Tag: Service 101

It’s dinner hour at The Big Traveling Potluck. I head straight for the kitchen.  Three of the ladies behind The Potluck—Erika, Pam, and Sharon—garnish the succulent smoked lamb and pull the vegetable skewers out of the oven.

Tina, a strong Finnish woman and host of the night’s events, hands me two spoons and a silver tray piled high with lamb and lollipops of vegetables.  “Let’s go,” she says. 

It was almost a year ago when I first volunteered my hospitality services to The Big Potluck founders, Maggy, Erika, and Pam. I wanted to apply my hospitality skills and restaurant experience so I could help to relieve them of the organizational pressures of the event and they could be free to do what they do best.

March 14 / Service 101
Hospitality ninja
Service Jedi Illustration by Brooke Burton

Lots of people pursue careers in restaurants, hotels, medicine, and politics. Most in these service industries see their work as great a way to make a living. But rare are the individuals who perceive their job—as a server, hotel receptionist, technician, doctor, chef, bell hop, county worker, or clerk—as a calling.

In a microcosm of service workers, there is a faction of workers who go out of their way to give generously of themselves to others as a way to make the world a better place—one simple act at a time. These unique folk practice a rare art form of hospitality when they employ the humble ideals of compassion, empathy, and humility in the workplace.

I like to call this radical group, the Service Jedi.

Like the peace-making warriors of the Star Wars cannon, The Service Jedi are a band of unique individuals who study, serve, and use an unseen force of goodness to help those in need. They approach service as a calling, not just a career.  The Service Jedi are modest heroes whose metier is to uplift others, rather than themselves.

The Service Jedi are outliers in the for-profit world of Big Businesses. They are a scarce and powerful folk who practice a rare art form of service that is admired by many, but accomplished by few. The Service Jedi have the power to transform people and experiences.

The Service Jedi may begin their journey alone, but naturally seek out others like themselves for alliances and understanding. Within the ranks of The Service Jedi, all are students. Few are masters.  Despite galactic differences between industries, Service Jedi can identify each other’s talents and appreciate their similarities. Through connection, The Service Jedi increase their power as they step away from isolation and share their hard-earned knowledge and emotional intelligence.

December 16 / Service 101

busser cleaningBussing may be the most important aspect of service that is overlooked by restaurant owners and managers. Perhaps it’s because business owners think guests don’t pay attention to the little things like how a table is cleared or when a water glass is topped off. Maybe it’s a pervasive mentality that bussing is a simple job that anyone can figure out. But great bussing is a complicated job that requires experience, training, and passion for the work.

Go to an average restaurant and you may see some tell tale signs of a neglected bussing team. You may see an overflowing bus tub filled with dirty dishes hiding in a corner or see a busser cut in front of a guest on their way to clear a table at the end of their meal. You might watch as the rushed worker clinks plates together as they snatched up the dishes like playing cards. Maybe you’ll be left too long with an empty glass or a pile of empty sugar packets in front of you.  You could find your table wet from a fast wipe down or a chair littered with crumbs. Perhaps you’ll cringe when your busser sticks their fingers in a stack of glasses as they carry them away.  When a table goes neglected for long stretches and then is suddenly barraged by a fast moving busser struggling to clear the table at the end of the meal, diners feel rushed, ignored, or worse–unimportant or unseen.  All of these things may seem minor at first, but when the problems add up during a meal, these little missteps begin to subtract quality points from your dining experience.

“How hard can it be to clear a table?” I’ve heard many a customer say in frustration.  I’ve even seen restaurant owners and managers remark that “any idiot can bus a table” while failing to show the staff how to do their job better. But the truth of the matter is, clearing and re-setting tables in a timely fashion isn’t a simple thing. Bussing requires skill, training, timing, grace, hospitality, and efficiency.

Investment in Service

Because restaurants are in the business of earning profit through the pennies and nickles on every dollar, many restaurant owners choose to focus their support staff training in one area alone: clearing tables quickly. Typically, the instruction offered isn’t so much a formal training as it is daily tirades on the need to “move faster!”

The general lack of guidance and good coaching leads to all sorts of sloppy choices. Rather than challenge their staff to work smart, clean, and gracefully, the average restaurant leader pushes their support staff to cut corners, take shortcuts, and do whatever it takes to clear and reset a table in a timely way.  Many business sacrifice the quality of their service over the long term in order to chase the short game of getting a single table cleared quickly. The result of this short term thinking: thousands of dollars of loss in breakage, lost silverware carelessly tossed in garbage pails, unhappy customers, and food that is mistakenly thrown away that has to be re-fired for a customer’s to-go request.

May 11 / Review

Brooke Burton Red Door Cafe San FranciscoService is a dance that requires partnership. A diner orders a meal from a waiter. A customer asks a salesperson for a pair of shoes in their size. A passenger requests a seat assignment from an airline booking agent. The sequence of service is the required steps of giving and receiving in business transactions. Unlike any ballet, however, plenty of participants are unaware they contribute to the outcome of the service dance. When one half of the partnership is belligerent, demanding, and unmindful of their contributions to the equation beyond the financial, often times the dance becomes contentious.

Customers may have a very clear opinion of the responsibilities of the service giver–complaining about customer service is de rigueur on sites like Yelp–but its rare for the patron to see past their financial role in the dance. The Red Door Cafe is a small restaurant in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco where each and every potential diner is made aware of their role in their service experience and the owner challenges every diner to take responsibility for their part in the service exchange.

Wake up and smell the coffee

My good friend and fellow service provider, Michael Procopio suggested I check out the small restaurant when I recently visited San Francisco.  “The lines will be insane,” Michael said. “But you have to go. Really. You must.”

Upon reading up on the Red Door Cafe on Yelp, you’ll see 5 star reviews from diners who rave about incredible food, great service, and an untraditional setting for breakfast. But it isn’t until you arrive at the restaurant and take a good look through the big glass windows that you start to really understand that you are regarding a very unique establishment.

The 12-seat restaurant opens at 10 am, but you’ll more than likely find a line has formed outside on the sidewalk by 10:15. Unlike a typical queue for breakfast, however, the diners-to-be aren’t reading newspapers while they wait. Customers giggle and laugh as they cuddle tattered, plastic baby dolls and sip coffee from Easter egg colored bowls.

A sign in the window spells things out for the curious diner right away: This isn’t a restaurant, it’s an experience. Look around and you’ll quickly start to get an inkling that this place is different. Inside, you’ll see diners cavorting with plastic trolls and headless dolls. If you look close enough you’ll note the risqué, plastic items sold at most sex shops next to the salt and pepper shakers on every table.

Ahmed–known to his regulars as A.D. or Absolutely Delicious–is the gregarious owner/bouncer/server/host of The Red Door Cafe. He’s the man to speak to if you want to put your name on the clipboard wait list.

“I don’t let everyone into my restaurant,” A.D. says as he sashays outside to eyeball you and other potential diners. “You have to prove why I should let you in, honey.”

April 13 / Service 101
March 17 / Service 101
March 1 / Service 101

Walk into the 24-seat restaurant I work in and within just seconds you’ll have the entire place sized up: cement walls, high ceilings, a pastry counter, an open kitchen, two tables that hold eight people, and one counter that seats another eight guests. That’s it.  Often, we have a line of people that spills out onto the sidewalk of Wilshire Boulevard.

“Where’s the rest of the place?” is a common refrain I hear several times a day. Confused diners scan the room for a side dining area with a hidden cache of tables with extra seating. But our tiny foot print with two tables is all we have. So we have to get creative–which is why every seat in the restaurant is part of the communal seating plan.

Every once in a while, there’s a lull in service and there are plenty of seats to be had. During those quiet times guests seat themselves. Men and women leisurely toss jackets and bags over empty chairs, splay their newspapers across the marble tabletops, and order their meal without any idea that soon—when the glittering-white daylight of Santa Monica fades—a swarm of hungry customers will arrive hungry for food and a piece of what was once their personal space.

The transition between the quiet and busy times is where things tend to get a little sticky. When the number of guests waiting to be seated reach more than four people, the energy in the room shifts.  You can feel the tension, as the people waiting begin to covet the single, empty chairs that separate the seated diners. It’s during these moments when the guests who are waiting for a spot need a special kind of assistance. The diners need my help in asking people to share some available space with them.

This isn’t the easiest of challenges a restaurant manager can face. Asking guests to do something for you requires a lot of diplomacy and humility, and even if you bring a lot of kindness to the table it still might not go well. It’s in these awkward moments outside the realm of our comfort zone, however, that magic sometimes happens.

January 26 / Service 101
October 23 / Service 101

“Awareness is the birthplace of possibility. Everything you want to achieve begins here.”–Deepak Chopra


restaurant consultant los angeles

As a Service Coach, I observe restaurant teams in action and coach them how to win the game of earning customers for life. I take groups of service professionals from being average–and sometimes minor–players to being highly coveted members of an award-winning team. I help shape natural talent into something special.

Most owners understand the basic business proposition of giving their customers a consistent product.  But what many people in business fail to identify and grow in their staff is the importance of making customers feel as if their needs were exceeded. Again and again and again. Businesses that take the time to help their staff be aware, listen, and foster an intuitive sense about what customers want, tend to be the winners in the game of making customers for life.

I am lucky to be a restaurant consultant who has the great fortune of working with smart and insightful people who understand the value of hospitality. These visionary business owners see the long road ahead of them, recognize the need to invest in customer service programs, and bring me on to help improve their game. Like most great leaders, my clients understand the value of getting assistance to sure up their weaknesses–way before a weaknesses become a failure.

The first step in successful coaching starts with observing. I can tell a lot about a restaurant within the first few minutes of watching them in action. Give me a corner seat, a handful of minutes during a busy service, and I can give you an accurate assessment of a restaurant team’s potential, problems, and requirements.

Following my initial observations, I show clients what I’ve learned from watching their dining room. I offer them information on how keeping a constant eye on specific areas of their dining room can result in obtaining key information about their diners and how to better deliver what they need. Even in some of the best restaurants, leaders may fail to identify key areas for improvement. I notice dropped napkins while staff members walk over them. I identify neglected customers and lost sales opportunities where staff members walk past in a rush to get another task done. In some especially hurting businesses when owners can only see business losses, I may find unlocked beer coolers and liquor storage areas, menus with confusing descriptions, managers with lacking leadership skills, and dining rooms with a personality disorder.

Awareness may be something we’re born with. Our modern lives drain us of the impulse to stay aware. Lately, it seems, most Americans don’t seem all that comfortable with awareness.

April 27 / inside restaurants
May 25 / Service 101