Ask TrueGuest: Tips on Making Menu Recommendations

Dear TrueGuest,Logo_Mark-Five_Diamond_Hospitality

We really need to increase our average check in our restaurant and the bar.  We have been working on making menu recommendations but have not seen any improvement.  What types of items should our employees recommend?

Great question, thank you!  Having restaurant servers and bartenders make menu recommendations is definitely the key to increasing your average check.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure that employees only recommend items that they have personally tried and love.  It sounds like a no brainer, but we have this conversation all of the time.  Server says, “our fish tacos are incredible and a must order”.  We ask, “do they have cilantro on them?”  Server says, “I have no idea”.  I guess they are not her favorite after all!  Make sure you are doing regular menu tastings with your team.
  2. Allow your employees to choose what they recommend, but have some limitations.  Here is where restaurants often run into trouble.  You start telling your servers that they must make recommendations but don’t provide any guidelines.  They tend to do one of two things, over or under recommend.  Half the servers immediately recommend the most of expensive item on your menu.  They think they will increase their sales and their tips.  Unfortunately, most guests do not fall for that and are turned off when you recommend the most expensive item.  The other half of the servers then under recommend.  When asked about entrees, they say something like, “you should get the chicken quesadilla appetizer, it is more than enough for an entree.”  Now, instead of increasing the check, they decreased it.  They took away an appetizer sale and sold the analyst a $9 entree instead of a $22 entree.  Ouch! Continue reading

Chili’s Restaurants Aims to Put a Tablet on Every Table to Make You Spend More

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If you’ve been in a Chili’s restaurant in the last 6 months, you may have noticed an iPad type device on your table…  unless you have been to focused on those sweet baby back ribs!  Chili’s has spent the last six months testing the tablets that allow diners to order beverages and desserts or pay their bill without having to flag down a waiter.  From a great article on Bloomberg:

Things have gone so well at the initial 180 or so restaurants that the company decided to install the devices at most of its 1,266 U.S. restaurants by the first half of 2014.

It turns out, the tablets lead to bigger checks and more revenue for Chili’s.  According to Bloomberg, the tablets cause guests to spend more for the following reasons:

1. Leaving bigger tips by default. Despite being less reliant on waiters, diners end up tipping about 15 percent more on average, according to data from Ziosk. At Chili’s, for instance, the default suggestion on the tablet is set at 20 percent—a generosity-enhancing strategy that has also proven effective in New York City taxis, which are now equipped with back seat monitors. At the table, diners can go lower or higher than the suggested tip before paying—but unless the service was awful, who wants to be a Scrooge?

2. A bigger appetite for appetizers. Ever arrive at a restaurant starving? By eliminating the wait for a menu, tablet can boost impulse orders at the start of the meal—especially when photos of appetizers are streaming across monitors. Ziosk says tablets have increased starters sales by 20 percent at restaurants that offer them, although Chili’s hasn’t put its appetizer menu on the tablets.

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Ask TrueGuest: How Does Using Table Numbers Improve Internal Controls and How Do I Assign Table Numbers?

Dear TrueGuest,

I read a couple of articles on your site about using table numbers to reduce employee theft.  How does that work?  Also, how do I assign table numbers in my restaurant?

Tables

Great question!  Using table numbers is not only a key tool for guest service, but a great tool for reducing internal theft.  However, judging by the receipts we see in hotel restaurants, very few hotels take advantage of using table numbers in restaurants or seat numbers in bars.  Why does using table numbers help reduce internal theft:

  1. Using table numbers makes it easy for a manager or supervisor to monitor an employee’s open checks.  As a manager, I used to stop in the restaurant often and pop open the floor plan on the point of sale system.  Anytime I would see an open check at a table without anyone sitting at, I knew there was a problem that needed to be investigated.  My policy was always that checks must be closed as soon as payment was made.
  2. Using table numbers and seat numbers makes it hard for servers and bartenders to reuse checks and steal the cash.  We’ve written quite a bit in the past about problems with servers and bartenders reusing checks.  See this article on check splitting and this section in our internal control guide for bars on reusing checks.  If your restaurant and bar have good table and seat number systems, it is more obvious when servers and bartenders reuse checks.  For instance, if a guest at table 22 pays cash for their buffet, the server cannot easily reuse that same check with table 34.
  3. Using table numbers and seat numbers also adds another layer of perceived controls.  It seems simple, but the more controls you have in place, the less employees will test them.  Experienced servers and bartenders know that restaurants who do not have simple controls like table numbers in place probably aren’t doing a very good watching out for internal theft.

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Ask TrueGuest: Improving In Room Dining

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Dear TrueGuest,

I am the In Room Dining Manager of a large hotel.  Our In Room Dining sales have really dropped over the last year.  Our service scores are also suffering.  Where do a start?

room serviceGreat question!  Many hotels are reporting a drastic decrease in F&B sales per occupied room.  The In Room Dining sales have taken the biggest hit during these tough times.  Guests are really cutting back on the more expensive amenities of the hotels and room service is usually at the top.  Here are our recommendations:

1.  Revisit your menu and specifically your menu prices.  Many hotels dramatically increased their room service menu prices over the restaurant prices.  We recommend that the prices are similar, especially if your hotel is near many other restaurants…  especially if they are within walking distance.  Guests typically look at the room service prices and assume they are the same as in the restaurant.  If a guest feels they are too high, you have lost them as a customer in both room service and the restaurant.  Guests will grab breakfast from a quick mart and eat dinner at the restaurant next door.

2.  Review the basics of room service selling with your Room Service Operators.  Now more than ever, they need to maximize the revenue on every call they receive.  Check out this article on how to increase your room service sales by as much as 50 percent!

3.  For help on improving your service, check out this article on how to deliver room service orders the right way!

Have any tips of your own?  Post them below!  Have a question that you would like answered?  Post it below or send it to us via the contact page.

New Consumer Reports Restaurant Study Has Suprising Results

In a study of chain restaurants in the July 2009 edition of Consumer Reports, customers reported at least one complaint during a whopping 43 percent of the visits!  The complaints reported are very surprising and an area that we should all be focused on improving in our hotel restaurants.  consumer-reports-logo

Here are the top complaints:

  1. Noise (reported in 26% of visits)
  2. Poor Service (18%)
  3. Cleanliness Issues (10%)
  4. Food Quality (7%)

Most people would automatically assume that food quality issues would be the top complaint in a restaurant.  Keep in mind that this study covered restaurants from Denny’s all the way up to Morton’s Steakhouse.  You probably spend a lot of time working on your menu and your food quality.  Keep in mind that this is the area that the fewest people complain.  Where should you focus most?  First, hopefully your hotel restaurant does not have a noise problem. Very few of the restaurants our mystery shoppers visit have any sort of noise problem.  However, many of the hotel restaurants have both a service problem and some cleanliness issues.

Service problems are the biggest problem areas during our mystery shopper’s visits.  Surprisingly, the biggest problems are the most basic service standards.  Many servers struggle to do basic standards such as taking orders, pre-bussing tables, and delivering the check correctly.  Schedule a mystery shop today to see how your service ranks.

We also see a few cleanliness issues during our visits.  The main culprits?  Buffets and bathrooms.  Bathroom cleanliness was also a complaint in the Consumer Reports study.  Have a messy bathroom in your restaurant is probably the quickest way to scare a guest.  The buffet problems we report are issues such as dirty plates in the plate rack and messes left on the buffet from other guests.  Be sure that dishes are inspected after they come out of the dishwasher and before they are put on the buffet.  Also, be sure you have someone monitoring the buffet to clean up the mess left by guests who don’t know how to operatate a set of tongs.

Keep focused on the basics to improve your guest satisfaction scores!

Ask TrueGuest: Bartender Selling Techniques

Dear TrueGuest,

I am a food and beverage manager at a hotel with two bars.  Can you tell me some ways that we can increase our revenues?  We are obviously a little bit slower lately, but is there anything that we can do to help?

mixed-drink1The selling area of a bartender’s service is always overlooked. These selling standards are extremely important to generating higher revenues. Bartenders can come across as uncaring and unfriendly if they just approach and ask guests, “What can I get for you?” They also will not sell much more than the minimum guest order. Most hotel bars are not like the bars or nightclubs that stand alone.People usually expect more from a hotel bar.The service of a bartender should be similar to that provided by servers to a table of guests that are eating.There are many selling standards that should be in place for each time a guest arrives at the bar.This includes practices such as offering your drink menu to guests whether they know what they want or not, providing a food menu, suggesting any specialty drinks, offering more beverages, and offering bar snacks.Each of these practices has its own effect and benefit on your bartender’s guest service as well as revenues.Here is a breakdown.

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Cutting Payroll in Your Hotel Restaurants – Busser Edition

If you are like many hotels, you are looking for ways to reduce your costs in your restaurants to compensate for the lower revenues.  In this first cutting payroll edition, we are going to discuss how to cut the busser (bussperson, busboy) position.  Many restaurant chains across the country have now eliminated the busser position.  Take a look at this article describing how chains such as T.G.I. Friday’s have eliminated the position.

busboxFirst, a brief overview of how we see the bussperson position. Bussers are the key to a restaurant’s cleanliness.  They are relatively inexpensive to have on the floor during busy times.  However, they can really hamper good guest service.  Restaurants tend to use bussers to help the servers serve guests by doing things such as offering beverages and pre-bussing.  The problem is that guests cannot tell the difference between a server and a busser.  It does not matter if their uniforms are different.  When an employee approaches a guest’s table and offers a beverage, the guest expects that person is going to serve them.  Unfortunately, they do not always speak English and are not trained to properly serve the guest.  Many guest’s questions are answered with a blank stare or with, “I’ll get the server”.  Servers should serve.  They should be the first to greet the guest when they are seated.  They should take the drink orders and deliver them.  They should pre-buss and should deliver the checks.  A busser should never go to a guest’s table while there is a guest present.  If a busser is doing any of these tasks out of necessity, your server probably is unable to handle the number of tables he/she has been assigned.  You should reduce his/her table count until his/her service improves.

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WSJ Reports Businesses See Rise In Employee Theft

WSJ-LogoThe Wall Street Journal posted a great article on the rise of employee theft as a result of the recession.  You can read the entire article on MSN’s Money page here.  The article reports that ‘New research shows that employers are seeing an increase in internal crimes, ranging from fictitious sales transactions and illegal kickbacks to the theft of office equipment and retail products meant for sale to customers.’  The article also mentions that ‘To many employers’ chagrin, the workers guilty of the most grandiose theft frequently turn out to be those deemed to be highly trustworthy’.  Don’t let this guy work for you!

We have seen a dramatic increase in internal theft while in the field and expect to see a continued increase in 2009, especially in employees who rely on tips for a large part of their salary.  Many hotels have been forced to dramatically reduce the number of hours as occupancy declines and many of the hotel restaurants have slowed down.  Many employees are now really struggling to make what they made in the past and most cannot afford to take a pay cut and still pay their monthly expenses.     Continue reading

The Hard (Rock) Sell

Anyone who has ever worked with TrueGuest will tell you that one of the biggest things we preach is proper selling and up-selling techniques.  We have to give a tip of the hat to a restaurant that really nails the art of selling.  Here is our story:

Three of our team members went to the Hard Rock Cafe for a quick lunch.  Because the Hard Rock is a tourist destination, they really had a lot to sell.  The host sat us at a table, handed us menus and said that our server would be over in just a minute.  A minute later, the server arrived and greeted us.  She asked for our drink order.  Instead of just asking ‘what would you like to drink’, she also recommended three beverage selections including their specialty iced tea.  When one of us ordered a soda, she casually tried to up-sell him on the souvenir cup.  It probably would have added another $4 or $5 to the tab.

After taking the beverage orders, the server offered us an appetizer.  Instead of just asking ‘what can I get for you’, she recommended an appetizer sampler platter for us to share.  The appetizer platter was $19.

When she came back to take the entree order, she came up with creative ways to up-sell.  She offered different side order choices (at a premium price of course) and extra toppings on the sandwiches (add another buck for bacon, etc.).

While we were waiting for our food, she brought over a miniature catalog of Hard Rock stuff from the gift shop.  She said that if we wanted to purchase a t-shirt or something, she could get it and add it to our bill.

After the meal, she attempted to sell us on some deserts.  The desert menu was cleverly placed inside of the check presenter so you would be forced to look at it.

The server was great at selling and had a lot of opportunity.  She was very casual about everything that she offered.  It would have been very easy to say ‘yes’ to many of her choices.  She probably does very well with her tips and her average check is probably well over $20, even though most entrees are only around $10.

How to 86 Your Customers

When I am not in a hotel, I swing by the occasional chain restaurant for a good meal.  There is one chain that I really like because they have awesome baby back ribs.  The problem is that my wife will only eat one thing on the entire menu.  Here is our experience and a good lesson in how to lose a regular customer.

86The server came by to take our orders.  I ordered the baby back ribs that I love and my wife ordered the fish (the only thing on the menu that she really likes).  The server took down the order and left for the kitchen.  My wife and I enjoyed our beverages and a little conversation.  About 15 minutes later, we were wondering where our food was when one of the restaurant managers came over and said ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is that we are out of the fish.  The good news is that we have everything else on the menu available.’

I have no idea why they took 15 minutes to tell us that they were out of the fish.  Did they not know this when we ordered?  Maybe they were fishing out back and the fish just weren’t biting.  Who knows.  Anyway, we were annoyed but willing to move on.  My wife requested a menu so she could choose another entree.

Not even one minute later, the server brought on my baby back ribs and held them in front of my face while asking ‘would you like these now or would you like me to bring them back when your wife’s food is up?’  Apparently, the server wanted to see me get a divorce!  I told the server that I would wait and eat with my wife so that I don’t have to sleep on the couch tonight.

The server came back and took my wife’s second order.  A few minutes after that, a different manager came over to tell me that the restaurant was out of fish.  It was almost like they were rubbing it in at this point.  We told him that we already ordered something else.

About 10 minutes later, the server brings my wife’s entree along with my ribs that were sitting under the heat lamp.  They had a nice twice baked taste to them.  I also enjoyed the twice baked potato that was now a three times baked potato.

The restaurant kindly offered to give us a free dessert for our trouble.  We rarely get a chance to go out to eat; a free dessert was not worth the ruined meal.  Needless to say, we have not been back.

Got a bad service story to share?  Add it to our comments section!