being stuck on the phone, alone up front when a customer arrives, but not acknowledging them.
4. Customers having to wait when open tables are visible.
5. Missing the seven-second optimal greeting time.
6. Leaving the lobby or greeting station unattended.
7. Not opening the door for arriving/departing customers.
8. Not saying goodbye or thank you.
9. Not giving special treatment to regulars.
10. Greeters and seaters standing still, waiting to be told what to do.
11. Debating with another person or on the phone in front of a customer.


However, if an inhospitable attitude toward customers is more the norm than the exception in your operation, then don't expect your customers to come back.

Customers should not have to suffer because an oven broke down, or because a waiter or cook was a no-show, or because the supervisor didn't schedule correctly. In fact, where possible, they should never know of such problems. Employees, therefore, have to be creative in compensating for such shortfalls, and that starts at the front door or counter with a friendly welcome.

Common greeting errors

Rob Gage is the director of training for Pacific Coasts Restaurants, Inc., based in Portland, Ore. He developed the "Eleven Deadly Sins: a guide of common greeter mistakes."

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Topics: Service

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