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By: Isidore Kharasch

Front Desk Hospitality: First Impressions Count

Your mom was right: you only get one chance to make a first impression.

That's why it's so important to make it a good one. For restaurateurs, your customer's first impression occurs at your front desk - the place where they receive their first taste of your service.

After all, delivering an enjoyable dining experience (the kind that customers want to repeat) means more than great food and attentive table service.

So, what kind of first impression does your front desk make? There's one easy way to find out. During both busy and slow serving times, walk out your back door... and in through the front, just like your customers. What does the experience feel like?

Is a cheerful host/hostess at the ready, eager to greet you? Or is he/she distracted, ignoring you, or missing in action? Is the desk a place of haphazard chaos, or an oasis of order and competence?

If your front desk doesn't measure up, it's time for a makeover. First impressions count.
Here are some tips for making yours a good one:

  • Your front desk should ALWAYS been staffed. Put a system in place-if your host or hostess steps away, someone else is there to fill in.
  • Hosts and hostesses should be cheerful, well groomed, and articulate. No snapping gum, no inappropriate attire.
  • The job of the host/hostess is to warmly greet every customer who walks through the door. Smiles are mandatory. So is eye contact. No customer should have to stand around waiting to be acknowledged.
  • The host/hostess must be able to provide honest, accurate waiting times. It is better to have customers leave right away than have them leaving in an angry huff after waiting longer than promised. (Which one is more likely to come back again?)
  • An unanswered phone signals that you're inattentive. Make sure yours is answered in less than three rings. Appoint a back-up to the host during busy hours.
  • Everyone answering the phone should be able to provide your hours, reservation policy, and complete directions. The secret? Simply post this information by each house phone.
  • Encourage your hosts to learn your regulars' names. Nothing builds loyalty faster than making customers feel like VIP's.
  • As for the front desk itself, it should be clean, polished, and organized-a reflection of your kitchen. Menus should be available for perusal. Amenities like toothpicks or mints should be well stocked and within easy reach.
  • Consider your foyer layout - is it apparent to new customers how to proceed from the door? If it's not a straight shot to the desk, place signage that leads customers there.
  • Make a good final impression, too. Every customer should hear a friendly "goodbye" and earnest "thank you" on their way out.

In everything you do, let customers know you appreciate their business. A warm, welcoming atmosphere helps compensate for the occasional undercooked burger or sluggish service day.

Your front desk is the "face" of your restaurant. Make sure it's a happy face!

About the author:  Isadore "Izzy" Kharasch - a.k.a. the "Restaurant Doctor" - is president of Hospitality Works, Inc., an international foodservice consulting firm based in Deerfield, Illinois. He serves as an adjunct faculty member and Advisory Board member of Roosevelt University, Kendall College, and the Lexington Institute of Hospitality. He can be reached at 847-675-2833.

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