We have many subscribers who offer food service, in some part of their business. That’s why we thought it would be a great idea to interview David Mendes, our Maestro of Imagination and Organization – and resident food service specialist. David and Donna worked with a country club in Kentucky to take their dining room service up to the next great level! However, even if you don’t offer dining as part of your company, there are things to learn from this article. Hint: Read what he says about style of service and flexibility!
Brandi: Can you tell me a little more about your background in the food and beverage industry?
David: I spent 13 years in the catering industry. I began as a bartender and server and then moved on to the hiring and training of staff. Eventually, I became a supervisor and event planner.
Brandi: How does your experience in the food and beverage industry translate now to your work in customer service training?
David: In the catering business, you must adjust your style of service to every event. There were weekends where I would serve at a formal wedding, baby christening, bachelorette party, and a cocktail party for a fashion show. As you can imagine, the service styles at these events are all very different. It was important that I had a core group of skills and training to pull from, but I also had to be flexible and adapt to every client/event/situation. I think most businesses now require that kind of flexibility when delivering exceptional customer service. It’s a valuable skill to be flexible and adaptable.
Brandi: Let’s get specific about some food service basics. As someone who trains servers, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you are training a new group?
David: Well, it’s important to never assume that people know the basics. I was in the food industry for so long that these basics come naturally to me, but if no one has ever taught you ‘serve from the left, clear from the right —”
Brandi: Oh! I’ve never heard of that. You’re supposed to serve food from the left and clear from the right?
David: Yes! See if I were training you and assumed you knew that, then you might never receive that crucial information. And it’s important to tell people why a particular piece of training is important. For instance, serving from the left with my left hand and clearing from the right with my right hand means that I am never reaching over someone’s dining space. That way there is no danger that I might drop something into someone’s food, and less chance of my knocking something over. It also keeps me in a physical plane where I occupy the least amount of space so that I don’t intrude upon the diner’s space. The goal is to be elegant and unobtrusive in movement so that the guest can fully enjoy their experience.
Brandi: Fascinating. Is there more you can tell me about the ‘dance’ between the server and the guests?
David: I think that spending a few sessions on training when the restaurant is closed is invaluable. That way, servers can practice without the distractions of a busy room. For instance, a server should learn to walk with intention and plant their feet so that they are rooted and balanced. That way if someone knocks into you, you can react with easy grace instead of stumbling into a patron, dropping a plate, etc. First, you practice without plates, and then you add plates and even your uniform so that you really get the feel of being truly balanced. And this stuff needs to be automatic in your muscle memory, that’s why you must train your servers and allow them to practice. Because when you are making conversation, giving directions, discussing the specials, you can’t also be thinking about the best way to stand and serve – your body has to react from automatically from muscle memory.
Brandi: Any fun tips that you would get in a ‘David Mendes’ training that you might not get elsewhere?
David: Yes! I think every server should have a good sense of classical service. And you may not have the opportunity to see that kind of service in person. That’s why I love Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Of course, there is no substitute for actual in-person training, but a server can watch those shows and really get a feel for that ‘old school’ kind of service. So then if someone wants a very formal style of service, you can at least call back to those programs and remember the vibe – attentive, dignified, and subtle. Classical service is an excellent foundation, and if you know the rules, then you know when it is appropriate to bend them. If you have a strong foundation to work from, then you can be confident when a patron is signaling that they want more – or less – from you. And what great ‘homework’! Watch Downton Abbey to learn about how to be a better server! What I also love about those shows is that they demonstrate that there is a real dignity to service. So many of the characters take great pride in what they do. And honestly, that is the first step to being a truly great server.
If you enjoyed this interview with David as much as I did, then you’ll be pleased to hear there’s more to come! Stay tuned for more tips from David on food and beverage service training in our upcoming newsletters!
Brandi Hand, Queen of Visibility, Red-Carpet Learning Systems
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