Respecting silence


Respecting silence

Respecting silence

Managing Director, Steven Pike, explores how the need for conversation varies between guests and why front-of-house staff should be attuned to this.

Perfecting just the right friendly and responsive conversation has been the subject of countless staff training sessions for restaurant and hotel operators. But what about ensuring that front of house understand when to stay quiet?

It’s just as important, if not more so, than chatting. Whether guests are deep in conversation, having a business meeting, or visibly upset, too much conversation can either kill the mood, cause embarrassment or become an unwelcome distraction, adding stress. Some guests who are dining alone may feel self-conscious if staff are overly attentive and chatty. It’s crucial not to assume too much, or fall back on stereotypes to inform your response to individual guests.

It may be necessary for staff to get comfortable with silence itself. This is something operators can work on in training. For some extroverted staff, it may feel unnatural and awkward to rein in their natural friendliness. However, by encouraging them to try to adopt an empathetic approach and use a customer’s signals to imagine the experience from their point of view, they may be able to gain a more expanded perspective on it. They’ll be better able to grasp the fact that what feels strange for them may be natural for the customer.

Front of house staff must become excellent readers of people to do their jobs well, assessing customers even before they approach them, where possible. They need to make decisions quickly and behave in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of individual guests.

Sometimes it’s a question of testing the water, seeing if an approach seems to meet with a positive response from a given customer, then using that to inform the rest of the guest experience. That way, you can adjust your tone accordingly. In some cases, more introverted customers may warm up a little with some friendly coaxing, in others, though, the signal that they don’t want to be chat will be made clear, so it’s important to heed the warning and keep service efficient, if a little distant.

Reading your customers is equally as important in a high-end restaurant as it is in a local bistro or casual cafe. The aim for servers should be to tune into the needs of the customers, endeavouring not to interrupt the flow of their conversation or activity too much.

Sometimes, staff have to cut in to ensure they take an order in time for the kitchen. Where this is the case, a subtle and discreet approach is best, using minimal words, keeping the interaction polite and functional. It’s always preferable for customers to send a signal they are ready to order – by looking up and catching a staff member’s eye, but sometimes this doesn’t happen and a server needs to be more proactive.

The general trend towards more relaxed, informal service has been widespread, but for some customers, this can feel overfamiliar. Servers should be attuned to the mood in individual groups, and not assume a chatty ‘matey’ tone until they have gauged the needs of individual customers.

The objective, in all interactions, is to make things as easy and natural for the customer as possible. As customers come in all varieties of human, this means that off-the-peg scripted patter is likely to fall wide of the mark. For a sizeable proportion of customers, less is likely to be more. The last thing you want is to make customers feel awkward, out of their comfort zone, or struggling for a response to something a staff member has said. They shouldn’t have to work hard at the interaction.

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