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7 Restaurant Service and Profitability Lessons from Tim Kirkland, Author of “The Renegade Server” (Part 1)

Bar-i is a member of the Colorado Bar Owners Association, an organization that represents the interests of local bar and restaurant owners, as well as other businesses involved in the restaurant industry. Currently, there are more than 200 local establishments that belong to this organization.

Tim Kirkland - Bar-i Bar InventoryRecently, I attended the Colorado Bar Owners Association annual conference, where I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Tim Kirkland, the best-selling author who wrote The Renegade Server. Due to the success of his book, he has become one of the preeminent national figures in server training.

I was quite skeptical going into this presentation. Like many people, I’m a bit cynical of the value that can be obtained by attending presentations led by self-help, motivational speakers, and I was a bit worried that my time would be wasted by generic “rah-rah” platitudes. However, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

During the presentation, Tim was able to win me over with the quality of his ideas. Tim is a very smart man, and he has really thought through interactions between servers and customers to a level of detail that is similar to the way Bar-i thinks through all of the issues associated with bar inventory. As a result, Tim provided great insight about how to maximize the server/customer relationship.

I left this presentation with a wealth of valuable tips regarding how to improve the service your staff gives to your customers. These tips will benefit everyone involved:

• Your customers will receive great service, be happier, and want to return to your establishment more often
• Your restaurant or bar will benefit from increased business since you will have more returning customers
• Your servers will make more money because the excellent service they provide will likely result in better tips

Key Concept of The Renegade Server – It’s all about the People

Tim Kirkland’s best-selling book, The Renegade Server, argues that the key to providing great service is to focus on the people. You don’t necessarily have to be the best server to make a lot of money. You just need to be good with people.

According to Kirkland, most restaurants usually have a few servers that make a lot more money than the rest of the staff. Typically, the best server(s) make about twice as much as everyone else, and it’s not due to better shifts. These servers are simply good with people.

The best servers understand how to interact with their tables. They know how to get their tables to like them, which leads to customers tipping them well. If you approach your job as a server with the goal of making a lot of money, you’ll typically fall short. Instead, the best way to maximize your tips is to approach your job with the goal of pleasing the customers you serve.

If you can do a good job at anticipating and meeting your tables’ needs while getting them to like you, then you’ll make a lot more money in tips.

7 Ways to Improve Customer Service and Maximize Tips at your Bar or Restaurant

The following 7 tips will help your servers provide a better experience to your guests. If they incorporate these ideas into their daily server routine, it should result in increased sales, greater profits for the restaurant, and better tips for the server.

1. Upselling is all about timing indecision.

Upselling is a common practice used by most restaurants and bars. It’s a sales technique intended to get customers to purchase more expensive items or upgrade to higher priced options in an attempt to increase their bill.

It’s important to think about the science and timing of how you can make more money. When done properly, upselling is a great way to boost your tips and increase revenue for your restaurant or bar. But when it is not done correctly, upselling can irritate your customers and negatively impact tips.

Most customers find aggressive selling to be annoying and creepy. It makes you feel as if you’re being sold to or bullied into ordering something as opposed to deciding you want it on your own.

A common example of pushy upselling technique would be when a customer orders a vodka soda and the server responds by asking, “Do you want Kettle One in your cocktail?” This is pushy. If the customer wanted Kettle One, he would’ve asked for it.

This kind of upselling behavior can ruin the customer’s experience, and it will most likely negatively impact their opinion of the server. This isn’t a good formula for cultivating return customers or for increasing tips.

In order to avoid this situation, you need to time your upsell correctly and do it subtly. Consider the following example:

A server comes to a table to take a drink order for a couple. The man promptly orders a beer, but the woman says, “I still don’t know what I want.” The typical response from a server is to say, “I’ll come back to you.”

This is an incredibly wasted opportunity. Since she doesn’t know what she wants, you have a unique opportunity to try and guide her towards her ultimate drink choice.

Instead, your server should use this opportunity to suggest something delicious that is also a high profit/upsell type of drink. If she really likes it, she may order another and your server looks great for the recommendation. If not, she has that entire drink to figure out what she wants next.

Key takeaway: Timing is Key. Looking for undecided customers gives you an opportunity to be less pushy with your upsell. You can engage the customer by asking what they like and recommending something that aligns with their tastes. This allows you to subtly engage in upselling while providing excellent customer service.

2. Dirty olive martini trick.

There is small margin for error when making dirty martinis. You never truly know how “dirty” a customer wants it, and if you don’t get this right, their drink is subpar. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to ensure you get it right every time while showing the customer you care about their needs.

When someone orders a dirty martini, be conservative and make it a little dirty, but not too dirty. When you serve the drink, bring a shot glass of olive juice on the side and explain to the customer that you brought some extra olive juice so that they can adjust the cocktail to their tastes.

This tactic represents no additional cost to the bar or the server, but it makes the customer feel special and appreciated by tailoring the experience of making the drink to their taste.

3. Don’t skimp on limes.

Vodka tonic and vodka soda drinkers typically like a lot of lime with their drink. However, most bars serve these drinks with only one lime. The customer will squeeze the lime on the ridge of the glass into the drink and need to ask for extra limes.

To avoid this problem, serve the drink with a single lime on the rim of the glass and bring a separate small plate with two or three extra limes on it. This shows the customer you are taking the time to make their drink special the way they like it.

Key takeaway: Make the customer feel special. In both the dirty martini and extra lime tips, a small effort by the server will go a long way towards making customers feel special. This will help servers get better tips, but it will also establish a reputation that your bar cares about providing great service to their customers. This kind of reputation can only help your business.

In our next post, we will discuss an additional 4 tips that will help your servers improve their customer service and maximize tips.

Please contact Bar-i today to learn how our bar inventory system can help you maximize profits and improve your operations. We provide services to bars nationwide from our offices in Denver, Colorado.

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