It is interesting to consider how some front of house roles have changed over the last 10 or 15 years. Traditionally, the priority focus of someone working as a waiter or a full-service bar person was to provide excellent and timely customer service. There is no argument that we certainly still need strong customer service skills to be demonstrated by these staff, but deteriorating economics have pushed another set of skills to the forefront.
Your front of house team are your sales department
Think of a restaurant or cafe this way; you are running a food production facility with a sales office attached to the front of it. The production team has to produce efficiently and consistently, while the sales team have to maximise the customer average spend of people who choose to occupy the tables and chairs. It got to the point where what we call ‘passive’ service, i.e. simply waiting for a customer to ask for something and then give it to them, is no longer sufficient to maintain the financial health of a purely food and beverage based business.
Among our more progressive clients we have seen a steady move towards the creation of strong sales cultures among the front of house staff, to the point where best practice businesses are spending significant amounts of time and money teaching front of house staff sales and merchandising techniques. This kind of training and focus turns out not to be a cost to the business, but quite a sound investment. Increasing customer average spend brings more revenue into the business without a proportional increase in labour costs, so much of the extra money goes straight to the bottom line. To put it simply, increasing customer average spend is the most effective and rapid way to increase the profitability of a hospitality business.
The term ‘waiter’ is a misnomer
The traditional titles we apply to front of house people are probably working against this. Consider the term ‘waiter’. The very name suggests somebody who waits, there being nothing to suggest proactive behaviour in the traditional job title. The problem here is if you advertise for a waiter, you are going to get a large proportion of people who want an income but think that selling is tacky and beneath them. This is a basic attitudinal problem. Unfortunately, we have found that if a person has a negative attitude towards selling, it is extremely difficult to bring them to the point where they demonstrate sales skills while they are not under direct supervision.
To illustrate the potential of creating a strong sales culture, the difference between a passive waiter and one who is comfortable with the sales role and who is trained to suggest to sell and upsell is commonly around 25% extra revenue from the same customer base. In other words, a passive waiter might take a dollar a customer, where the active waiter will take a $1.25 off the same person. Herein lies a major opportunity for the restoration of healthy margins from many hospitality businesses.
It’s possibly time to consider using different titles for some of the traditional roles. For example, if you were to advertise a front of house service role under the title ‘food and beverage sales person’, you would probably get less applicants, but the ones who did apply would generally have a positive attitude towards the sales role. People who had strong aversion to selling skills would not apply for a job with the word sales in the job title.
Providing your recruitment system is geared to weeding out the people with a negative attitude towards selling, your next problem is training the positive people with the various techniques and skills necessary to gather increased revenue without creating negative customer perceptions. It may be useful to split the front of house team into two distinct groups. The first group are those new to the industry. They should be utilised in a ‘bussing role’, clearing plates, resetting tables, transporting food and beverage; while they build-up skill and confidence in interacting with the guests. This then leaves your experienced and skilled salespeople free of transport and basic labouring duties so that they can concentrate on circulating among the tables suggestive selling extra food and beverage items. It is even logical to offer two distinctly different pay scales these two roles. There is nothing new in this kind of structure; it was quite common in the hotel industry when I first entered the hospitality industry 40 years ago.
This gets around the problem that I see in many businesses where they have a small number of experienced, skilled front of house staff who could be gathering large amounts of extra money for the business, but they spend two thirds of their shift marching back and forwards between the bar, the kitchen and their section. It is logical really, to restructure slightly so that the newbies do the labouring and transport duties, while the skilled staff do what they are best at.
How much money is walking out your doors that your customers would have left if your staff had made the right noises?