Improving the Server Experience

In ‘eatertainment’, we design and build our venues around the guest experience.  We want to maximize their journey through the venue and “wow” them with artistically clever touches.  We’ve all seen Bar Rescue and know how design can influence guest behaviors.   Who doesn’t want a beautiful space that leads the guest to the desired experience?  

What gets lost in this mindset, is the most important variable in the guest experience: The Server.

An unintended consequence of this design forward mindset is that the space for the service team to work becomes a marginalized afterthought.  

We expect the servers to “figure it out”.  Run around in circles when necessary and cram into tight wait stations because that’s what needs to be done.  The servers eventually get frustrated, service suffers, and the frustration builds until they finally quit.  From there, the turnover cycle continues.  Less experienced servers go through growing pains, get good, then get frustrated, quit, repeat.

We eventually got to the point where we assumed a nice light bulb or clever piece of art will inspire a “raving fan” to be created.  

Have you ever heard a guest leave a restaurant and say:  “Gee, that was a nice light fixture, I think I’ll come back in a week to look at it some more”.  We certainly haven’t. 

Why do we design buildings with the guest in mind first rather than with the people who have the greatest impact on the guests experience? 

It’s become  more important to create “novelty” that could end up on social media than it is to take care of our teams.

Server at Table

The Facts

  • A guest’s willingness to return is the biggest indicator of success for our business (“raving fans”).
  • The server has the most contact with our guests and has the greatest impact on their experience.
  • The average size entertainment venue in America: 23,000 sq ft.
  • The average server takes 10,098 steps per shift. 

With those in mind, to make the guest experience better and increase the likelihood of a repeat visit, we need to maximize the server’s experience as well.  The layout of the building should be designed around the server experience so that the server can do their job as well and as efficiently as possible.

The Opportunity

“There is always a smarter, faster and better way.”  AMP Up1 Values

If the service experience is great, it will translate to increased sales. 

The two most impactful ways to impact the service experience are through design from the team’s perspective and through training.

Start by building a location with our team members being our first priority. Taking design to a new level and thinking about the amount of steps our team members are taking, and most importantly how we can ensure each step is filled with purpose. It’s a reality that 85% of all guest complaints stem from speed of service.

Imagine if a server went from doing $800 in sales with 10,098 steps in a shift that equals 8 cent per step versus doing $2,500 with 10,098 steps in a shift that equals 25 cent per step. How much happier and productive would they feel? Putting the servers in a position to succeed is our goal, while giving their steps purpose and maximum return is key to the equation.

What if servers spent less time walking needlessly due to something’s inconvenient location? If they had less room between what they were doing, there is a far greater chance they would be tending to guests’ needs and selling more. 

Through efficient design of wait stations, service stations and expo, we can minimize unnecessary effort.  Embracing ordering technology and “help” buttons saves servers time and assists them in prioritizing who needs their attention.

Next, rethink training.

Start by defining your expectations and values.  Define what the ideal guest experience looks like- what is the end result of a great visit? This is the “what”.  Then re enforce your company’s values as the driving force in how team members behave, this is the “how”.  Then remove the “red tape” and empower your team to connect these dots.  Acting within your team’s values, they are allowed to do everything they can to navigate the guest experience to your expectation.

Server Training

Provide tools and confidence.

The best service comes from anticipation of guests’ needs, which comes from pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is developed through experience and more “reps”. The more you see something the more you begin to recognize patterns and “connect the dots”.  Maximizing the server’s experience accelerates the timeline of these reps and retains these experienced team members.

The downside to pattern recognition is that it takes time.  To accelerate this, training is centered around predecision.  Predecision is like a roleplay in that it focuses on the decision making process of the new team member in potentially high stress situations.  Addressing these early gives the server the tools and confidence to handle the situations when they occur.

We can predict the future in terms of common guest requests, needs and questions.  Why wait until the server is in front of guests to expose them to these?  Walk new team members through these situations and have them solve the “opportunities”.  Help them define their decision making process (using your values as the guide).  That way, when finally on the floor, they will have the confidence of already having refined their process and heard the opportunities before.  

Making our teams (and their potential sales per step) a design priority, providing them with clear expectations, and preparing them through predecision, we ensure our servers a better experience that will lead to higher productivity, higher sales and lower turnover. 

In the end whether it’s due to the design, training, or overall autonomy we give our team the ultimate goal is to reduce the turnover of our team members. The value of a tenured team member that believes and understands our mission and goal highly outweighs the value of a fancy light fixture.

You don’t build a business that succeeds because of its aesthetics. You build people, and your people build the business.

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June 3, 2021

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