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How Is Everything?

June 15, 2009

What do you say when the waiter or manager at a restaurant comes up to the table and asks, “How is everything?”

You know what you say. Regardless of how the food tastes, you say, “It’s great!”

You do this for a few reasons:

  1. You know it’s the answer that he wants to hear.
  2. That is the answer that will make sure that he moves along.
  3. Even if you have something constructive to say, you don’t think it’ll make a difference.

I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but probably not many. I worked as a waiter several summers during college and am always on the lookout for signs of a good or bad dining experience, and yet I always say the same thing. “It’s great.”

Tonight this happened at a good restaurant. A great restaurant, in fact. I’m going to name it because my thoughts won’t negatively affect this restaurant at all, and they might just benefit from my advice. It’s called 1111 Mississippi, and it’s located…well, you can figure that out.

Both the waiter and the manager came up to the table during the meal and asked, “How is everything?” The waiter at least came to a complete stop before asking this question, while the manager (possibly the owner) said it while moving away past the table. The answer he wanted was clear, and he got it.

I asked Nancy if she could think of a question that would actually elicit potentially useful feedback from customers and engage them beyond the requisite “How is everything?” I was impressed–she came up with a fantastic answer right away:

“How can we improve?”

And not just ask this question, but have a notepad and a pen at ready when you ask it. That way people know that you’re truly interested in what they have to say.

Some people will not want the intrusion in their meal. It’s easy to give a short answer to this question. A good waiter/manager will recognize this, thank them, and move on immediately.

Others, however, will realize that they have something to say. The manager can take note of their comments, thank them for their feedback, and walk away.

The customer is not always right. However, they are always respected and always listened to. Always. By giving the customer permission to make suggestions, you make them feel valued and you create a memorable dining experience. And if you start to notice some patterns in the feedback you receive, you’ll be able improve your food/service/ambiance as well.

In addition, just so they end the meal on a positive note, put a business card next to their bill with a blank on the back preceeded by the question, “What was your favorite part of the meal?” They can jot something down and either keep it as a reminder of what they liked or pass it along to a friend.

If 1111 Mississippi is doing everything it can (and should) to value and engage customers, it will see this blog on their daily Google Alert and hopefully comment below. Let’s see what happens.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    June 16, 2009 2:51 pm

    I always used to ask, “Do you need anything else?”

    • June 16, 2009 2:52 pm

      What would she respond?

      • even bigger Papi permalink
        June 16, 2009 3:00 pm

        “No…I’m satisfied.”

      • Nancy permalink
        June 16, 2009 3:03 pm

        See, the problem with that is that it’s a closed question. You can’t ask yes or no questions. It has to be open-ended so you truly get feedback. It wouldn’t make sense to say “Do you need anything else” because that doesn’t open the door for me to say, “My halibut was overcooked.” However, it might have worked in your situation with “do you need anything else” and she can respond “wait, that was it?!?” Just kidding!!!

        • Adam permalink
          June 16, 2009 3:10 pm

          You say, “is that it” but what you mean is, “oh yeah, that’s it.”

  2. T-Mac permalink
    June 17, 2009 5:56 am

    Perhaps…”What can we do to offer you a better dining experience?”

    (Might sound too professional/stuffy, but in my opinion, “What can we do to improve?” gives a slight indication that you’re doing something wrong. I’d prefer to give them impression that you think you’re doing everything right, and that you’re so good that you want the customer to come away from the table with that “wow” feeling that women experience with Adam or even bigger Papi.)

  3. margot permalink
    June 17, 2009 10:52 am

    If I really have constructive advise, I feel the return address postcard is the place for that, I can write my thoughts and then if the manager called and asked me for further explanation that would be very personable. As a customer next to a table with another customer that would want to share their dining experience or advise with the manager at the table, the general atmosphere around would turn academic ruining my relaxing and possibly romantic dinner.

  4. June 18, 2009 6:02 pm

    Both good points. Trev, you’re right that you don’t want to focus on the negative. And Margot, you’re right that many customers won’t want to get in a conversation with the manager about the food, but they are interested in leaving feedback later.

  5. January 5, 2010 1:44 pm

    When I was a server I always asked this question, but frequently and was specific. No one is having “everything”. I think asking how “everything” is implies that, if you shut your eyes, you may not even know what these customers are drinking/eating.

    “How is your Cabernet?”

    “What do you think about the salmon feature tonight?”

    I found that people will answer a specific question with a specific answer:

    “I love it! Thanks for the recommendation!”

    “The sauce on this fish is amazing!”

    Or maybe not so enthusiastic:

    “Actually I don’t care for it.”

    “The salmon is a bit dry.”

    Then I can actually fix the issue! And, of course, I do think it is unquestionably necessary to make eye contact and listen to the answer, whatever it may be.

    • January 5, 2010 2:29 pm

      That’s a great way to pose that question. So my question specifically for you is: How do you reply when you’re at a restaurant and the waiter/manager asks you, “How is everything?”

  6. January 5, 2010 2:46 pm

    “This Grey Goose dirty martini with three olives is spectacular, thanks for asking!”

    I’m kidding. When I’m not actively paying attention, I fail with my approval. It’s bland.

    “It’s great!”

    I do speak up if there’s something I think can be fixed, whether it was specifically asked about or not. (This does not apply if I’ve simply ordered something I don’t care for, I’m only referring to an error on behalf of the restaurant.)

    However, I think I’m the minority on that one. 🙂

    • January 5, 2010 2:50 pm

      “Speak up if something can be fixed” is perfect advice for all of us consumers. I will keep that in mind from now on.

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