You are invited by a friend to a party where you don't know anyone else. After some quick introductions you are left to make your own way and introduce yourself to others. As you gaze around the room you observe people and just based upon their appearance, mannerisms, and interactions with others, you form impressions and decide who you feel comfortable to approach and who you wish to avoid.
We all make first impressions at restaurants as well. While the look and decor as they approach the door are important, it's the first interaction once we are inside that can determine the mood the rest of our evening.
Our first interaction is usually with the host/hostess. They generally an entry-level position in the restaurant business and yet they are the ones who are crucial to that first impression for a new customer.
1. The entrance. Is the entry and greeting area inviting and attractive? It's important that the host stand is attractive and free of clutter. That includes the areas all around it. The area should not be used for storage of things not associated with their duties. Optimally, there should only be the computer, pen/paper, phone, and menus.
2. Greet the guests. Host/hostess should keep an eye out for people as they are approaching the front door and to open it for the the guests whenever possible. If they have to leave the entry for any reason, someone else should be there to cover. This is why busier restaurants often have multiple hosts on duty. Everyone should always have a smile on their face and a friendly greeting or introduction. They should try not to use scripted greetings, but instead tailor the greeting for each new guest. If the host/hostess is already helping someone else, they should acknowledge the new guest and say something like, "Welcome. I'll be with you in just a moment."
3. "How may I help you?" is a question that allows the guest to lead the conversation. The guest will be able to say whether they have a reservation or how many are in their party.
4. Seating the party. Before seating the party the host/hostess should ensure their position is covered for any arriving guests. A good host/hostess will lead the party and engage in small talk, perhaps asking if they have eaten there before. They should offer seats to female guests first. After the guests are seated, they should hand them an open menu, mention the server's name, and invite them to enjoy their meal.
5. Phone skills. The host/hostess is often the one to answer the phone. Phones should be answered within three rings with a cheerful greeting including the restaurant's and their names. To assist new staff, keep a cheat sheet of commonly asked FAQs on hand so that they will not have to track down a manager during busy periods.
In the ever-changing challenges a restaurateur faces, a positive guest experience is of extreme importance. If the first experience they have - the interaction with the host/hostess is positive - the entire dining experience is set in motion.