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.  The 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 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


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 too 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?

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 a 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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5 Steps to Make Your Omelet Station The Most Memorable Part of a Guest Stay


Let’s face it, hotel breakfast buffets are often the best part of staying at a hotel for many guests.  In fact, lots of research has suggested that the service during breakfast is often the key to a successful overall hotel satisfaction survey score.  Today, we are going to focus on improving buffet service by re-training your Omelet Chef.

Decades ago, someone came up with the idea to add a Chef to the buffet so guests could get eggs and omelets prepared to their liking.  Eggs and omelet creations are typically low-cost, very filling, and loved by guests.  Unfortunately, over time, the Omelet Chefs began being replaced by employees who spoke very little English and did little more than just stand there and wait for you to point at the ingredients you would like in your omelet.  For some reason, we all started hiring people who rarely smiled, said very little, and always seemed very bothered to have to make an omelet for a guest.  Nothing makes that 3-minute wait for your omelet more uncomfortable than knowing the person cooking the omelet does not want to be there.  Also, good luck if you need someone other than an omelet.  I can’t tell you how many my request to have a buffet item refilled was just met with a shrug.

Omelet Chefs are in a key position when it comes to guest interaction and they should be held accountable to the same service standards as a Guest Service Agent.  At a minimum, a good Omelet Chef does the following: Continue reading

Ask TrueGuest: Host Duties for a Breakfast Buffet

Dear TrueGuest,

At my hotel, we have a very busy breakfast buffet (especially on the weekends).  Our hosts do a good job of seating guests in a timely manner but don’t add too much to our overall guest service.  What can you recommend?

Good question.  We often see hosts do a poor job on guest service.  Often they just stand behind the desk and wait for guests to approach them and then walk them to a table.  Then they go back to checking their text messages on their iPhone.

1.  First, be sure to check out our Breakfast Buffet Training Guide.  There is a great video on basic service steps

2.  The first goal of every host should be to greet every arriving guest with a warm smile and a ‘Good Morning’.  Also, they should make sure to greet every departing guest with a warm smile and a sincere thank you.

3.  Hosts must know how to greet multiple guests at the same time.  Often when two parties arrive in the restaurant at the same time, the host will greet the first party and escort them to the table without saying a word to the second party.  The host must let the second party know that he/she will be back in a minute to seat them.

4.  When escorting guests to a table, the host should make sure to point out the buffet.  The goal is to get the guest excited about the breakfast they are about to have.  Make sure to be excited about the buffet and mention some of the great things such as the omelet chef.

5.  When the guest arrives at the table, the host must hand each guest a menu after they are seated.  Do not just place the menu on the table and walk away!

6.  Have the host introduce the server with a phrase such as ‘John will be taking care of you this morning and will be right over to offer you coffee and juice’.

7.  Finally, make sure the host closes the conversation.  We often just see hosts walk away from the table without saying anything.  Have the host at least say ‘have a great breakfast!’

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 operate a set of tongs.

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

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.

First, 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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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 some desserts.  The dessert 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 opportunities.  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.

The 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 outback 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!

Better Buffet Service

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.

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