The Value of a Super Service Employee

For those of us who eat out with any regularity, we’ve all had the experience, unfortunately too rarely, of being waited on by what I call a “super server.”  From the moment she approaches the table we know we’re in for a treat.  Sparkling with personality, she overflows with knowledge about the food, beverages, and accompaniments.  She immediately sizes up our interest in engagement and calibrates her contacts accordingly.  She speaks with confidence and authority, questioning us regarding our preferences and without hesitation recommending what she thinks we’ll enjoy.  The best of the best can even unerringly take and serve orders without benefit of pen and dup pad – an ability that never ceases to amaze me.

Such extraordinary individuals are worth their weight in gold.  Not only do they serve with flair and expertise, but they sell, thereby increasing the average check, while making a distinctly favorable impression of competence and professionalism that brings diners back again and again.  This is true in restaurants as well as private clubs where members appreciate the recognition and special touches that a super server adds to the dining experience.

Far more frequently, we’ve experienced the norm of service – undertrained, inexperienced employees who may understand the basics of service, but little more.  Often lacking in knowledge, personality, and attitude, their service may meet minimum expectations but seldom inspire the diner to sample the extras – appetizers, desserts, wines, and specialty drinks – that the kitchen works so hard to create and which enhances the dining experience.  If truth be told, these employees are doing no service to their employers and in many cases are doing outright harm by driving customers away.

The often repeated maxim for employers “to hire for personality and train for technique and competence” encompasses a basic truth.  Attitude, personality, and engagement seem to be inborn skills and are difficult to teach.  While training can provide service skills and knowledge, thereby increasing a server’s confidence and maybe even engagement skills, the best service employees posses an indefinable quality that is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.

Given the dearth of these extraordinary service employees, they should be recognized and compensated for the rare skills they possess.  Too often though, their presence on an employer’s staff is viewed as simple good fortune with little or no effort made to differentiate them from the common herd.  The result is that in short order they move on to greener pastures where their talents are more fully appreciated.  When this happens the loss to the establishment is often more than can be appreciated at the moment.  Not only has the employer lost a super server, but a money-maker, an ambassador, and an example for other less accomplished workers.

And everything said about food servers applies as much to super service employees in lodging, retail, recreation activities, golf, tennis, administration, and other areas of hospitality.

So why don’t we recognize and reward super service employees for their special abilities.  I suspect it’s a combination of cost consciousness, an unwillingness to go beyond the status quo, and a fear of exchanging known costs for unmeasured benefits.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking  hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

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