People have varying expectations when they dine out. When it comes to service, my expectations are high. It’s perhaps partly because of the nature of my work covering the foodservice industry and partly because I spent many years as a server myself.

When I visit a full-service restaurant, I expect my server to be my guide on a culinary journey. It’s their “house” they’ve invited me into, after all, and they know it best. While I might sometimes choose my own adventure, I’m counting on her to show me around­ — to make me feel welcome, to know the answers to all of my questions (at least ones about the restaurant and its menu, anyway) and to steer me toward menu items I might not have chosen myself, but in the end will be glad I did.

Sometimes my expectations get met; lots of times they don’t.

On a recent visit to a new American fine-dining spot with my husband, I was fortunate to have had my expectations exceeded. Our exceptional server was perfectly polished in both appearance and presentation, knew the menu like he’d written it and offered many ways for enjoying the sharable plates prepared in the restaurant’s wood-fired grill and oven. We tried the things we were drawn to, but also took his recommendations. All hit the mark. Overall, it was a superior dining experience.


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Unfortunately, this weekend my extended family and I had a less satisfying experience during a visit to an established fine-dining restaurant serving seasonal fare. The food was equally as delicious as that of the other spot, but here the service was lukewarm. Our server was not a helpful guide, but rather a warm body that took our orders, answered our menu questions and gave us directions to the restroom. Though she knew the menu well, she only shared her knowledge when asked. The stark contrast in the service and the resulting dining experience at these two establishments left an impression on me.

But I get it. Finding good people is always a challenge. And, according to Dallas-based People Report’s Workforce Index, which measures market pressures on restaurant employment, it’s getting even harder for the restaurant industry, especially when it comes to hourly employees. The best workers are always in high demand, and with unemployment on the decline of late there simply aren’t enough of them to go around.

But just because you hired a “B” team member doesn't mean you can’t transform her into an “A” team member. Our server at the seasonal spot knew the menu well, but she lacked the hospitality panache needed to make our meal memorable. That’s easily trainable.

I’m not saying to stop trying to recruit the best, just that you shouldn’t forget about staff members you already employ who have potential. With a little coaching, that competent server you already have could become an exceptional dining guide. And then maybe I, and lots of other diners, will be headed to your restaurant for our next culinary adventures.

What are you doing to make service in your restaurants excellent? Join the conversation in the comments below.