This chapter is remixed from Basic Kitchen and Food Service Management by The BC Cook Articulation Committee.
- Introduction to guest services
- Types of service
- The guest experience
- Preparing for successful service
- Providing guest service
- Creating exceptional service
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Service Recovery
- Guest service resources & technological support
- Remarkable service
- Describe the types and value of service in the food and beverage industry
- Describe the service sequence in full-service dining
- Differentiate between planning and providing guest services in food service establishments
- Identify tools utilized in providing guest service
- Identify “rules” and unique standards associated with different levels of dining experiences
- Relate the importance of service recovery and guest satisfaction to repeat business and customer loyalty
- Identify important steps in a service recovery model for a foodservice operation
- Table Service
- Family-style Service
- Buffet Service
- Cafeteria Service
- Quick Service
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Moment of Truth
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Customer lifetime value
- Loyalty programs
- Service recovery
- Suggestive selling
- Point of Sale (POS) terminals
Introduction to Guest Services
A chief goal for any establishment, particularly hospitality providers, is providing a pleasant experience for guests. To exceed expectations is not just a goal, but also a state of mind. In the food and beverage industry, providing exceptional services requires teamwork, training, standard operating procedures, technology and most importantly the right attitude. Guests experience has the potential to affect not only that guest, but their friends, friends of their friends, and so on. The service provided is an imprint of the food service establishment and can leave a lasting impression on each and every guest they come in contact with.
Types of Service
The style of meal service chosen by a food service establishment impacts the operation’s ability to make meaningful impressions on customers. There are many different styles of delivery for food service and it is ideal that an operation chooses the style that best meets their guest expectations. Types of service include table, buffet, cafeteria as well as other services including quick service and deli service.
Table service is traditionally provided to seated guests and is common with fine dining, casual dining, diners, bars, and pubs as well as many other establishments. Table service traditionally involves servers responsible for providing meals, maintaining guest experiences, and clearing tables at the conclusion of a meal. Table service can be organized into four categories including plate, family-style, cart, and platter.
Plate service is the most common service style and involves guest orders being taken at their table. The server then provides information to production staff. Items are prepared and delivered to the table by servers who also are responsible for maintaining tables during the guest’s dining experience. Plate service provides ample time for service staff to build a relationship with guests.
Family-style service is increasingly becoming more common in dining establishments, particularly farm to table restaurants. Family-style service involves shared dishes served and distributed amongst a table of diners. Servers deliver ordered food to the table and guests are able to pass the items amongst themselves based on their desired choice. Family-style service provides an environment more closely related to dinner service at home.
Cart service is more commonly associated with fine dining experiences and incorporates a portion of tableside preparation. Although guests are seated and order as typically utilized with most table service, meals are delivered via cart and are commonly finished in the presence of the guest. This may include the selection of a specific cut of meat, the slicing of cooked meat, or the addition of a sauce to be served with a dish. Examples of cart service are common in French –style restaurants and can be commonly observed in Mexican restaurants where guacamole is made tableside. The restaurant Rosa Mexicana, with locations expanding from Los Angeles to New York, is known for its signature guacamole en Molcajete.
Platter service is another form of table service with similarities to cart service. Platter service involves food being arranged specifically on a platter and brought out to tables for guests viewing. After unveiling food, servers are responsible for serving portions onto guest plates. Platter service is commonly associated with banquet service.
Buffet service involves food arranged and held under appropriate temperature standards while guests willingly come and choose as they prefer to select food items. Buffet service differs significantly from table service in the manner of food selection and service. Although guests are typically seated and utilize servers for ordering and other necessities, guests freely choose and arrange meals on plates. Buffet services typically contain carving stations for select items. Buffet services are common for banquets and are commonly found in hotels as well as full-service restaurants. Some operations utilize buffet service specifically for brunch on weekends while others utilize a buffet service daily.
Cafeteria service or a-la-carte service is a common service style for lunch and operations involving many establishments under one roof. Academic facilities, shopping malls, and corporate environments often provide this service as a means of providing variety with centralized resources. Commonly cafeteria service has one entry and one exit point. Guests are presented with options such as a salad bar, soup station, pizza area, hot and cold sandwich areas, etc. Guests have the option to choose items based on their preferences and are expected to pay at the exit. Cafeteria services are typically designed in a scrambled layout, which involves stations spread out and no direct approach to selection. However, some cafeteria service outlets are designed with a straight-line approach where guests follow a line through all items until the end of the counter payment point.
As mentioned previously, many other services or combination options exist including quick service and deli service. Quick service is a style of service that allows seating, drive-through, and take-out options and provides guests the opportunity to order food at a counter and choose a dining location of their choice. Employee and customer interaction typically only occurs at the point of order in these service styles, which is very similar to cafeteria service.
The style of service selected by a dining establishment provides an indication of the service experience offered. The characteristics associated with table service dining varies greatly from the dining experience associated with cafeteria service. Table service provides more opportunities for engaging with guests and requires servers with soft skills and a dedicated level of customer service training.
The Guest Experience
One of the primary goals of a restaurant is to provide guests with an enjoyable dining experience. This experience extends beyond the food served and the price associated. Restaurants strive to provide an atmosphere that is both welcoming and comforting. Restauranteur Danny Meyer is quoted in his book, Setting the Table as stating “food is secondary to something that matters even more. In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships.” Meyer, who is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality has created an entire organization of restaurants whose primary goal is providing the best possible service. A visit to one of his restaurants exemplifies what the guest experience should include. The success of his restaurants is a testament to the importance of the guest experience.
Preparing for Successful Service
When creating the ideal guest experience, it starts with planning and organizing your establishment and the procedures that are followed. From an organizational standpoint, a restaurant should establish standard operating procedures, which are procedures designed to allow businesses to create consistency in workflows and job performance. Training of staff is another essential element of high-quality service. Staff should be prepared to understand guest concerns and should be prepared to embody an attitude that “the guest is always right.” Servers should be knowledgeable on menu offerings as well as service expectations. Servers must be trained to be problem solvers and empowered with the ability to provide exceptional recovery. The investment in guest service training has the ability to provide benefits for not only the guest but also management and other personnel.
Properly trained staff have the ability to improve teamwork, which helps create a “we” versus “I” mentality. The significance of teamwork is a necessity for providing quality guest service. A team approach makes the guest experience the responsibility of all staff, not just the server. Finally, among all other steps, it is essential that operations evaluate the unique needs of their own establishment. The type of service, the number of reservations, the experience of servers, the variety of menu amongst other things are all key criteria when planning an approach to providing outstanding guest service.
Providing Guest Service
From the onset of inquiring about a dining establishment, a guest often has an expectation of service provided by an establishment. Guest experience is a combination of touchpoints that occur before, during, and after meal service. A touchpoint is defined as any way a can interact with a , whether it be person-to-person, through a , an app or any form of communication. In the restaurant business, from the moment a guest communicates with a member of a restaurant, they have created an impression about the location. However, first impressions are often implied from previous guest reviews or they can be a product of second-hand feedback from previous diners.
Guests create opinions upon arrival onto the property and continue as a guest is greeted by a host, maître d’, receptionist or another employee responsible for welcoming guests. Welcoming employees should be knowledgeable and sensitive to guests’ requests, needs, and desires. Guests may require accommodations for disabilities or prefer a table in a non-smoking section. Guests have many preferences and the welcoming provides an opportunity to learn about a guest before they are seated.
When discussing the service sequence associated with restaurant guests, it is important to note that there is not an industry-specific standard to follow. To simplify the process we will look solely at a table service dining experience. Typically, the service sequence begins once the guests are seated. The sequence may look similar to the following:
- Welcoming the guests – Create a comfortable environment
- Serve or pour water – Pour cleanly and confirm if any accommodations or special requests exist
- Present the menu and beverage list (if alcohol is offered) – Provide any specials and ensure all guests have appropriate menus
- Take the beverage order – Be specific on how guests drinks should be served
- Serve beverages – Beverages typically delivered from the right of the guest with the right hand.
- Ask guests if they would like to order appetizers – Provides an opportunity to ask if any questions on the menu and initiate the ordering process. Some guests may wish to order at this time.
- Serve the appetizers – Food is generally served from the left with the server’s left hand.
- Take the food order – Be specific on any special requests. Answer any questions guests may have on items
- Remove appetizer dishes – Creates room for the next course and provides opportunities to create a dialogue with guests.
- Serve salad and bread – Salads should be chilled and bread at room temperature unless specified otherwise
- Remove salad dishes – If guests are done. Opportunity to see if guests need anything prior to the main entrée arriving.
- Serve the entrée dishes – Served as noted or with the main item closest to the guest. If there are side dishes, they should be placed on the side of the item.
- Confirm that all items are prepared correctly – Are items accurate, temperatures correct, any necessary condiments, etc.
- Clear the table – Ensure guests are satisfied and provide to go service opportunity
- Offer dessert and after dinner drink options (if available) – Provide suggestions
- Take the dessert order – Ask about beverages
- Serve the dessert and after-dinner beverages – Confirm guests do not need anything else.
- Present the guest check – Efficiency, do not let the guest wait.
This is a sample of a service flow from welcome to departure and presents a representation of the various touchpoints associated with the guest experience. Following this sequence will help an establishment meet the core needs of its guests. Often establishments have unique standards and operations they follow to exceed expectations and create memorable experiences for diners. When providing service, a good standard to follow is the golden rule “treat others as you would like to be treated.”
In addition to working through this type of service sequence, effective servers can also be a key factor in increasing the average check and overall revenue for the foodservice operation by using suggestive selling or “upselling.” Servers are often able to recommend additional purchases, beverages, etc., that increase the amount of money spent in the operation. This practice can benefit both the overall operation and potentially the gratuity or tip left by the customer for excellent service.
Providing Exceptional Service
Exceptional service includes being prompt, being friendly, being available, and going above and beyond for the customer. Danny Meyer states “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.” This is notable in the restaurant industry as the recognition of restaurants relies heavily on the ability to provide exceptional service throughout the guest experience. While food quality, food presentation, restaurant décor are incredibly important, it is the experience diners have that counts. According to entrepreneur Chris Hurn, “Exemplary customer service distinguishes your brand, builds repeat business, combats price competition, and even improves employee morale.”
When we think about the components of exceptional service in restaurants, we often think of the balance of communication and genuine attention to diners. Exceptional service is not judged on one moment, but is the product of many encounters. Exceptional service can be determined by the attention you provide at the onset of a meal to how you handle difficult situations. In his book, The Heart of Hospitality, Micah Solomon compiled a list of five customer service lessons from successful business people and companies.
1. Richard Branson – Scripted customer service is the ultimate turnoff for today’s customer service.
2. Danny Meyer – Customers crave recognition and acknowledgment.
3. The Ritz Carlton – It takes empowered employees to deliver great service.
4. Tom Colicchio – Great customer service depends on trait-based hiring.
5. Patrick O’ Connell – Build a culture of “yes.”
There are just a few ideas of providing exceptional service from influential entities in the world of hospitality, but they serve as a reminder that exceptional service is about employees and customer interaction. Tips such as the ones mentioned help create loyalty in the restaurant industry. Repeat business is more about good customer service experience than a quality meal.
To exceed expectations in the restaurant industry requires a mix of the following fundamental service focuses:
- First impressions matter – From how you greet a customer to how you listen to their needs is essential to creating an appropriate dining experience. Addressing guests in a courteous manner – sets the tone.
- Be considerate of a customer’s time – A waiting customer is an unhappy customer. A waiting, uninformed customer is a customer who will not return. If service is slow, be forthcoming and informative.
- Being accessible – Without specifically stopping by a table, your sheer presence near a table can have a meaningful impact. Your visibility allows the customer to feel they are having a better experience, because if they need something, you are available.
- Problem-solving – Problems often arise and part of exceptional service is the ability to empathize, apologize, and offer solutions to service failures. Acting immediately is essential when a problem arises as it prevents the ability of a problem to escalate. Lastly, the knowledge of knowing when to involve your supervisor is critical.
- Maintain professionalism– Scenarios often can become challenging and you must always remain dedicated to representing the company. Your appearance and your attire matter.
- Show appreciation – Guests choose to dine at your restaurant, but also choose to return. Show appreciation for their decision to dine with you. A simple gesture of kindness or a genuine visit by management can accomplish this at a minimal cost.
- Effective Communication – Utilizing proper tone, listening to requests, providing accurate information are all essential elements in communicating effectively. The message is often not conveyed by words, but by actions. A simple smile or thank you has the ability to create a lifetime customer.
Exceptional service is not standard but is the product of multiple touchpoints throughout the experience. It is as much as about the smile when you are greeted when entering the decisive moment that occurs when a customer’s experience has not gone as planned. The ability to be tactful in handling customers is the difference between service and excellent service.
Customer Relationship Management
Most hospitality businesses today also have some sort of form a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy for their organization. CRMs are tools used by businesses to select customers and maintain relationships with them to increase their lifetime value to the business.
There are a number of points in time where this relationship is maintained. For example:
- The first time potential guests visit a website and leave their email address to receive more information
- The moment a reservation is made and the company captures their personal details
- The in-person service encounters from the front desk to the parking lot
- Welcome notes, personalized menus, friendly hellos, and other touches throughout the interaction
- Background messages including clean facilities and equipment in good repair, pleasant decor, and ambiance (flowers, etc.)
- Follow-up communications like a newsletter
- Further interactions on social media
All of these touchpoints are opportunities to maintain strong relationships with customers and to increase the likelihood of positive word of mouth sharing.
Let’s take a closer look at one tool that tourism and hospitality businesses are increasingly using as part of their CRM strategies: rewarding customer loyalty.
With competition between tourism destinations and businesses continuing to grow, organizations are increasingly focusing on retaining existing customers, which is often less expensive than attracting new ones. This focus forces tourism businesses to look at the customer relationship over the long term, or the customer lifetime value (CLV) cycle, rather than at single transactions only.
It has been proven that it is much less expensive for a company to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one (Beaujean, Davidson & Madge, 2006). Ultimately, successful organizations will strive to build a base of loyal customers who will provide repeat business and may influence other potential customers. Building positive relationships with loyal customers requires planning and diligence for all customer touchpoints. This may include (Lovelock & Wirtz, 2007):
- Managing service encounters: training staff to provide personal service to customers
- Providing customer incentives: inducing customers to frequent the business
- Providing special service options: offering enhanced services or extra offerings to loyal customers
- Developing pricing strategies to encourage long-term use: offering repeat customers special prices or rates
- Maintaining a customer database: keeping an up-to-date set of records on customer purchase history, preferences, demographics, and so on.
- Communicating with customers: reaching individual customers through direct or specialized media, using non-mass media approaches
Loyalty programs pull together several of these elements to help a business identify, maintain contact with, and reward frequent customers.
Examples of Outstanding Service
If one uses the definition of quality in service as “meeting or exceeding customer expectations” (Kapiki, 2012), then the following examples certainly fit the description. These embody a concept known as a moment of truth (Beaujean, Davidson & Madge, 2006) when a customer’s interaction with a front-line employee makes a critical difference in his or her perception of that company or destination. The characteristics of employees that are best able to create these moments include self-empowerment and self-regulation, a positive outlook, awareness of their feelings and the feelings of others, and the ability to curb fear and anxiety while being able to access a desire to help others.
If a business fails to meet customer expectations, there’s a risk the customer will tell others about it, often through social media networks. An on-location problem that turns into an online complaint, going from private to public, can become far more damaging to a business than the original issue. To avoid any problem from escalating, organizations and staff must work hard to resolve issues before the customer walks out the door — or pulls out a smartphone to make an online posting.
Of course, it’s not always possible to resolve issues on the spot. A customer’s expectations may go beyond the service the business is able to provide, or staff might not be authorized by management to provide the means necessary to resolve the complaint. In these cases, staff must still step up as service professionals, realizing that the actions they take when faced with a complaint can have a significant impact.
Online complaints highlight this point; reviewers are often more upset about how a problem was handled than about the problem itself. As well, potential guests who read online complaints are looking for reassurance that the same thing won’t happen to them. If they don’t find it, they may dismiss the business as an option and move on. How a business handles complaints, face-to-face and online, is critical to ensuring successful recovery from service failures.
Service recovery occurs when a customer service professional takes action that results in the customer being satisfied after a service failure has occurred. Often service failures are not the fault of front-line staff, and at times, may not even be the fault of the business. Failure may be the result of an error made by another employee, by the guest him- or herself, or by a technical error. Regardless of where the problem originated, when customers bring it to the attention of the staff, they have certain expectations for resolution.
Disappointed customers often want:
- An empathetic ear. Sometimes they simply want to vent. They want to know that the employee or manager is listening and cares.
- An apology. In some cases, a sincere apology is enough.
- A solution. Typically customers bring issues to the attention of staff because they want them fixed.
- Compensation. Upset customers are looking for compensation, but not always.
- Follow-up. For some people, it’s important to know that their concerns are brought to the attention of management and are fixed for future customers.
- Reassurance. Customers want to know they’re in good hands.
Skilled service recovery is especially important in the age of social media. Customers who are active on social networks are likely to be equally vocal about their satisfaction with service recovery when a problem is expertly handled as they are with their displeasure when they are disappointed with service (WorldHost Training Services, 2013).
While service recovery is a critical skill, all tourism and hospitality professionals should approach each encounter with the goal of providing remarkable service.
Guest Services Resources & Technological Support
In the age of technology, social media, and advanced automated systems customer interaction is closer than ever before. Restaurants have the ability to reach customers without physical interaction and it is important that restaurants are savvy in their use of technology. A balance of professionalism, timeliness, and creativity can create interest and future business. Inside the walls of a restaurant, technology has the ability to automate the guest experience and create a more efficient and effective service.
The impact of social media on the service process is both an opportunity and a challenge for the industry. On one hand, online platforms such as Yelp and Twitter create readily available information to allow customers to find information on your restaurant. On the other hand, they create challenging environments where restaurants are unable to control their public presence. The freedom to create and provide reviews helps provide customer expectations but creates more responsibility for managers. Online presence and online reviews can single-handedly influence a customer’s choice of where they will dine.
Within the operation, restaurants use a variety of technological services to impact their guest experience. Technology includes point of sale terminals, precheck terminals, self-service order entry kiosks, online ordering, etc. The usage of technology within a restaurant has the ability to store information in a database to create more effective, personalized service in the future. It has the potential to automate service and remove human error.
The majority of businesses utilize Point of Sale Terminals, which are the basic hardware components of food service computer systems. Point of sale terminals allow a safe system to input and output orders, reconcile receipts, and compile data associated with sales. Terminals can be located at various locations throughout the restaurant and can be associated with payment terminals to create a cash control system. Terminals can be a touchscreen, keyboard, handheld, or magnetic strip operated.
We’ve discussed the basic ingredients of meeting customer expectations. However, for a business to be successful, it’s important to not only meet but exceed expectations. Remarkable service doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of cost, time, or resources. Often it’s the little details, the special attention from employees and the personalized touches that people remember most. There is no formula for remarkable service. It will depend on the type of customers, the nature of their visit, and the things they value. Finding ways to provide remarkable service requires support from management, keen observation skills, and a willingness to “go the extra mile” (Destination BC, 2013).
Providing good service is about understanding, recognizing, and anticipating the needs of customers and working hard to meet or exceed them. The core service essentials are also simple: make eye contact, smile, greet warmly, and use the customer’s name. These simple actions tell customers that your organization values them and is eager to help. In order to exceed expectations, your organization must be on the alert for opportunities to provide remarkable service (WorldHost Training Services, 2013).
- Beaujean, M., J. Davidson, & Madge, S. (2006). The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service. Retrieved from
- Destination BC. (2014) Remarkable experiences program. Retrieved from:
- Kapiki, S. (2012) Quality management in tourism and hospitality: An exploratory study among tourism stakeholders. Retrieved from
- Lovelock, C. & Wirtz, J. (2007). Services marketing: People, technology, strategy (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. Retrieved from http://bschool.nus.edu.sg/Departments/Marketing/Jochen%20papers/sm6coverloyalty.pdf
- Meyer, Danny. (2006). Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.
- Solomon, Micah. (2016) The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets
- WorldHost Training Services. (2013). Remarkable service in the age of social media Retrieved from www.worldhosttraining.com/elearning/