Bill time: how to end on an up


Bill time: how to end on an up

Bill time: how to end on an up

Business Development Manager, Matthew Smith, on embracing the opportunity for a final positive interaction between server and guest during bill payment.

Before I worked in business development I had ten years’ experience in restaurant management. During that time, I took thousands of bill payments and watched other staff process countless other transactions. It was always a bugbear of mine that this chance for interaction between guests and staff is so often overlooked. It can feel as if servers switch off towards the end of a meal. As a customer, it can be difficult even to get eye contact if you need to ask for the bill or order a coffee. This is still the case and it’s a wasted opportunity to frame the guest experience – to end on a high note.

In a recent HGEM survey, 49% of guests reported that a good experience had turned bad due to poor management of the bill and a frustratingly slow payment process. So what can restaurants do avoid this?

Encouraging staff to keep an eye out for guests towards the end of a meal by reminding them to glance over to tables often is a good place to start. Once this is consistent, it’s time to think about the bill payment itself. This shouldn’t be an afterthought - staff should strive to make it as pleasant as possible.

When a member of staff is standing by as a customer pays the bill, their focus should be on ensuring the process is speedy and stress free. It’s an obvious time to chat. Staff should be encouraged to dissipate any awkward silence with conversation. To throw in the possibility of a repeat visit, or to mention a menu change or upcoming Father’s Day offer. If there’s nothing specific to flag up, it’s good practice to ask a guest how their visit has been, and whether they’d like to join your mailing list, or find out whether they enjoyed the wine or starter you recommended to them.

In HGEM research, guests tell us that service at the point of payment impacts on their overall enjoyment. Sadly, it’s often the one thing that lets a meal down. For obvious reasons, this can impact on tips. I know it does for me. I really like to tip, and tip generously. I often leave 15-20%, but I always decide at the last minute how much to give. If the bill payment is slow, I knock off a chunk off my tip at the end. This happens more often than not because bill payment tends to be so badly handled. To me, it’s all part of the service, and when it’s done poorly, it simply isn’t good enough. Restaurants who don’t realise this are missing a trick.

I’ve recently become a parent, and now, when I go out with my family, when we need to leave, we need to LEAVE! It’s important to settle the bill quickly. This is just as true for a party on a business lunch, who have to get back to the office for a meeting, or a couple having a pre-theatre or pre-cinema meal. Little is more frustrating than needing to settle up and finding that a) staff are nowhere to be seen, or b) they are chatting to one another, oblivious of your attempts to catch their attention. Guests might get up and wander over to the staff to speed things up, or find themselves having to ask three separate waiters to bring the bill. Far from an ideal end to a meal, however great the service has been up until that point.

Time and again in our research at HGEM, guests tell us that conversations with staff are most memorable when they’re organic and genuine. On top of this, one in three guests say that handling of the bill and speed of payment are the biggest factors in defining their overall impression of guest experience. With this feedback in mind, those precious few minutes at the end of a meal when staff are standing next to your customers are key to the feeling they take away. When there’s nothing staff have to say, it’s the perfect time to create an impression of genuine attention and care – to make it personal. After all, there’s no point in offering a warm welcome if the goodbye is perfunctory and impersonal.

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