Strategic Interrupting: Connecting with Confidence
There is a convention in the restaurant business called “touching tables.” It is a term that means checking in with the guests as they are seated at their tables in order to make contact, say hello, field questions or gain feedback. As a manager your job is to check in with as many guests as possible whether it is through seating them at their table, serving their food or stopping by to ask how they are enjoying their experience. No matter how busy, this is always job #1.
Something I find is that new managers are often uncomfortable approaching and departing a table that is in the midst of dining. These managers are fearful that their visit will be an interruption to their guests and then, once they have had a friendly conversation, find it disruptive, if not rude, to exit that moment. They spend time either avoiding tables or getting stuck tableside without leaving. It takes practice to find effortless ways to do this essential part of the job and it is a skill you can build and grow as you become a more confident manager.
Here are some tips for graciously interrupting and gracefully exiting this moment at the table.
1. Use a step of service to touch the table. Approach a table while pouring water, clearing plates or refolding a napkin. Take a moment just when the food arrives to wish the table bon appetit and see if you might bring them anything else. These moments of service give you purpose at the table and help you speak up in front of these guests who are new to you.
2. Be a distraction. If the waiter is concerned that things are taking too long at the table (and the guest hasn’t complained) engage these guests in conversation as a form of distraction. Your friendly approach might fill in the time that would otherwise be spent waiting. So, come prepared with a specific question (about the wine they’re drinking or course they just enjoyed) or a point of conversation (the weather, or a factoid about the restaurant) and strike up an open and friendly dialogue. This usually fills in the gap between plates being cleared and food that is yet to come. And if the food has still not arrived you can exit by promising to “check on your next course.” Which makes you the hero.
3. Watch body language. When you choose a table to touch, watch the body language of the guests at the table. Are the guests involved in deep conversation or light chatter? Are they looking loose or uncomfortable? No matter what, choose your moment wisely before you truly interrupt a personal or professional moment at the table. Your presence is most welcome when guests appear open and interested in the experience at the restaurant.
4. The 180: Years ago I learned that if you are facing one table and taking time with them, that means the table directly behind you has been looking at your backside for just as long. When finishing a lengthy conversation with one guest turn around 180 degrees and assess the situation: do those people who just had your back need a little face time? Very often they do, so take a moment to show the love evenly throughout the dining room.
1. Remember the time: while it might be nice to engage in conversation at the table, you shouldn’t be there too long; chances are you’re needed elsewhere. Be aware of the time and before departing you can reference it with “excuse me, I must check on something in the kitchen” (or at the bar, at the door, etc.).
2. Remember the time, part II: the people you’re talking to are eating and enjoying their time together so don’t overstay your welcome at the table. It’s ok to graciously call it out: “I’ve taken too much of your time, was lovely speaking with you.”
3. Promise to return: You may be having a great conversation and enjoying the moment so you can let the guest know that you’ll be back. “Hold that thought, I need to step away but would love to continue our chat before you leave!”
4. You’re busy: The guests can see that you’re busy and have things to do, so unless you are actively solving a problem, never feel like you can’t reference the job at hand. “Excuse me, but I can see that I’m needed at the bar (or in the kitchen, at the door etc.).”
All of these examples are ways to manage your time with your guests, be equitable with that time and be efficient during service. You have a big job as a service manager so try these examples and build your strategy for connecting with your guests, table by table.