Waiters are best positioned to gather specific information
The article highlights several instances where the waiters are in a sense the “first responders” to the scene where the consumers walk in to a dine-in restaurant. They are the first ones to make eye contact with the party of people and can assess if the meal is going to be a casual catch up lunch or a sales pitch business meal or stop by before the main event of the night like the opera. The waiters employ a variety of techniques to engage with the customers and let them know via reading the body language that they will take care of them and give ample importance throughout their dining experience. If waiters were to strictly follow the centralized method of treating all the customers the same way, for instance, greeting at the table, handing the menu and hovering till they order then it would result in negative consequences for the restaurant. In the past many restaurants have used “suggestive selling” based on the current state of requirements by the consumer but this trend is switching to “situational selling”. The article reflects upon an example with a family style eatery that offers its customers a light supplement like coffee/tea with a light meal ordered. If they were to centralize this practice, every customer that came in would not be satisfied because they were essentially looking for a light, quick meal and the waiter offered biscuits and gravy that is considered heavy. Hence, the waiter changing the “suggestions” based on the situations and specific information could prove beneficial rather than a standard or a centralized practice. Switching to decentralizing these decisions of what to offer and when to offer the consumer based on extensive training is setting the restaurants apart from each other. For instance, the article talks about an Italian restaurant whose waiter staff are trained to read a script but this practice is adapting to a better purpose – to obtain more specific knowledge of the customer. This eatery used the win list to assess if the meal would be fast paced or one of leisure. If it is the former, it is easy to deduce that the meal is not the central event of the night but perhaps the theater is. If the waiters were not using this specific knowledge the whole dining experience for the folks who are expecting to catch a movie after the meal for instance could be ruined. By offering another specialty of the restaurant, the waiter used the specific knowledge to augment their dining experience. The specific knowledge helped the waiter to assess that time is of the essence for the table and that he could possibly bring the check with the meal to save their time. If the practice of bringing the check after the meal was employed by the restaurant (centralized procedure), then it would waste the time of the consumers who are time bound and have other plans post dinner. A lot of the cues that the waiters get are from the dynamics of the group and the body language, if there is a certain “leader” on the table perhaps the one who suggested the meal or made the reservation. If a centralized method is adopted, the standards set would not be applicable in all the situations. If a manager (vs. the waiter) had to send the meal ordered, he would not know that the kid on the table just said that he hates green. It would enhance the experience if any kind of greens even lettuce for garnishing could have been avoided. Therefore, from the aforementioned examples it can be clearly expounded that the waiters employing specific knowledge can amplify the diners overall experience vs. centralized procedures that treat all diners the same way irrespective of the situation.
Tradeoffs, agency and coordination problem
As we have learnt in the J&M article, there are compromises made in either case when the decision making is centralized or decentralized. When the waiters are asked to take a call on their own, they have the power to steer the customers towards a more expensive meal or a sell an easy meal to avoid more work. There could be a potential agency problem hidden in this scenario where the waiter could be acting his/her own best interest. In such cases it would be beneficial for the managers to speak to the customers and not influence their decision making process. If the waiter staff is ill trained and they “read” the table wrong, it could be an unpleasant dining experience. In such cases, the restaurant is making a monumental compromise by letting the waiter who is equipped to handle the situation. It would greatly help if the manager or supervisor is able to converse with the customers, understand and serve their needs. Whether it's a fast paced meal or a leisure meal or just a casual date. These decisions can also avoid the potential coordination problems that often occur in the restaurants which get busy during peak hours. In those quick moments, the decisions made by the manager can turn around the experience of the consumers and enhance their meal experience vs. the waiter who could just be looking to escape work. The other reason that can cause potential coordination problems is that the waiters are poorly paid as they are compensated with tips. Not all waiters are tipped generously and they are highly dependent on the mood of the consumer, the situation and time. It is unfair if the waiter did everything possible in his/her hand to give the customer a great experience but they were busy having an argument.
Tipping and agency problems
The US based restaurants and diners have the method compensating the waiters with minimum wage plus the tips. Agency problems occur when the incentives offered to the worker are not in line with the organizations goals. By employing the method of tips, the restaurants are indirectly enforcing a great customer service by the waiter which aligns with the goals of the restaurant. By delegating the authority of providing situational service by the waiters, the waiters feel empowered to guide the consumer throughout the meal. Because they have the power to channel the customer's needs by suggesting the particular item on the menu they are motivated and also generously tipped. This way, the tips are highly dependent upon the service that is being offered by the waiter. The restaurant can use tipping as an incentive to coax the waiter to be on his best behavior and not act out of self-interests. Because a great service can guarantee a substantial tip. The US based restaurants, by employing tips as part of compensation have successfully established a “win-win-win” situation for the restaurants, the waiters and the customers. With the best service, the restaurant is happy because the consumer will be happy and would want to come back and bring in more business and even help with word of mouth marketing and the waiters are happy because they get paid the regular wage but also get “extra-cash” as way of tips. The tips in a way act like an indirect motivator and also by delegating the authority they feel empowered and invested in delivering a great quality of service.
Learning economies of scale
Restaurants today realize that just by offering discounts or coupons will not help them distinguish with the competition out in the market. Therefore, the heavy investment in training, research and development with regards to the waiters training. The restaurant owners understand and accept the benefits of delegating authority to the waiters and tradeoffs associated with it. The article illustrates the example of how a famous eatery in Massachusetts uses 2-week training to instigate the finer nuances of waiting like if customer is a first timer at the restaurant it makes a lot of difference to walk with them to the restroom vs. pointing at it. This small gesture makes the customer feel at ease and appreciate the service. It shows that the restaurant really cares about their overall dining experience and not just serving good quality food. When it comes to celebration, they are trained to ensure 5 employees sing for the person. This just shows that the restaurant is willing to be a part of your overall joyous experience of your celebration. It gives the customer a feeling of satisfaction and makes the dining experience much more special. By being observant the training teaches them to fix any red flags immediately. When the response to the greeting is not enthusiastic or when the response to the inquiry is mere “its ok”, the waiter can work on damage control. This way the restaurant learns what could have done better and it paves a way for the consumer to give feedback to improve the services of the restaurant.
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