4 Ways Dining Out Can Make You a Better Host
What you can learn from a 4-star restaurant when service goes bad
My girlfriend Elizabeth and I were visiting L.A. last month and had one free night. Why not go big on dinner, we thought? We’d been eating turkey sandwiches and hoarding airplane peanuts, so we could justify the three-course meal and splurging on a bottle of wine. For the big night out, we chose an iconic Beverly Hills institution, the kind of place that's food is as celebrated as its star clientele, and scored a prime 8 p.m. weekend reservation.
I should have seen it coming. As the evening approached, the restaurant began to make a number of customer service mistakes that we didn’t expect from a place of its caliber. As New Yorkers, we’ve been delighted by the four-star hospitality standards set by Danny Meyer, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges, yet it hasn’t spoiled us rotten — we just know what constitutes good customer service. And this establishment fumbled many of the rules.
1. When Calling Back to Confirm a Reservation, You’re Put on Hold
The Misstep: I made my reservation on OpenTable, so I had an electronic confirmation of the dining time. The restaurant called to confirm anyway, but I missed the call. When I called back, I was immediately put on hold and had to wait several minutes to say what OpenTable clearly stated: We’re coming!
The Takeaway: When confirming your guests’ RSVSPs, which you will likely do by email, only ask people to reply if they have to change the original response. That saves you a flurry of emails, and if someone has RSVP’d yes, they don’t have to reiterate it. Since you, like us, have your smartphone with you at all times, you’ll be able to respond right away. If you decide to reach out via telephone and there is no answer, leave a voicemail that reiterates the confirmed RSVP of your guest and requests that they only call back if they have to revise their RSVP. That will save them, and you, time.
2. You’re Greeted with the Cold Shoulder
The Misstep: The day before we were set to dine there, we walked into the restaurant and asked the maître d' if we could look at a menu. “Our menu changes every day,” he said curtly. Ok, we thought, but would it take more than 10 seconds to offer it to us anyway? Instead, we said thanks and walked out with a sour taste in our mouths.
The Takeaway: Guests are going to make a judgment about your party within five minutes of walking through your door. A warm greeting, drink offer, and introduction to other guests will make the newcomer feel at home and set the tone for the party. Everyone likes to feel special, and that starts when you welcome every guest as if you’ve been waiting for his or her arrival the entire night. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Half Sigma)
3. You’re Seated, Then Forgotten About
The Misstep: After we were seated, it took the staff seven awkward minutes to speak to us. And it’s not as if we were in the far back corner, in "I’m-a-nobody" land. We had a pretty swanky booth where we would like to imagine the likes of Tom Cruise of Jennifer Aniston would sit when they were dining there. Finally, I had to flag down a manager and ask if he’d be so kind as to bring us a menu.
The Takeaway: As a host, you’re essentially the head waiter. Perhaps you’ve invited a couple that doesn’t know many other guests and is standing in the corner looking for someone to talk to. Seek that couple out, strike up a conversation, and try to bring other guests into it. Once they’ve got a dialogue going, look around the room and assess: Who needs a little TLC? Who needs another drink? Who needs to be cut off? Are the right hors d'oeuvres being passed? Address accordingly.
4. Don’t Scrimp on the Small Stuff
The Misstep: The joy of going to posh restaurants is that they usually have a fantastic selection of bread. The server carries around a tray and tempts you with about 27 different choices, and you can have as many as you want. Though my date and I wanted to try them all, we started with one each. Of course, as soon as we were done, the waitstaff cleared our bread plates away immediately. We asked for more bread, and the tray and fresh plates were brought out again, only to be whisked away once we finished. Again! We eventually gave up fighting. The servers won — they could have our bread plates.
The Takeaway: Give your diners a reasonable amount of time to eat, and certainly don’t go around taking their plates without explanation. If you’re using disposable silverware, put a trash can in the corner so when people finish, they can dispose of their own plate. Besides not running out of alcohol, the key to hosting a great party is to make sure everyone is well fed. If someone wants to eat all 27 pieces of bread that you’re offering, let them. At the very least, you'll deter them from blogging about you. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Arcane Magazine)