Do NOT Overlook This Position!
We all know by now that the symphony, we call restaurant service, is a total of the sum of all parts within that restaurant. The harmonious combination of elements (restaurant staff), are brought together and unified by the conductor (The GM), to form a masterpiece we recognize as amazing service.
So what happens when the entire woodwind section misses the same note, or perhaps the cello and violin are not on the same page of composition? Worse yet, the french horn and the harp just don't show up? The much rehearsed Sonata is derailed and sounds terrible. Maybe the organ player tries to cover the harp, while the trumpet picks up the french horn parts.
Now there is chaos as the conductor does their best to make the performance acceptable to the audience, and with no legitimate musical ability, can't take any of those parts themselves.
In our restaurants, each member of the team provides a valuable service to insure that operational objectives are met, and the shift goes great. Any one of the parts dropping out can wreak havoc on a guest experience.
Who then, has the most pivotal position in your restaurant?
If you have ever had a dishwasher walk out at 6:30 on a Friday night, you may say that they would be the "most important" person. If your top grill person burns themselves so severely in the middle of the rush and has to go to the E.R, you may say them. I am guessing different managers will have different answers, with most saying that there are no MOST IMPORTANT position, or falsely stating that it is them.
I am nominating the HOST, as the most critical link between a poor guest experience and a great guest experience. Why the host or hostess you are asking?
First of all, the host position historically is the one that gets the least amount of attention in the hiring process. If you are guilty in your career, as I am, of taking a server, who just isn't cutting it on the floor, and trying to save them by making them a host, then that is one example. Most hosts are considered "entry level", in the restaurant hiring world, as it is MANY restaurant professionals first jobs. Plenty of hosts are brought on and groomed to be servers, as part of the plan of the manager. Here is why that mindset is wrong.
The obvious reason is that they are the first and last impression the guest has of your restaurant. They are representatives and ambassadors and can start a dining experience off tremendously, or horrendously.
Digging a little deeper however, the responsibilities for how seamless a shift runs lands square on their backs. Coordinating reservations and the timing of table turns typically are up to them. Trust me that this is not an easy task. How about seating proficiency? A great host can seat a restaurant in such a way that the kitchen stays "above water" all night. A poor host can single handedly wave a kitchen and sink it just as easily. The host hears more about how the food and service is on any given night than ANYBODY in the restaurant. Period. Each guest that leaves your building typically will have parting words with your front door, good, bad or indifferent. A star host will quickly dig in, ask questions and grab the conductor if there was an issue somewhere. If your host hears time and time again, how loose and sloppy the service was, and allows each guest to leave, you missed an opportunity for recovery and that guest is gone forever.
Special needs and special occasions are one of the critical spots a solid host needs do very well. If your restaurant ignores the fact that a party is celebrating their 50th anniversary, or any other milestone, this is specifically on the host to communicate to the rest of the team. Many restaurant guests look at the host as another server too. As the host maneuvers around the dining room, they are bombarded with requests from beverages, to ranch dressing to "how come my food is taking so long". They simply cannot ignore these requests either, and must communicate them to the team member who may be running a little behind.
They can also be your facilities manager, as when a guest comes out of the bathroom and proclaims to the entire restaurant that there is a little "accident" in the stall, they are usually aiming their statement at the host. One of the many things on a typical host to do list each shift is to do cleanliness checks throughout the restaurant. When all 3 stalls run out of toilet paper at the same time, the host will get the blame and task of refilling them.
Thankless job? Sometimes it is, however, through my career, some of my greatest, hall of fame shifts, were due to the amazing host or hostess. The restaurant industry breeds MANY career employees. Cooks, Servers, bartenders and managers will sometimes spend most of their lives in the service industry. The least "career" position, is at the front door, and my take on that is a combination of pay, abuse and lack of recognition. It is easy to understand as well, as hosts will watch servers walk with hundreds of dollars a night, sometimes, and know that they just made the restaurant run great and made $60 in hourly wage. The BEST waiters and waitresses understand this and will (and should), grease the hands of a good host.
So dig deeper my fellow restaurant manager or owner, and offer up the type of wage deserved of such an important role in your business. Your life will become better when you find (and keep) the right person in this all important role in your restaurant!