I sat down today to write about rule five.  As I did so I realized that a preface was in order.  This morning I sat on my patio drinking coffee and reviewing the outline that I have scribbled on a legal pad. I began thinking about why this post was even necessary.  It should be common sense not to try to rip off your guests.  “Always recommend what is in the guest’s best interest, not yours” should go without saying.  Unfortunately, it directly contradicts what many servers are being encouraged to do.  So much so that even the guests know it.

I experienced this yesterday.  Waiting on a large group of teachers at lunch, I offered recommendations off the menu.  I suggested the sockeye salmon the chef was offering as his daily special.  I mentioned the flavor difference of wild caught salmon.  I discussed the life cycle, diet, and high levels of omega 3.  When I took the order, most of them chose my recommendation.  The last one looked up at me and said, “you are a great salesman, so I will have the salmon too.”  I was taken aback by this statement.  My description was more reminiscent of a teacher or a food critic than a salesman.  I did not use a “close” or try to appeal to their emotions.  I tried to sell them the best item by educating them and allowing them to make an informed decision.  My response to her was, “The difference is I will be here for the entire time you have the plate in front of you.  That is a guarantee no salesperson can make.”

Of course I was trying to sell the sockeye.  I wanted every guest who sat in my section to eat it.  It wasn’t the most expensive item on the menu, but in my opinion it was the best tasting.  I know what market prices are and it was a tremendous value.  It was what I had for lunch for the second time this week.  All of my expertise and knowledge was viewed with hostility, as the guests feared being sold something.  My integrity was being questioned by someone who had never met me, in spite of the presentation of considerable knowledge, simply because I was a server.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to determine where this hostility began.  The most logical culprit is server greed.  The flaw in this logic is that servers, and humans in general, have always been greedy. Yet for most of the history of serving waiters and waitresses still looked out for their guests’ best interests.  Instead, I think that the problem is rooted in two much more recent concepts.  Both of these ideas are commonplace in nearly every restaurant company and found in nearly every training manual.

The first wrong turn the restaurant companies took was in instituting the idea of their service staff being their sales force.  The idea of selling as a server is not new.  Great servers have always done it.  The rebranding of servers as salespeople completely shifts to primary focus of the job.  Servers should sell to help guide guests to the best possible meal and reassure them of that decision.  When the emphasis is placed on selling for the sake of increasing sales, the guest is left out of the equation.  Selling items that are not in your guest’s best interest to increase your guest check by ten percent is counter productive if they do not return to the restaurant.

The second mistake is a word that I truly despise: upsell.”  The concept of upselling is so common that guests will often point it out as it occurs.  The perception that servers are offering items just to make the check larger is well merited.  Restaurant companies encourage servers to try to get all of the extras added to a plate to increase their sales.  Guests in turn fight their servers by refusing these added items for fear of the upsell.  This is so common even drive thru windows try it with every order.  Guests are so used to it that they cringe at even the slightest hint of an upsell.

The result of these changes is guests resisting the expert advice of servers for fear of falling prey to an upsell.  Years ago some company instituted both of these ideas and the industry followed them.  In turn the integrity of a profession was traded for a temporarily higher per person average.  The perception of servers changed from helpful experts who had tasted every item on the menu to shady and unscrupulous salespeople.  The industry not only let it happen, but also openly encouraged it.

The point of this post is not simply to criticize the chain restaurants that encouraged their servers to sell out their guests to improve the bottom line.  The underlying point is to recognize why the guests do not trust us.  Understanding the reason behind this mistrust is the first step in repairing the relationship between server and guest.  In doing so we must accept responsibility for our role in creating the hostility and determine how we can change ourselves.  It is only by accepting that too often we do not look out for our guest’s best interests that we can move on to rebuilding the relationship.

With that in mind, tomorrow we can address rule five.

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