Restaurant guests form opinions and expectations of a restaurant way before they sit down. Early opinions are formed based on the the restaurant’s name, parking lot, and the building itself. Opinions and thoughts continue to develop as patrons enter the restaurant. There is too much at stake when it comes to first and last impressions to not take full advantage of the host station. When a host staff is well trained and motivated they will positively impact sales.
Let’s dissect the host/hostesses role in a guests’ experience. Some host staff will open the door for people entering and leaving. The hostesses at an Outback Restaurant will almost always open the door for their guests. This is called aggressive hospitality and it works. Even if the guest is bigger, stronger and better equipped to open the door for themselves, an Outback hostess will open it for them anyway. This tells guests that they are in good, well trained hands that care. At this point, the guest’s expectation of opening the door for themselves is exceeded and value created before the guest has sat down.
Now let’s examine the dialogue of the host staff. The most common first question is: “How many in your party?” This question is redundant and unnecessary. If you have ever worked as a host, you will agree that if you see 4 people entering your restaurant; you have have a party of 4. If there are more people joining that party, the group will always immediately explain, “We have more coming!” But, in most cases, what you see, is what you get. Other unwelcoming questions for parties of 1 are: “Just you today?” or “Only you?” Those questions are inhospitable.
There is a better way. Let’s look at what could happen. First, as guests enter the restaurant, the door is opened for them. Second, the host staff greets the party with a smile and “Hello. Welcome to _____. Is this your first time here?” Or for regular guests, the door is opened and someone with a smile says “Hello” and uses the guest’s name. That is hospitality!
While the party is entering, the host is already gathering the appropriate number of menus and already knows where to lead the party. “Right this way please”. If it is someone’s first visit, the hostess should then tell the server and the floor manager that valuable info. This is a golden opportunity to take advantage of the coveted first time guest.
Once seated, the guest’s interaction with the host staff is usually over until they are through with the meal and are leaving. This is the last chance to “Wow!” guests while they are still in the restaurant. On the way out, a host/hostess can thank guests for their patronage, ask “How was dinner?”, and open the door once again as they leave. If the host staff senses that a guest wasn’t happy with their experience, this is a very important last chance to show empathy and get a manager to resolve any issue with the disgruntled party.
Some restaurants actually hire models for their hostesses. Those operations will usually not provide pagers to their guests or use a microphone to summon parties when running a wait list for seating. Instead, the hostess will personally come find the party when their table is ready. For a very small percentage of concepts that technique is appropriate and it works. Most restaurants can’t afford that kind of first impression. I use that example to demonstrate a level of thought and energy that can go into a host/hostess station.
What happens when guests enter your restaurant? Is your host station creating the best possible first and last impression?
Good Luck and Good Hospitality!