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When you meet, greet it should be sweet

January 9, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH, For The Leader-Herald

At California pizza in Los Angeles, I waited for 15 minutes for the hostess to show up. Standing in the entranceway, I looked around. I looked at the ceiling and the passing food. The seated guests looked at me. I looked down at my feet then shifted my weary feet. I leaned on the hostess station and read the accolades on the wall. Finally, she showed up. Without a sound she grabbed the menus and started walking. I wasn't sure what to do. Maybe she was getting the menus for someone else. At last, she turned and said "Are you coming or not?"

I have managed the dining rooms of many restaurants so I am tough on those people meeting and greeting the guests. Shouldn't the meeting part be very important? First impressions and all. Don't we want the customers to feel welcome and start with warm feelings? The first employee the customer comes in contact with represents the first opportunity to make the experience a positive one.

Entering a family restaurant, I see a sign that said "Wait for a hostess to seat you." Oh busboy. I really think that is a misnomer. A host is a person who receives guests. A hostess should "host." A host should receive. A hostess should be there to greet. If you're waiting for the hostess, she isn't a good hostess.

Walking into a restaurant that asks you to "wait," it is the equivalent of a "whoa." It reminds me of school days when I would run home, anxious for the warmth of my home and my mom only to have her shout to "stop" before I tracked mud into the kitchen. I want my mom and the restaurant to be glad to see me, to greet me warmly and make me feel important just because I am there. Maybe a hug would be over the top (although I could use it some days), but a restaurant greeter could "hug" the guest with a warm smile.

I used to tell my students when they greeted incoming guests to think of someone they really wanted to see and to wait at the door as if that person was the next one to walk through the door. Greet the guest in the same way as they would that anticipated friend or family member.

Would they be off doing something else and not looking out for that person who was arriving? When the hostess is absent it feels as is the restaurant is saying "We didn't expect you" or "we aren't ready for you" or "we are too busy for you" or "you aren't all that welcome."

The first step to restaurant service is greeting - you know, first impressions and all that. Guests may be met and seated by the waiter, waitress, the maitre'de, the hostess, the headwaiter, the dining room manager or a manager. Their main job is to greet the customer and control the flow of customers entering the dining room.

A warm smile with good eye contact will help make the reception a success. An appropriate verbal greeting should accompany the smile "Good morning," "Hi" or "Welcome to ..." The hostess should help guests into the greeting area if necessary. Hold the door, take umbrellas, make small talk, etc.

If there are reservations, a host should verify the reservations and the number of guests then check the table chart assignment or assign the table. The greeter should make sure the table is ready, clean and set for the right number of guests.

The guest should feel they are wanted and keenly invited as they are directed to the table. The hostess should be alert to the customers desired seating preferences. Common sense dictates where parties should be placed. Loud noisy parties may be placed towards the back of the dining room. The elderly may wish to be near the entrance or away from the noise or near good light. Young couples like quiet corners and good views.

When seating customers it is "ladies first" whenever possible. Assistance may be given by pulling out the chairs for easy access. An aware hostess watches for placement of coats or purses.

It is usually the seater's responsibility to present the menu. Menus should be handed to the customer not placed on the table. Opening the menu is a nice touch.

I would direct my students to have one comment or questions for the table after they seated them, so the guests didn't feel as if they were just "dropped off." It only requires standing still, looking at the new guests and saying something as simple as "It's really busy in town today" or "I think the storm is going to hold off." One can use this opportunity for some marketing, by saying something such as "The lobster is great tonight."

Before leaving the hostess should give an entrance into the next activity, "Ellen, will be right with you." If these guests feel welcomed, they are content and anticipating the next service step. Oh busboy, I guess this gives thought to how you greet people in your own home.

Restaurant watch: Check out the way you are greeted the next time you enter a restaurant.




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