ESSENTIAL BAR SKILLS: THE ART OF SERVICE
We’ve all visited a venue where there was something missing. No, not that fabulous cocktail, or a perfectly poured pint, but that excellent service that keeps you coming back, time and time again. So, what makes good service? And is there an art to it? Gourmet Traveller’s Maître D’ of the Year 2016, Andrew Joy from Melbourne, gives us some insight on how to up your service skills and make sure your venue is the talk of the town—for the right reasons!
I have been in the hospitality/service industry for nearly 20 years (which is sobering considering I’m only 38!) and one thing has always remained constant. From my time in wine stores to my current position running some fantastic venues for Chef Andrew McConnell, our guests and customers all want the same thing: good service. The art of good service has countless aspects and benefits, and if we can get it right, it ensures that our guests keep coming back again and again. While a subpar experience in regards to a product or a drink can be rectified with great service, this is not a reversible equation: bad service cannot be fixed with a great drink!
For something that is seemingly so simple, it is truly staggering how often it can be either forgotten, poorly delivered, overhyped, or simply not part of the landscape of a business to begin with. The art of good service often lies in the simplest of touches: being attentive, being aware (of both your environment and yourself), and being consistent. These are all small parts of the overall picture of good service, but the main focus should always be “what is best for my guests?”
We can break this down into four key aspects: preparation, environment, consistency, and awareness.
Always set yourself up to be able to interact comfortably and informatively with your guests. When it comes down to it, hospitality is all about one-on-one interactions, and it is important to train yourself accordingly.
- Knowledge: Keep up-to-date on every aspect of your venue—being interested in your products is key to good service. Further study will always help bring something new to the table, and there are some branches of the industry that can actually be surprisingly interesting when researched in-depth, such as Wine or even Tequila.
- Leave your life at the door: Guests do not need to know about the finer details of your tumultuous love life (even if you feel it is particularly interesting).
- Presentation: The manner in which you dress and present yourself is a key indicator to guests of your level of care and respect.
- Rest and routine: This might seem a bit far-fetched, but the amount of downtime you get and your daily routine can actually have a huge impact on your interaction with customers. I can’t recall the last time I received great service from a worn-out service professional.
The space that you operate in will certainly vary from one workplace to another, but there are some simple setups that can assist in creating a good service environment.
- Proximity of equipment: Ensure you have everything you need on hand to provide the right service experience for your guests.
- Lighting: Set your lighting to a tone that matches your offering.
- Cleanliness: Keep your workplace clean—simple!
- Offering: Keep your offering clear and concise across all points of presentation, menus, etc.
We talk about it constantly in the hospitality industry, and it’s often identified as one of the main ingredients of a great business, but consistency continues to be one of the most difficult aspects to manage effectively, particularly when it comes to service.
- Briefing: The whole team should be briefed before the beginning of a shift. This keeps everyone on the same page and gives them all the information they need to do their job properly, resulting in the best service possible.
- Clarity: Clear and consistent communication between all staff throughout all aspects of service will keep things running smoothly and allow more time for interaction with customers.
- Routine: Establish a routine that the team runs through before service to create a consistent feeling from day to day. For example, if there’s a coffee break before a shift, make sure it’s at the same time every day.
- Check and double-check: Always keep assessing exactly what it is that you’re offering.
This is the aspect that most directly relates to actual service and interaction with your guests. Once service has begun, it is important that we put our "game face" on and completely engage with the task at hand: providing great service!
- Eye contact: Steady eye contact shows your guests that you are engaged and attentive. It also helps you as a service provider see if there is anything else you can provide. Avoiding eye contact will create a feeling of unease in your guests.
- Body language: Be aware of the way you carry yourself and be open at the table or bar. Your body language should denote confidence and be reassuring to your guests.
- Listen: Be active in your listening and, where possible, reaffirm with your guests what they have asked of you. This will help to establish rapport and show them that you are listening.
- Look and act: Most points of service can simply be ascertained by looking and acting. Tables and faces will provide you with indicators of things that may need your attention, so remember to look at both!
- Customers preferences: Remembering a customer’s preferences, especially a regular customer, shows a good level of interaction and allows for recommendations of other serves for them to try that have similar flavors to their usual order.