The Art of Touching Tables by a Restaurant Manager

There are two sides – Technical and Hospitable


Hospitality….A warm personal and engaging style of guest service.  The important part of being hospitable is understanding what your guest’s wants and needs are before they have to ask for it.  Body language is very important to read and understand your guests; it tells the truth even when the mouth is saying something else.  Learning to read a guest is a key to understanding what their needs are. Whether the guest wants to be left alone or be flooded with attention is critical to providing the guest with what he feels is proper service. Knowing how far to go is the difference between being annoying and giving good service.

When trying to understand what type of clientele your guests are, it is vital to read all the telltale signs. The age of the guest is a good way to start your gauge. Younger guests may be interested in a more casual, good time compared to a more elderly guest who is looking for a more professional style of service. Another gauge is the guest’s attire. Casual clothing may indicate the guests are looking for a casual dining experience; and, of course, formal wear is an indication of a special event, which in turn means special attention. And, of course, business attire means service should be straightforward professional. The guest’s language can also be a sign in which to gauge the level of service needed. It is easy to see if the guests have knowledge of food and beverage if they speak with confidence. If so, try to make their experience interesting by offering unusual things your restaurant offers. If the guests speak slowly, with caution, the level of services may need to be slowed down; each part should be explained to make the guest feel comfortable with their meal. All of these telltale signs can help you gauge the level of expected service. However, you should never forget to understand and react to your gut feelings.

If you broke the dining room down into different types of guests, they would fall into five different personality categories. Understanding each basic personality category is a way to help understand what the guests needs are. And, once we know what the guests’ wants are, we can give them what they want. Some simple ways to begin the process of categorizing your clientele is by getting information from them. Asking questions is the best way to get info out of your guests. A couple of easy ways to break the ice with a table is to approach the table with the intention of checking on the food. Asking questions about the food can lead to other questions. Try to gear your questions toward what energizes the guests.

One of the five categories is what I call the “Everything is Okay” group. This type of clientele is not interested in the food and/or service. This type of guest seems to be shy and afraid to express their emotions. As the Table Toucher, you should be careful when asking questions. Try to make them feel comfortable by asking questions they are interested in. Where are they from? What is the difference in the weather? Did they notice a point of interest within the restaurant? Don’t ask any in-depth questions they may not know the answers to.

Another of the personality categories is the “Everything is Good” group. This type of clientele is enjoying the food and service and is happy to be in the restaurant. They generally are in the restaurant for a special event and are more interested in the event than the restaurant. Whenever you notice there is a special event, try to recognize the event so you can act properly on the event. This group could also have other interests; and, if so, try to encourage the guests to talk about the experience they are having in your restaurant. This may be the best time for small talk.

The third type of guest personality is the “everything is Great” group. These guests are understanding of the restaurant edict. They are happy with the experience. These guests are the easiest to talk with. They are interested in the food and beverage of your establishment; thus it is easy for a Table Toucher to talk about the restaurant. Keep the guests interested in any part of the restaurant they may have missed, tell interesting stories and/or anecdotes.

The fourth guest profile is the “Thank You” guest. This guest is either trying to be the sole important part of the dining experience or is the sole important part of the dining experience. This guest is at your restaurant to enjoy the company of the rest of the party. Easy ways to tell this type of clientele is his quick response to any question: “Thank you.” The thank-you response is your key to let the guest enjoy their experience. The best thing to do is to check on the experience and acknowledge the head of the table. Be kind, tactful and quick.

The last generalization of clientele is “The Problem Child.” We never want to see or hear from them; but they’re out there. Of course, there are many ways any guest can quickly become “The Problem Child.” Try to solve whatever the problem is as soon as possible. The longer the guests have time to think about the problem, the bigger the dilemma will be. First find out what the problem is. (Just a reminder, the guest perception is our reality.) Then try to find a solution that both the guest and the restaurant will be happy with. Each restaurant will have its own guidelines to deal with unhappy guests. As a medium between the guests and the restaurant try never to say “NO” and find ways to put smiles on their faces before they leave the restaurant.

Always remember constructive criticism is always appreciated. This is the information that we learn what our guests want. Table touching can be a very effective way to developing and continuing to operate a successful restaurant. Developing relationships over the table will help keep your guest coming back. Guest retention is easy to do when you make them feel important. As the manager, giving time to the table makes the guests feel comfortable. It also gives you time to cross market our other restaurants.



Technical Side deals with the table technician and the server. It is important to make sure the basic service skills are being used at every table. During the conversation with your guest you should be looking at the table for anything out of place. Every restaurant is going to have different standards of skill level and different procedures in service so it is important to know all service skills needed in your restaurant. Here are some basic service standards to look for when engaging in a conversation with a guest at the table.

Are the glasses full*?  Clean?

  • Water glasses
  •  Wine glasses
  •  Liquor glasses
  •  Coffee cups

*An empty glass is another possible sale.

Is the proper silverware on the table?

Each Course throughout the dining experience should have the specific silverware designated to that course. Of course, every restaurant is different; although, whenever you approach the table you should know what course the table is about to receive because the proper silverware will indicate the course. The silverware should be presented and placed in front of the guest before the food is presented.

Is the table dirty?

Wobble free?

  • Simple, if there are crumbs (even from the bread on the table) they need to be crumbed. Any extra debris on the table should be removed as soon as possible. (Sugar packets, straws, beverage napkins where applicable.)

When approaching the table you should know how far through the dining experience the guests are.

  • Feel free to talk about how the dining experience is going. This is also important to engage in conversation.

Notice any dirty flatware.

  • Depending on which course the guests are on depends on what flatware is allowed on the table. It is important to make sure no flatware is on the table that should not be there.

General service skills to look for:

  • Is there bread and butter on the table?
  • Has any guest’s napkin touched the ground; and, if so, has it been   removed and replaced?
  • Finally, at the end of the meal it is important to make sure the table is clean of any items that are not being used – especially any crumbs. Make the guest feel comfortable at a clean table.
  • Refold napkins in seat if vacant.

Being aware of the action in your zone allows you to feel the positive or negative energy your zone is producing. It is important to understand what the server may need help with and who (even yourself) can help that server guarantee they give their guest great service. When you totally involve yourself into your station, you can see a problem before it happens, thus fixing a possible dilemma.  Service is anticipating your guest’s needs. You need to expand upon this zone request. How is the atmosphere, lighting, placement of tables, etc. not just centering on the taste.

Table touching ensures that your dining room is running smoothly and the guest is having a warm, personal and engaging service experience.

Zone Management in a Restaurant

Zone Management is a state of mind, an awareness of everything happening in your zone.  Zone Management is not just table touching, but an ability to distinguish the guest and the staff’s needs.  This can only happen by Manager’s constant presence in their Zone.  Only then can there be an intuitive understanding and an ability to perceive what is yet to happen.

 Job Description: As a Zone Manager, you help set the standards by which our restaurant is judged.  Your actions, demeanor and your attitude on the job play a vital role in the restaurant operation. Zone coverage is a key management role.  You have an immediate impact on each guest and your attention to detail will help to ensure 100% Guest Retention. Good communication skills are a must.  Your working relationship is with the fellow management staff, service staff, as well as the guest.  You must be able to communicate the wishes of both management and guests to the service staff.  The skill in which you handle this task can greatly contribute to more efficient service and greater guest satisfaction.

Job Responsibilities: Your primary task is to ensure that the dining room is properly maintained throughout the evening.  This provides for ease of service and maximizing potential revenue. As a Floor Supervisor, you are required to maintain Zone Management Coverage.  This provides for accountability and helps to ensure that each guest is properly cared for.  Sole focus is to be on table visits and creating a presence on the floor.  Aid in the development and coaching of staff members by being a leader on the floor.  Ensure guest satisfaction and 100% guest retention by constantly monitoring your zone to ensure guest comes back.

Zone Management Responsibilities Include:

  • Table touching
  • Table maintenance
  • Proper sequence of service
  • Coaching servers on continuous suggestive selling
  • Recognizing potential guest concerns and making necessary corrections
  • Smiling and making eye contact
  • Helping with service mechanics
  • Consistent communication with kitchen
  • Establish rapport with all guests

This does not mean just table touching.  Managing your zone means that you are in the heart of it, working and knowing what happens.  If you have to ask a server what they need, you are not working your zone.  Along with your zone, you should cycle through the restaurant, so that you know what is happening in the rest of the building.  Your cycle needs to include the expo line, the bathrooms, the back door, the bar and the host stand.  During these times, you are responsible for knowing the ticket times, music volume, product levels, 86’d items, staff issues.  Notice at this time bar activity, sales, food and beverage quality.

Management Standards

Managers must become technically competent whether they are training to be or are an accountant, engineer, chemist, restaurant manager, etc.  People with the above skills are ‘a dime a dozen’. What separates a good accountant from a controller, an engineer from an engineering manager, server from a restaurant manager or a cook from a chef are the following:

  1. Managers should be articulate both written and verbally.  It is amazing how many professional people, highly educated cannot write or speak effectively.  One reason is, they don’t read newspapers, weekly magazines, books, etc. about world and local events, nor about their profession or trade.
  2. APPEARANCE: Well groomed, properly dressed for the occasion and business environment.  This could vary from tuxedo to suit or dress to shorts.
  3. ATTITUDE: Proper positive job outlook and a “can do” posture do not determine how it cannot be done, but how it can be done.  You don’t want people explaining all the reasons why a good idea cannot be executed – you need people to tell and help to put an idea into action. CAN DO ATTITUDE.
  4. COMMITMENT:  Staff working 9 – 5 will not normally get ahead.  However, it’s not how many hours you work, but how effective and productive you are.  When the work-load is heavy, you must, within reason, work to get the job done.
  5. Most important are people skills, a sensitivity to other people – superiors, peers and subordinates.  Don’t worry about being popular.  Be fair and all other things will follow, such as popularity, consideration, respect.  The greatest tribute a subordinate can pay you is, “You are fair”.  This means you may sometimes have to be tough and hand out disciplinary actions.  This separates the “Mickey Mouse Boss” from the outstanding superior.

The Importance of the Guest Experience

The guest experience is the new marketing norm for today’s consumer. In 2010, 36% of companies expected to compete mostly on customer experience but in 2016 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the guest experience. In today’s modern world where social media feedback sites and online communities significantly influence customer spending, the experience you offer and how people write about that experience is more influential than any advertising you could spend.
In 2012 Beign Company research found that 80% of companies believe they deliver a superior guest experience. Do you have any idea what the percentage was when they surveyed their customers? Just 8%. While we think we deliver a great experience, our guests might think different. Whether we like it or not, how your guests think is critical to your brand and your reputation.
Look at it this way. How many of you have cell phones? OK, how many of you use your cell phones to get on the internet? Now the last question, is how many of you made purchasing decisions based on what you read on the internet?
Well I would submit to you that your guest and customers also do the same thing. As a business owner, I hate websites like Yelp, but as a business owner I pay very close attention to websites like Yelp. I might not like what I read about what the guest is saying, but I definitely make operational adjustments based on what I read.
In the end, it goes back to the fact that your people represent your brand and your culture. And culture is the behavior of your company and its people. It forms your reputation and your reputation is your brand.



Building High-Performance Teams

There are many groups of people who work at a company in the same department, on the same shifts, with the same people, and they function as a work group. As a leader and manager, you can take a work group and mold them into high performance teams.

There are four common elements in high performance teams.

The first is common purpose, common purpose is described as something larger than one’s own role within an organization. It’s more than just a business goal, it is what we want to be known as. Everyone on your team needs to understand the common purpose beyond the task they perform on a regular basis. This will give them a buy-in every shift, every day.

The second element of building high performance teams are goals. Every person on your team needs to know what their goals are and how they will be measured. They should be clearly defined, simple to understand, and measured through tools like mystery shops or associated performance reviews and regular scheduled coaching sessions to review goals and their progress towards those goals.
The third element of a high-performance team is complimentary team members. What this means is that members of your team each bring a different perspective, strength, ability, or mix of personality styles. This certainly can bring up many challenges. Many of you may be managers who inherit a current work group. Maybe you’re not that person who does the hiring for your department or maybe you don’t always have a choice in who you hire. While these challenges will always be present, your goal is to understand each person on your team, what are their strengths and areas for development, how can you best position those people that you have on your team and how you can become a person of influence in the selection of future team members.
The last element is mutual accountability. In mutual accountability, your goal is to create an atmosphere where each individual team member feels the role they play is important to the success of the entire business. Once individuals are vested in what they do, they become more accountable to each other as a group. The ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere where each individual feels their role is important to the overall success of the team.

All four of these elements are critical in building a high-performance team.

The Power of Visualization

The goal of visualization is to create images in your mind of what you want to be able to do and mentally practice them over and over again. This might sound crazy to you, but research has shown us that the technique of visualization is just as effective in creating an auto-pilot routine as actually performing the desired steps.

An Australian psychologist named Alan Richardson performed an experiment with a group of basketball players to demonstrate the power behind creating images that are rehearsed in the mind. He took a group of basketball players and tested them on their ability to make free throws. Once they were tested, he divided them into three groups. The first group would practice free throws every day for 20 minutes. The second group would only visualize themselves making free throws with no physical practice and the third group would not practice or visualize. The results were surprising. The group who only visualized improved their free throw shots by 23%. Only 1% less than the group that actually practiced. Isn’t that amazing? Visualizing yourself doing an action over and over again is almost the same as actually practicing it.

If you’re familiar with the actor Jim Carrey, would you be surprised to know that he credits visualization with helping him reach his career success? Jim Carrey was broke and trying to make it as an actor. He would drive to the top of Moholan Drive and visualize his success and steps he would need to do to achieve it. He actually wrote himself a check for 10 million dollars and dated it for Thanksgiving of 1995. On the bottom he wrote, for acting services rendered. He carried the check in his wallet and looked at it every day. Six months before Thanksgiving of 1995, he learned that he would be paid 10 million dollars for his work on Dumb and Dumber.

Visualization should not be confused with the “think it and it will be it” advise pedaled by popular self-help gurus. It is not a gimmick, nor does it involve dreaming or just hoping for a better future. Visualization is a proven method to help you achieve your goals.

The Cost of a Negative Guest Experience

The cost of a negative customer or guest service experience can be staggering to a business. According to an American Express survey in 2011,
  • 78% of customers who are involved in a transaction and have a negative service experience will stop the transaction and walk away without making a purchase,
  • 58% of guests who have a negative service experience will never make a purchase with that company again,
  • 65% of guests are likely to tell others about their negative experience according to a Harvard business review. We all know first hand the power of reputation and the word of mouth when it comes to making future purchases.
As we have all personally experienced the emotional effect of a negative service experience and its lasting influences on your perspective on how you feel about that company, if you will ever try to do business with that company again, and what you tell others about that company. When training my teams, I always make sure that they know that it’s never about if they make a mistake with a guest, but when they make a mistake with a guest and the most important thing is how they fix that mistake. Even though the guest is not always right, the guest must always be satisfied because if they walk out not satisfied, they will tell people about their experience.
Guest service is a perception and whether we like it or not, the only perception that matters is the guest’s perception. I like to train my organizations by the credo, “The noble oblige,” which means simply the guest isn’t always right, but the guest must be satisfied. Some of the companies that I do a lot of business with started out as a negative service experience, but the way that they fixed it and resolved my issues went above and beyond my expectations and I became a guest or client of theirs for life.

Time Stacking

I believe that hospitality and technology are a modern day oxymoron. There is truly nothing hospitable about modern day technology. Think about it, how often have you walked down a corridor or hallway and almost bumped into somebody that wasn’t paying attention because they were on their phone, or how many times have you been in a meeting where somebody’s not paying attention because they’re on

their phone or computer?

All the modern technologies that were invented were invented to make our lives simpler and more efficient and the byproduct was to give us more time. But actually the opposite has happened. All these technologies from the fax machine, the personal computer, emails, text messages, smart phones, tablets were all invented to make us more efficient, thereby giving us more spare time.
But now instead of being on a plane and watching the movie, we’re on our computers. Instead of being in our car on the drive home listening to music to soothe us, we’re on our cell phones.  Instead

of being fully engaged in a meeting, we are on our smart phones trying to multitask. What’s happening is we might be more efficient, but we are less engaged and less present. This is called time stacking, where we’re multitasking over and over again and piling tasks on top of each other.

Just think about the millennial generation and how efficient they are with technology. The byproduct though is that they sometimes lack social skills and being engaged in the present.
In my operations, I don’t allow my team or managers to be on their cell phones while they’re guest-forward.  My reasoning is simple. If you’re not engaging with the guests, you’re not able to assist them, and if you’re staring into your phone or your computer, you’re certainly not engaging with your guests.

There’s nothing wrong with modern technology, quite the opposite. It’s wonderful.  I use it all the time and don’t know where I’d be without it. The difference is that I understand when it’s important to actually engage people in face-to-face one-on-one conversation.

As a society, we have to be more self-aware and know when to turn off our electronics and actually be human beings to each other and appreciate the value of face to face communication.

Our Perception of the Job We Do

I always tell my team that perception is reality.  If a guest has a great experience or a bad experience, that is their perception, and that is their reality.  I also tell my team members that my perception of the job I do is the least important perception there is.  If I think I’m really good at my job, but my team doesn’t, I’m not that good. 

If I think I’m really good, but the guest doesn’t have a good experience in one of my establishments, I’m not that good.

So it is with my teammates, as well. Their perception of the job they do is the least important perception there is.  If they think they’re really good, but their team members don’t, they’re not.  If they think they’re really good, and the guest doesn’t have a

good experience, they’re not that good.  If they think they’re really good, and the business isn’t performing or making money, then they’re not that good.

Your perception of the job you do is the least important perception there is.  Everybody else’s perception of your work is more important. Think about that the next time you are facing one of your guests, and you pick up on body language such as a scowl or a shrug, or not paying attention to you.  You can tell pretty quickly that their perception of the job you do is not great.

The great thing about perception is that you can change it.  Make the guests feel warm, welcome, engaged.  As I’ve always said, the guest isn’t always right, but the guest must be satisfied and walk out happy.