Starting a First-Time Customer Program in Your Restaurant
If you’re a chef or restaurant manager, then you know how competitive the restaurant industry is. Customers, your biggest assets, have so many options to choose from when eating out it makes it hard to gain their loyalty. That’s why it’s important to make a great first impression with every patron, so you give them a reason to return. One way to increase customer retention and turn those first-time guests into loyal customers is to develop a first-time customer program.
What is a First-Time Customer Program?
First-time customer programs are designed to make your guests feel appreciated during their first visit to your restaurant. There are no set guidelines for creating a first-time customer program, but they usually involve restaurant managers giving away coupons or gift certificates to customers to encourage a second visit to your restaurant. Incentives typically include a free appetizer, beverage, or dessert with the purchase of an entree, or having your servers hand out buy-one-get-one-free vouchers to encourage couples or small groups to come back.
If offering free food and drink doesn’t fall within your budget, then a first-time customer program could consist of your chef introducing themselves to the guests and asking how their meal was. This simple action makes your patrons feel welcomed and appreciated, and it shows them that you take customer satisfaction seriously. Ultimately, the goal of a first-time customer program, whether it offers incentives or not, is to turn first-time visitors into returning customers that can then join your loyalty rewards program.
Benefit of Having a First-Time Customer Program
The biggest benefit of having a first-time customer program in place is that it will help you gain repeat and loyal customers. Since it’s difficult to gain loyalty from an individual on their first visit, it’s important to get them back in your doors a second, third, and fourth time. By having a program set in place, you’ll be able to give your first-time customers the best possible first impression of your business. That positive first impression is what will hopefully encourage your guests to come back or tell their friends and family to give your restaurant a try.
Tips for Starting a First-Time Customer Program
If you’ve decided to try out a first-time customer program, then the following tips should help you get started. Whether you’re looking for ideas to increase your program's effectiveness or suggestions for retaining more customers, this list has you covered.
- Train your staff to ask the right questions right away. By teaching your hostesses and servers to ask questions like "Is this your first time dining with us?", they’ll be able to quickly find out if it’s a customer’s first visit.
- Have a secret code in place to inform other staff members that it’s a customer’s first visit. Once hostesses and servers are confronted with a new customer, they can use your business’s secret code to alert the manager, assistant manager, or hostess. For example, servers can place a different colored napkin holder or flag on the customer’s table, or they can write the table number down on a whiteboard in the back-of-house common area.
- Only offer free coupons with the purchase of an entree. Yes, you want to get customers through your door a second time, but you can’t give them their entire meal for free or you’ll lose out on profit. However, a free appetizer won't end up costing you much, but will still impress your customers.
- Include an expiration date on your coupons. If your coupons have no expiration date, customers will likely keep putting off their second visit. If the offer is only good for a few weeks or a month, they’ll be more likely to return sooner.
- Put a personal spin on each customer’s visit. Be sure to address each guest by their name, and try to give them a coupon that matches their personality. For example, if they dined with you in the afternoon, then offer a coupon for a lunchtime special. Or, if they were interested in the wine menu, provide them with a happy hour coupon.
- If your chef is going to come out and introduce themselves, have them do so once the customers are about halfway through their entrees. This gives your guests enough time to start enjoying their food, but it doesn't interrupt the server's task of delivering the check and wrapping up the meal.
- Ask new customers to fill out a guest card. This allows managers to get feedback and collect guests’ contact information, so they can receive emails with weekly specials, events, and other information. Also, if a patron leaves a less than desirable review or expresses dissatisfaction, managers can try to resolve the issue and redeem the restaurant's reputation.
By starting a first-time customer program in your restaurant that wows your guests during their visit, you’re sure to increase your restaurant’s number of loyal customers. Plus, by giving your patrons a great first impression of your business, their word-of-mouth advertising will bring even more customers through the door.
How to Advertise Your Restaurant For Free
Opening a restaurant is an expensive investment, and the last thing many restaurateurs think about are ways in which to advertise and market their new ventures. Many believe that, “if they build it, they will come,” but that isn’t necessarily true in the cut-throat foodservice industry. More times than not, restaurants fail due to insufficient or poor advertising. Business owners then wonder why crowds of hungry people aren’t rushing into their establishments, but usually it’s because there hasn't been enough marketing involved, or owners ran out of enough money in the first place. By using these tactics and tips, entrepreneurs will be able to advertise their restaurants for free within their communities and on the web. Determine Your Audience One of the first ways in which you can start your free restaurant advertising is to determine who you want as a customer. Who do you want to bring into your restaurant? As soon as you figure out who you want to serve, you can then focus on how you’ll make them interested in you. Are they senior citizens who will likely be coming in for the early-bird menu? Are they sports enthusiasts who want to watch the 'big game' at your establishment? Or are they young adults in college who are more interested in drink specials? Maybe your restaurant is geared more towards families? Even though you will want to serve everyone, it’s important to narrow down a target audience to start. Create a Website Four out of five consumers conduct local searches on their smartphones or computers for information on business hours, directions, addresses, and product availability. Making sure your business has an online presence, and is able to answer basic questions like location, hours of operation, and even product availability, is crucial to your success. Luckily, having a personal website doesn’t have to cost you much, if anything at all. There are many free programs that will let users create beautifully and visually appealing websites for free, and some look just the same as paid websites do. Programs like Wix, Weebly, Yola, Zoho, Wordpress and other builders let a business owner customize their website from the ground up. Everything from the theme and colors, to the images and fonts can be simply dragged and dropped with these easy-to-use website makers. When designing your website make sure to include the following: Menu- Include the prices of your menu items since many times this is why customers will be visiting your website. About- Include a section with details that tells patrons a little about your business, what you offer, how you got started, how many years you've been in business, if it’s family-owned and operated, etc. Specials and Upcoming Events- Update customers on event happenings in your restaurant so they can be sure to mark it down on their calendars. Hours of Operation- Inform customers when your business opens and closes. Map- Include a map of your location, along with directions from highly trafficked interstates and highways that will lead customers to your restaurant. It’s also important to mention where customers can park once they arrive. Try implementing the Google Maps widget on your website so customers can click and be instantly directed to your restaurant by Google Maps driving directions. Reservations- Include a phone number that people can call to make reservations, or link to apps like OpenTable where guests can enjoy the convenience of reserving their table online! Multimedia- Add pictures and videos of your restaurant, signature dishes, and special events that you've hosted. Social Media - Link visitors to your social media accounts where they can continue to engage with you. Establish Your Brand with a Blog While a website is meant to inform potential customers about your restaurant’s hours of operation, menu offerings, and specials, the purpose of a blog is similar to your social media accounts, and they’re used to entertain your readers and build your establishment’s brand. Having a good restaurant brand is important because it gives your business the opportunity to establish brand loyalty with your customers. Additionally, blogs are ideal for longer posts than social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which is ideal when explaining upcoming events or changes within your business. In addition to building your brand, creating a blog for your restaurant can help in a few other ways. For example, blogs are informal, and they are an excellent opportunity for your business to connect with your customers on a personal level. You can also blog about your new menu items or upcoming events to create buzz among your customer base. Additionally, your restaurant’s blog is a platform for your customers to leave comments, reviews, and suggestions, which can be valuable for improving your business. Online Directories Today, consumers live in a world where information is expected to be delivered instantaneously. Most everything is researched online, and many business directories have switched from the classic Yellow Book, to an online format. Websites like Yelp, Yahoo, Google Places, Yellow Pages, Super Pages, and Switchboard offer free services that business owners can sign up for to create their own page listings. Including information such as contact info and a link to your website will allow customers to find you easier on local search rankings. Become a Member of Your Chamber of Commerce Even though it’s not entirely free, becoming a member of your chamber of commerce is much cheaper than many other advertising strategies out there. For just a small fee each month, you can pay to join your community’s chamber of commerce, which is an organization that recognizes businesses throughout the community. Why Should You Join? Increases public perception- Being linked to an elite organization, such as a chamber of commerce, creates credibility for your business. Raises your visibility in the community- When you join your chamber of commerce your business will then be published in chamber newsletters and highlighted in other publications. This free press helps get your name out into the community. Be mindful that the cost of joining could range from $300-$1000, depending on how many employees your business employs. Create networking opportunities- This free form of advertising creates a link between you and other business owners, which can build an exchange of information by developing important contacts. Host Events & Promotions Another effective way to advertise your business is to host events that patrons will look forward to coming to each week. Trivia nights, karaoke music, happy hour, and special tasting opportunities are free ways that give customers a reason to want to visit your restaurant. You could give away a gift certificate to the winner of trivia nights which instantly creates a reason for them to come back. Promoting contests is another way to spread brand awareness because it entices customers to do something to get what they want. Offer coupons for free desserts or appetizers, since its likely your customers will order an expensive drink to go along, or an entrée to start. Create Buzz Will your restaurant be celebrating its grand opening? Or maybe you will be hosting a large event with some of the proceeds going towards an important cause? Pitch these ideas to the press or send out a press release about happenings going on at your restaurant since it may lead to a reporter wanting to cover the story at no cost to you. Engage Customers A great form of free advertising is to directly connect with your customers on a personal level, which can be done for free simply by using your computer. Create customer feedback cards as a way to gauge your restaurant’s service, while also helping you collect names, email addresses, and birth dates that you can use later to produce an email campaign. Send customers coupons when their birthdays approach, and send out e-mail blasts with announcements and special offers describing events happening at your restaurant. However, make sure to clearly state your intent when collecting information from individuals, like telephone numbers, because you don't want to violate any rules regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Build Partnerships A great way to network and advertise your business is by building relationships with other businesses in the community with whom your products relate to one another. For instance, if you own a smoothie shop, or juice bar, partner up with a local yoga studio or gym that you’ll likely share customers with. Offer discounts to promote each other’s business as a way of reaching more people in the community. Get Involved Customers who see that your business is actively involved with charitable events might benefit you by creating a positive reputation. Have your employees participate in events in the community since they will act as representatives of your business. You could also donate products to a worthy cause because it’s likely you will recoup profits by gaining that much back in free advertising. Though it isn't entirely free, becoming a sponsor to local school clubs and sports teams could create a large opportunity for your restaurant’s name to reach groups of people in the community. Elementary, middle, and high school sports teams need the financial support, and in return your logo, brand, and name will be displayed on baseball jerseys, signs, and banners, where crowds of people are likely to turn out. Social Media The largest and most widespread way that restaurateurs can advertise their business for free is by participating in social media. It is estimated that one out of every four people uses social media daily, and that 4.2 billion of those users access this information directly from their hand-held devices. Restaurant owners should select just a few social media sites to get started with, and spend their time focusing on quality posts, conversations, and ways in which to foster engagement with customers. Some of the best ways to market your restaurant for free are with the following social media strategies: Facebook Known as the largest social network, Facebook accounts for 23.39% of all Internet traffic. It allows anyone, including business owners, to create their own page describing content about themselves, pictures, videos, and updates, as well as being able to generate relationships with other users. Facebook even gives you free analytical information about how well your status updates and links are ranking so you can visually see how well your business is reaching others. Tip- Design a Facebook page that includes a strong cover image which is the first thing visitors will see upon arrival to your page. Change this image frequently to correspond with holidays, seasons, events, and other promotions that you want your restaurant to show off. Tip- Create exclusive offers to customers that can only be used if they “do” something for you, such as “liking” your Facebook page, following you, or mentioning you in a post. In return, patrons could be rewarded with a coupon to you restaurant, and each time they log on to Facebook they will be connected with your business. Twitter According to the IACP Center for Social Media, there is more than two billion searches on Twitter each day. Make sure your restaurant is next by joining this online community that enables users to post updates with 140 characters or less. Promote your events, menu items, and specials using Twitter since it doesn't take much time for users to read. Tip- Create a unique hashtag to use on posts that will help customers find you in the future. Ex. #ThePubHouse or #MamasItalianBistro Tip- Use Twitter to take advantage of posting visual content since you are capped at a 280 character limit. Post pictures of weekly events, new signature dishes, or flyers promoting specials. Tip- Strategically send out posts at times of the day when people might be the most hungry. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night hours are popular times that customers might be looking for something to eat. Don’t have the time to dedicate to this? Programs such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to schedule and monitor tweets ahead of time, saving you time to work on other projects! Pinterest Much like a corkboard, Pinterest lets users “pin” their favorite findings on the web through the use of links and images. It’s not surprising that food is the top-ranked category on Pinterest since many users go here to find recipes and culinary inspiration. Tip- Search Engine Optimization is essential when gaining a presence in social media. The more descriptive your pins, titles, and descriptions are, the more likely they will be found when users search for you. Tip- Share links and images that are industry-related to your restaurant. If your business specializes in farm-to-table ingredients, post pins that link to local farmer’s markets. Tip- It’s also helpful to create boards that break down the categories on your menu, such as appetizers, signature salads, and entrées. Take pictures of each of these items so future customers will be able to see exactly what you have to offer. Instagram If a picture is worth a thousand words then Instagram would be a library. This mobile photo app instantly lets you share filtered and enhanced images with followers. 90% of users 35 and younger participate in Instagram daily, which is a great campaign opportunity to use if your target market is within that demographic. Tip- Motivate followers with photo contests that they can easily enter just by tagging your restaurant in their Instagram posts. Tempt customers with prize packages they could win by taking a picture of themselves with items that you want to promote the most! Tip- Include a link in your Instagram profile to your website and other social media accounts you use. Lead customers into your restaurant with these free marketing and advertising strategies that are sure to increase your presence in the community and on the web. Try tactics like hosting events, joining your local chamber of commerce, and engaging with customers which are all great ways to publicize your restaurant. Since 46% of Internet users depend on social media to influence their decision when making a purchase, it's now more important than ever to become involved with this free form of PR.
Restaurant Loyalty Program Ideas
From a global pandemic to supply chain and staffing shortages, the restaurant industry has weathered many challenges since 2020. Brands can use customer loyalty programs to successfully navigate these turbulent times. No matter the economic climate, creating a customer loyalty program helps restaurant operators earn repeat customers and increase overall sales. Learn how to create a successful rewards program by implementing our loyalty program ideas. Use these links to learn more about restaurant loyalty programs: What Is a Loyalty Program Rewards Program Benefits Types of Loyalty Programs Loyalty Program Ideas Rewards Program Tips Best Restaurant Loyalty Programs What Is a Loyalty Program? Loyalty programs provide discounts, freebies, and benefits to customers who regularly choose a business. The rewards increase when a customer spends a certain amount, refers a friend, or makes consistent purchases. “Loyalty programs” are aptly named, because they reward brand loyalty and incentivize customers to frequent a business. Restaurant Loyalty Program Benefits Restaurant loyalty programs encourage customers to return to your restaurant, order more, and spend lucrative celebratory dining occasions with you. Discover the top benefits of restaurant loyalty programs below. Increases Revenue - Loyalty members typically purchase more often and at higher price points than non-loyalty members, increasing revenue by 5-10%. (The Bond Loyalty Report) Earns Repeat Business - 79% of consumers will continue doing business with a brand if they offer a loyalty or rewards program. (2022 Merkle report) Prompts Referrals - 73% of consumers are more likely to recommend brands with good loyalty programs. (The Bond Loyalty Report) Reaches Gen Z - 62% of Gen-Z customers are highly influenced by a strong loyalty program. (The Bond Loyalty Report) Types of Restaurant Loyalty Programs There are five main types of restaurant loyalty programs, physical frequent shopper punch cards, and digital points programs. We recommend veering away from punch cards since most consumers don’t want to have to carry around a physical card. Learn the differences between these two categories below. Punch card - A punch card is an easy way for customers to keep track of their purchases. Each time they purchase an item and receive a “punch” on their card, they’ll be one “punch” closer to attaining a free item or special promotion. Though not all customers will want to carry these cards with them, this type of loyalty rewards program can cater to the preferences of your patrons. For example, you can reward customers who frequently order ice cream with a free cone after their tenth “punch.” It can also get patrons to try new things at your restaurant. For example, if they get punched for 5 entrees, they can get a free dessert. Automatic rewards systems and databases - Did you know you can manage your loyalty program through your POS system? Toast POS offers a digital loyalty program for a flat monthly fee. Guests enter their email at checkout to join and start earning rewards. Each time they use their credit card with your business, they automatically accrue points. There’s no need for a loyalty card and points are managed online. App - Many restaurants, especially chains, use self-made apps so guests can create an account and scan their app or "check-in" on their app when purchasing from the restaurant. Apps eliminate the need for guests to carry around a card or remember a rewards number, and they will appeal to members who frequently engage with their smartphones. Membership loyalty credit card - Offer your customers a loyalty card to pay with. This can take the form of a credit card, similar to Starbucks' Rewards Visa Card, that guests can add money to or spend money with and accrue "stars" or "points". Receipts - Use receipts to market your customer rewards program. Include a website link in the receipt to a contest or a special offer that your loyal customers can access if they will take the time to do so. Promote your cafe, concession, or coffee shop sales and offer an item at a discounted rate if customers bring the receipt back with them at a later time. Back to Top Foodservice Loyalty Program Ideas Upgrade your restaurant rewards program by incorporating our restaurant loyalty program ideas. Social Media Rewards - Allow customers to earn points through social media. Provide customers with loyalty points when they post photos of your food or business to their social media accounts. This is a great way to receive free advertising and encourage patrons to engage with your brand on social media platforms. Cell Phone Number Rewards - Go mobile and have customers sign up for rewards with their cell phone numbers. When they purchase from your establishment, they can provide the cashier with their mobile phone number to collect points. By signing up, they agree to receive text communications from your business, such as alerts about new menu items and discounts. Be selective about the texts you send, or customers will unsubscribe. Class Rewards - Get creative and offer classes to your loyalty club members. For coffee shops, this could be a class on how to make latte art. Bakeries might teach their patrons how to make a sourdough starter, and restaurants can offer a special night where they teach plating techniques. Offer Referral Rewards - Allow customers to win points, perks, and rewards for referring a customer when the person they referred makes a purchase. CRM software can help you track customer referrals. Keep referral points to “first generation” referrals, meaning, when customer A refers customer B, customer A gets a point. But, when customer B then refers customer C, customer B gets a point, but customer A does not. This helps prevent profit loss. Educational Rewards - Give customers points for completing educational content that relates to your brand. For example, if sustainable seafood is a priority at your establishment, give customers points for reading/watching resources on sustainable fishing. If customers understand the value of your products, they’ll appreciate them more. Those who are already educated on your offerings will appreciate that you promote their shared values. Free Birthday Items - Encourage customers to join rewards programs by offering them free items on their birthday. Not only does this build loyalty, but it also gives an incentive to use your establishment as the location for their celebratory event. Most people will bring a group with them on their birthday, which increases overall profits. Consider offering a free appetizer or dessert. You can even increase the number of free items based on the party size booked for their birthday dinner. Extended Happy Hour Rewards - Bars and restaurants can offer their loyalty club members extended happy hour times. You can also consider including more items on the happy hour menu for rewards club members as an exciting perk to make customers engage with your loyalty club. Merch/Swag Rewards - Offer patrons merchandise and swag for participating in your rewards program. Not only will this boost their affection for your brand, but it is also great advertising. You can make this straightforward, like branded stickers, or get creative and make it personal to your brand. For example, a BBQ restaurant could offer customers bottles of their signature sauce as a loyalty program perk. Loyalty Program Tips The Bond Loyalty Report reveals the power of an effective loyalty program, and it also shows the weakness of an unengaging one. The average household will enroll in approximately 13 loyalty programs but will only regularly participate in seven of them. We provide you with restaurant loyalty program tips, as well as mistakes to avoid, so your customers become active participants in your restaurant rewards program. Make your loyalty program mobile - 75% of surveyed consumers said they are more active in loyalty programs that are easily accessible from a smartphone. (Code Broker) Let customers earn gifts and swag - 46% of surveyed consumers said they want to earn gifts and swag when they take part in a loyalty program. (Yotpo) Offer extended rewards redemption periods - The primary loyalty program frustration of 31% of surveyed consumers is their rewards often expire before they get the chance to redeem them. (Code Broker) Provide early access to sales - 46% of surveyed consumers want early access to sales for being a loyalty program member. (Yotpo) Don’t collect personal information - 71% of Americans hesitate to sign up for a rewards program that asks for sensitive details such as their address and account information. (Wilbur Survey) Forgo Physical Cards - 79% of Americans prefer rewards programs that don’t require them to carry a physical card. (Wilbur Survey) Don’t make participants download an app - 58% of Americans resist downloading a new app to participate in a loyalty program. (Wilbur Survey) Best Restaurant Loyalty Programs If you're looking for inspiration to create your loyalty program, review some of the best restaurant loyalty programs in the food service industry for inspiration below. At the time of writing, these were how popular restaurants and cafes offered their rewards. Dine Rewards with Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s At Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s, guests get 50% off every 4th visit. The offer is valid for up to $20 at Outback, Carrabba’s, and Bonefish Grill, and up to $40 at Fleming’s. Offers are of value for 6 months. To reap rewards, you must spend at least $20 ($40 at Fleming’s) on food and non-alcoholic beverages. This does not include gift card purchases, alcohol, taxes, and tip. How to Enroll: Sign up online and check your activity timeline to see how far away you are from receiving a discount. When dining at one of the four restaurants, you let your server know you are a member and provide your phone number. P.F. Chang's Rewards Program With the P.F. Chang's Rewards program, you earn 10 points for every dollar spent. Once at 2,000 points, you get a free entree reward. P. F. Chang's gives you a 1,000-point bonus just for signing up, getting you halfway to a free entree. Members also receive birthday rewards and other exclusive offers. Once you reach your 2,000 points, it automatically applies your rewards to your order. How to Enroll: Guests sign up online and share their phone or member number with their server. Chick-fil-A One Program With a Chick-fil-A One™ account, you can redeem points by placing an online catering order, an order through the app, or by scanning your Chick-fil-A One QR code at the register or drive-thru. Members receive points for every purchase which they can use towards future purchases. There are 3 different member levels: Chick-fil-A One Member, Silver Member, or Red Member. The member’s annual spending determines their status. Other benefits include birthday rewards, gifts to friends and family, meal donations, insider information on new menu items, College Football Hall of Fame tickets, and backstage tour tickets. How to Enroll: You can sign up online or through the app. T.J. Rockwell's Rhino Rewards T.J. Rockwell's has a program called “Rhino Rewards.” For every $100 spent, you receive a 10% off coupon for your next visit. As part of the lunch club, you receive a lunch coupon (valued up to $7) for every 5 visits. Once you spend $300, you get a $10 gift card. For every 10 visits, you earn a free appetizer on the next visit. For beer enthusiasts, T.J. Rockwell's offers the Mug Club. Members pay $40 a year and receive a 20-ounce beer mug that stays at the bar for the year. During each visit, you request your mug (which has your unique number on it) to be filled up. Members also get 10% off food purchases, and they receive a free ticket to the food buffet during the super bowl. How to Enroll: Ask your server to set you up with a rewards card or a Mug Club membership next time you visit a T.J. Rockwell's location. My Starbucks Rewards With the Starbucks Rewards program, members collect 2 stars per $1. Depending on the number of stars you accrue, you get different rewards, such as the ability to customize a drink for free, gratuitous coffee or tea, a hot breakfast option, a protein box, or select merchandise. On certain days, you get twice the number of stars for your order. How to Enroll: Guests can enroll through the Starbucks app. They can also use the app to pay when they pick up their order or in advance. Back to Top The goal of any loyalty program is to increase the number of regular customers. If your customers are happy and if they feel like they can benefit by eating at your restaurant, then your restaurant will benefit too.
Guidelines for Training Restaurant Servers
Regardless of a restaurant's size or style, the serving staff represents the face of every dining establishment. These individuals have the most face time with your customers during their visit, and positive interactions can go a long way to ensuring those same patrons return. Hiring the right employees for the job from the start is always ideal, but the introduction of a structured server training program can pay huge dividends for your business. Server Training By putting some thought and effort into a restaurant training program, you can immediately emphasize your workplace culture for every new hire and lower the turnover rate for your business. The following guidelines for restaurant server training will help you establish an effective, knowledgeable staff. Click below to learn how to train restaurant servers: Create a Server Handbook Hold a Server Orientation for All New Hires Set Goals for Server Training Cross Train Your Servers Shadow an Experienced Server Hold a Menu Tasting Perform Testing and Roleplay Ongoing Training Create Incentives 1. Create a Server Handbook If you don’t have an employee handbook yet, it’s a good idea to get one created. This restaurant training manual will serve as an important resource for new hires learning how to be a server as well as the rest of your established server staff. Provide a handbook to every server and keep one or two copies in the restaurant so anyone can reference it in times of need. A server training manual should include the following: Server Etiquette Guidelines - The scope of your etiquette may vary depending on the type of restaurant you own. For instance, fine dining has very specific guidelines that dictate every aspect of service. But on the whole, any type of restaurant customer service should emphasize politeness, humility, and the ability to anticipate the needs of your guests. Server Uniforms - Outline all dress code requirements in your guide, including expectations concerning uniforms, hair, jewelry, facial piercings, and fingernails. Some of these details are small, but they should be a large focus for any waitress training program. Make it a priority to discuss these things at length during servers' training and ensure the appearance standards are clear. Server Scripts - How do you want your servers to introduce themselves to each new table? By providing a script for your serving staff you can help them to remember to share specific information about your establishment. How to Upsell - Not everyone is a salesperson, but upselling is a skill that can be learned. Share tips that will help your servers encourage guests to order appetizers, desserts, and upgrade cocktails with top-shelf liquor. Safety Policies - A busy restaurant is full of hazards and you can make sure your staff is safe at all times by outlining all of your safety policies. Stress the importance of wearing non-slip footwear and explain safe methods for carrying trays, ice buckets, bag-in-box sodas, or other heavy items. You should also include emergency procedures and fire exit routes. 2. Hold a Server Orientation for All New Hires As a busy restaurant owner, it can be tempting to skip this step or delegate it to your managers. However, holding an orientation to meet your new servers face-to-face goes a long way to building a workplace culture that improves employee retention in the long run. These are some topics that you can discuss: Mission Statement and Company History - As the owner, this is your chance to share the mission statement of the restaurant with your new employees. By passing on information about what your business stands for and the values that you want to uphold, you can create a trickle-down effect. You would be surprised how often servers get questions from customers about when the business started and who owns it. This is your chance to make sure your servers are sharing your vision with your customers. Restaurant Concept and Culture - You probably put a lot of creativity and thought into your restaurant concept, but your new employees will need an introduction to your theme and how they can help support it. For instance, if your restaurant specializes in locally grown produce, you'll want your staff to be educated about regional fruits and vegetables. If you own a BBQ restaurant with a blues music theme, you'll want your staff to have some knowledge and appreciation for blues music. Tour the Building - By giving your new staff a tour of the restaurant before their first shift, you can help put them at ease. When they arrive on their first day, they'll know which entrance to use, how to find the time clock, and where to keep their belongings. 3. Set Goals for Server Training By setting training goals, you can create a standard that you'd like all servers to meet. This ensures that your program is consistent and every server gets the same level of restaurant training. Provide a Training Schedule - Before each server gets their own tables, they should complete your serving training program. Create a set schedule for your trainers to follow so that your new servers are hitting each step in the program. A sample schedule might last one week or two weeks, depending on the type of restaurant and style of your service. Create Benchmarks for Training - Make sure your training schedule has built-in benchmarks or small goals that each server should meet along the way. For example, after their first day of training they should be able to recite the permanent beer list, recount the company history, or memorize the table numbers. 4. Cross Train Your Servers Cross training with other employees provides valuable insight into how a particular restaurant operates. Before new servers start working with your waitstaff training team, it can be very helpful to have them train with some other key positions first. Cross Train with Hosts / Hostesses - Members of the host team are experts on the layout of your dining room, how to use your reservation software, and how to rotate tables so guests receive the best service possible. By spending a couple of shifts working with the host team, a server will quickly learn the dining room sections and the numbers of each table. They'll also be capable of attending to any guests that walk through the door, in the absence of a host or hostess. Cross Train with Food Runners - The next training session should be with a food runner so that your new servers can apply the knowledge they just learned about the dining room in a different application. They should know where each table is and be able to deliver food to the correct guest. This training session is also an introduction to your menu and what the different food items look like. 5. Shadow an Experienced Server Before completing the training program, your new servers should perform a few shadowing sessions with your most experienced servers. You can designate a certain number of required training sessions, or rely on your trainer's judgment as to how many are needed. During these sessions, the new server is essentially an assistant and any of the tips that are earned go to the trainer. The trainer should go over the following topics: How to Take Orders - After completing a training session with the food runners, your new servers will have a better sense of the most popular food items on your menu when it comes time to interact with guests. They should practice taking orders for each table, with the trainer acting as a guide if any questions pop up. How to Use the POS System - A big part of transitioning to a new restaurant is learning how to use the POS system. Trainers should show the new server how to use the system, then give them hands-on experience entering all the orders for the shift. Sidework Rotation - In addition to serving guests, servers also have sidework duties that must be performed during every shift. These duties usually consist of prep work like cutting lemons, stocking the salad bar, or stocking beverage stations. At the end of the shift, they should make sure all the tables in their section are clean and that condiments are full. Learn Where Items are Stocked - Servers will need to retrieve various items from dry and cold storage during a shift. It's very helpful to point out the location of items like glass racks, ice buckets, and take-out containers so they can be found quickly. Restaurant Layout - During waiter or waitress training, be sure to identify key routes to the most important parts of the facility. Additionally, your staff will always want to be aware of the surroundings, so point out potential problem areas as well. This can include high-traffic locations or places that could contain one or two "blind spots" for servers carrying full trays of food. How to Close Out - The close-out procedure includes everything a server needs to do before they can end their shift. To close out of the POS system, a server needs to print their sales for the shift and turn their cash in to a manager. They'll also need to use their sales to tip out any bartenders, bussers, or food runners. Sometimes a server will be designated as a sidework checker and will have to sign off on each server's sidework. 6. Hold a Menu Tasting One of the best parts about server training is trying out the menu items. Servers can't answer questions or make recommendations if they've never tasted the food. At the conclusion of server shadowing, the trainer should sit down and do a menu tasting with the new server(s). This is a great time to sample a variety of the most popular food items, go over the most commonly asked menu questions, and discuss allergen information. It's also a celebratory moment because training is almost complete. Even the most descriptive of menus still require clarification from time to time, and your wait staff should be as familiar as possible with the menu. The best serving staff should be able to not only explain in detail each menu item, but also provide suggestions, recite any daily specials with ease, and answer a customer's questions. 7. Perform Testing and Roleplay The last step before a new server can work independently is to pass a final test. For some restaurants, this test might be very lengthy if there is a lot of memorization involved, as with extensive wine or beer lists. Written Test - This test could cover everything from menu knowledge to policies in your handbook. It should include everything you think is vital for your servers to know. Roleplay - Require the new server to wait on a manager before their training is complete. With this method, a variety of common interactions can be touched on, all within the span of just a few minutes. In addition, this method can prepare new staff members with the proper responses to complaints or upset customers. 8. Ongoing Training Several of these guidelines, such as your restaurant layout and the menu, may change over time, so it's important to use all of these teaching points as part of ongoing training sessions for all your servers. By implementing an ongoing training program, you have the opportunity to increase productivity, update policies to comply with new industry regulations, and improve job satisfaction in a work area that's often high in employee turnover. Some specific things to make part of long-term training include: Learning which menu items are most popular, least expensive, most expensive, etc. Acquiring knowledge of weekly or daily specials Successfully selling guests on appetizers or desserts Finding the right balance between too much and too little interaction with guests at their table Improving awareness and multi-tasking skills Reading personalities/attitudes and determining exactly which kind of service the guest desires 9. Create Incentives Make sure your serving staff stays engaged by offering incentives for performance. You can reward servers that participate in ongoing training sessions with free meals, preferred parking spots, or raises. Keep track of server wins like the highest alcohol or appetizer sales and give out a gift card to the winner each week. There are many ways to incentivize performance and create a fun work environment to help you retain your best employees. Single-event training can often be forgotten or seem overwhelming for a new employee on the first day. By creating and following a detailed training program, you can set your new employees up for mutual success. Ongoing training allows employers to evaluate and follow up effectively to get the most out of their staff. This type of restaurant server training can help propel your operation to the next level of professional, award-winning service.