There are many times when I am eating breakfast in a hotel when I wonder why hotels even offer buffets for breakfast in their restaurants. I can see the answers from the executives now; “It is a faster breakfast for our busy guests!” Or, “The costs will be lower due to the high volume and less staffing!” Or, “Our guests prefer to have a buffet!” What I usually see when hotels offer buffets though, is terrible service. I am sure the guests do not prefer bad service! It is not that buffets and bad service go hand in hand, but it really gives servers a reason to become lazy. The fact is that almost everyone will tip, whether or not they received good service when they eat at a breakfast buffet. The line between the self-service aspect of a buffet and the service side from the server often becomes blurred and a guest will just tip the customary ten to fifteen percent of the check no matter what type of service they receive, just to be courteous.
Nowadays, there are not many service-oriented managers that do not know that the last impression a hotel makes on a guest, usually at breakfast, can heavily affect guest service scores. Most people also probably know that customers would prefer no service to bad service (thus the invention of ATM machines). Why then, would a hotel allow this type of service to go out to their guests in hopes of saving some money? If you have a subpar breakfast buffet service, make sure that you have the following items in place to change that service for the better.
Standards – Ensure that your staff is familiar with the standards of your hotel brand and follows them. If you do not have a brand, make some standards and follow them.
Host – Have a host. This may seem like a useless cost, but having a host seat guests will make the restaurant seem more like a restaurant and not like a cafeteria.
Beverages – Do not put your breakfast beverages on the buffet line. Many buffets have their juices as a self serve item on the buffet line. Do not take away more service opportunities from the servers unnecessarily.
Menus – Unless you have a buffet only, make sure your servers are offering a menu and suggesting items from it. Just assuming guests are having the buffet does not help the view that the restaurant is just a cafeteria.
Attention – Your servers must be attentive to the guests. Many servers will disappear from the guest’s view after a buffet is ordered and beverages are poured. Keep your servers attentive by making sure they ask about the guest’s food, provide the proper condiments, refill beverages, and remove dishware as necessary. To give the illusion of service, they should always be visible on the dining room floor unless they are retrieving food from the kitchen.
Quickness – An essential component of breakfast is that it is a quick meal. Ensure that the servers are allowing guests to leave quickly if they need to. This means delivering the check while the guest is still eating and handling the payment promptly.
Personalization – Do not miss the opportunity to really personalize breakfast for your guests or leave a lasting impression on them. Have a guest ledger available for the servers for reference every morning. If a guest pays with a room charge, which they normally do, you (the server) should come and find the guest’s name on the ledger and find out when they are checking out. Come back to the table quickly and thank the guest by name and tell them that you will be here for the rest of their stay and look forward to serving them. If they request something specific during their breakfast, remember it and provide it the next day again. Imagine the surprise of the guest the rest of the week! If the guest is checking out, note that you saw this and wish them a safe and happy trip.
Remember, time-wise, your breakfast servers spend, on average, the most time with your guests than any other associate in the hotel. This is assuming most guests eat breakfast every morning, eat room service dinners, and do not spend time in the bar. The 20 minutes a day that they have with the guest needs to be maximized in terms of the service potential.
Offering a buffet is totally fine and definitely a convenience, but allowing the bad service to rise because of laziness should not be tolerated. Remember, you are paying your servers to provide excellent service, they should also be doing so to raise their tips as well.