Saturday, July 29, 2017

:: the floor staff - the unsung heroes of hospitality ::

One of the talks that I attended on Wednesday was about the floor staff -- everyone from servers to maitre d' and hosts to managers -- and how they can promote hospitality and the bar program. The panel consisted of Anna Kah McLoughlin (Bacardi brand ambassador, prev. maitre d' Dead Rabbit) as the moderator along with Jim Meehan (owner/bartender P.D.T.), Hana McClarley (maitre d' Nomad), Laura Torres (maitre d' Blacktail), and Eamon Rockey (general manager Betony) as the speakers.

Anna began with the premise that in many drink-forward establishments, it has been all about the bartender but the rest of the staff gets ignored. On a busy night at the establishments that the four panelists work at, 75-90% of the guests are on the floor. Generally, the bartender is the most knowledgeable but the floor staff are seeing most of the guests and making the impression. The challenge is how to prevent the guest from feeling that the server does not know anything about cocktails and spirits? Laura followed up by explaining that the bartenders also have an advantage as the guests come to their bar whereas servers come up to the guests' table which instills a different power structure. Jim explained the value of cross-training such that the servers on the floor are just as knowledgeable as the bartenders; in fact, Jim started taking floor shifts to take it easier on his body, and he learned from the experience when he was asked "what does the bartender think of this?" despite that it was his place and he was a bartender there too. Unfortunately drinks will come out faster at the bar, so there is a value of sitting at the bar in front of the bartender; therefore, try to think of ways such that service ticket drinks do not take longer as the guest should not be punished for sitting at a table.

To instill values within the team, management should think about equity in terms of how much each position is making and what uniforms they are instructed to wear. Jim repeated the idea that people should work multiple positions such that there is no concept of a higher position; moreover, there should be equal pay in the pool especially since servers do most of the business in bars. Eamon warned about higher staff demanding respect just due to their title instead of investing in their team and giving them empathy and developing a nurturing environment. Laura added that the server should be comfortable in questioning the bartender to ensure consistent and high level of quality; straw tasting drinks before they go out to the floor and asking bartenders to straw taste or remake a drink should be within their rights. Ana followed up that the server is the last quality check to ensure a great product.

Hana explained how pre-meal meetings can help instill equality and communication. At Nomad, everyone from chef to server sits down together such that superiors and subordinates get to converse. Laura mentioned how doing something "of the day" such as spirit or cocktail during pre-meal helps instill knowledge and presentation skills; this should not be just the barstaff presenting but the servers as well. Servers need to feel like this is their career and their industry. And in a pooled house, there is no reason why everyone cannot hit a table throughout the night. Hana and Laura both then mentioned goal setting such as servers trying to sell one of each cocktail on the menu that night or perhaps just the least selling cocktail. Or perhaps get everyone excited to break a cover record. Hana explained that they have legend nights where the goal is for each staff member to create a legendary experience for one table in that section by figuring out what would make things extra special.

Eamon provided a 7 step process in the greet. The idea is not how you say hello when a guest walks in but how to instill trust in them:
1. Identification & Appreciation. Let the guest know they are welcome.
2. Figure out their immediate needs and start out on the right tone.
3. Identification of boundaries. Find out the things that govern the guests' needs such as allergies.
4. Trajectory. Solicit the information that will allow the experience to be appropriate with the time frame.
5. Provide all the resources at your disposal such as menus.
6. Clarity and activity: ask and receive the questions that make sure every one is on the same page.
7. Provision of fundamentals. For example water: it should be there, but it does not have to be the first thing brought up (still or sparkling?) for it is the least exciting.
Jim commented that he prefers to give the staff room to fail. From his conversations with Danny Meyer, he learned that it is not about perfection, it is about excellence; if someone makes a mistake a fails at perfection, excellence allows them a chance to remedy it.

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