Friday, November 7, 2008

Camping out

Thursday night, I met some girlfriends at Chili's in Cool Springs (#381, if you're keeping track.) There was a wait when we arrived, so I dropped them off at the door and searched for a parking space. They put in our name and got a pager. I ended up crossing over the 4-lane mall road and parked in the galleria parking lot. While I'm glad they have that option, I have a tiny fear of crossing the street. I digress.

Our wait seemed brief since we were catching up and showing of pictures of our children. The restaurant was definitely full, but there were two-top tables scattered across the restaurant that were empty the entire time we were at the restaurant. The hostess paged us and showed us to our table and we were promptly greeted by our server, Blake, and his tagalong, Peyton. Peyton was obviously training by following Blake throughout his section to learn his service style.

My friends, knowing I make mental notes about service throughout a meal, made sure to make changes and special modifications when ordering. I love it. Blake didn't balk. He handled every special request with grace and accuracy.

Servers who have trainees following them have a huge responsibility. Their mannerisms are being closely monitored and can have a real impact on the new server's confidence and ability to handle obstacles. I feel very strongly about a trainee sticking right beside his or her trainer. It's pretty important for a trainee not to miss anything. If the trainer is "in the weeds"--behind, rushing around, overwhelmed--the trainee needs to see how the trainer handles that. Too many times, trainers send their trainees to do little tasks for them (such as refill drinks, deliver a check, clear dishes from the table) while they do something else. This does nobody any good. They may get everything done, but the trainee doesn't learn how to handle the work load. When they're put on the floor on their own, they get overwhelmed because there isn't a helper to do the odds and ends that they did for their trainer.

This happened a couple of times tonight. Peyton refilled our drinks while Blake put in orders or printed checks. She also delivered the checks while Blake took care of other things. Don't get me wrong. We got great service. Peyton was sweet (a little too sweet sometimes) and the pair fulfilled all our kooky requests.

Although the restaurant was packed when we arrived at 7, it quickly emptied out while we had dinner. When we finished eating, we continued to sit around and chat. The restaurant wasn't scheduled to close until at least 10 p.m., so we tried not to feel guilty. During busy hours, servers like to "turn tables"--get guests out the door quickly so the table can be cleaned and new guests can be seated and spend money. But when the restaurant is emptying out, diners tend to feel guilty for staying around (camping out) when it seems as though the server has been cut from the floor and allowed to begin closing sidework before cashing out for the evening.

I propose that there be an implemented system in all restaurants for one to take over another server's table so he or she can close out and go home, yet the guests can still be taken care of. If you have worked in a restaurant that has such a system, let me know.

I certainly hope we didn't hold up Blake and Peyton at Chili's. We were not made to feel in the way and we appreciated being able to enjoy guilt-free time with friends.

1 comment:

Keeley said...

Typically, Brinker restaurants go by the policy of having the closers take over an existing table, so the cut server may leave. I worked at Cozymel's when it was owned by Brinker Int'l (still owns Chili's) and that is what they did. I also worked at Logan's in Orlando, FL and that is also what we did there. By the time the closer has to take over a cut server's table, there is very little work to be done anyway. The previous server should have pre-bussed, refilled drinks, and possible closed the check before handing off their table anyway. Sorry for the rant, but I tend to be overcritical and analyze those details as well. Darden (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze) and Brinker Int'l (Chili's, Mac Grill, On the Border, Maggiano's, etc...) are the two largest restaurant giants out there and they both have very good training and procedures set up. Whether the actual restaurants follow them and implement them regularly is another question, but if the area director is doing their job, they should be.