Why Service Leaders Need to Be Role Models

The exact words the restaurant manager used were, "I'm not arguing with you."

Funny, because arguing was exactly what he was doing. My wife and I were celebrating the wrap of filming for my latest training video at a nice steakhouse. Both of our first steaks were overdone and the manager had offered to prepare us new ones.

Sally's steak was prepared correctly the second time, but my replacement was very rare, even though I had ordered medium rare. I sent it back to the kitchen once more, but the steak still came back rare. 

I wasn't going to send it back a third time.

The manager checked on our table. He seemed frustrated with me that I wasn't happy and insinuated that I was being too picky. In our ensuing conversation, he revealed he had asked the kitchen to prepare my second steak rare because he didn't think I understood what medium rare really was.

"I'm not arguing with you," he said, "but your first steak was medium rare."

That statement cost him a customer. Taking my steak off the bill wasn't enough at this point to repair his rudeness.

The worst part was our server was handling the situation just fine until the manager stepped in. The manager was setting a poor example for his staff.

 Two small wooden flags rest on a plate, one says "M.Rare" and the other reads "Rare."

The Impact of a Negative Role Model

Leaders set the tone through their actions. In this case, the manager did several things that sent the wrong message to his staff.

  • He undercut trust by intervening when our server was handling it fine.
  • He displayed rudeness by jumping into our conversation without first introducing himself.
  • He exhibited selfishness by putting my replacement steak in as rare without telling our server.

I asked a community of hospitality professionals on the I'm Your Server, Not Your Servant Facebook group to weigh in on their experience working in similar situations.

People generally shared that these types of experiences made them want to work someplace else. A few also suggested the drama and mistrust created by the manager was likely to continue well past our evening at the restaurant. Several also thought it might create tension between the servers and kitchen staff.

All of this came from the manager's poor reaction that unnecessarily escalated what should have been a minor situation.

We noticed a change in our service level after our interaction with the manager. Our server avoided our table as much as she brought us the check as soon as our meal was finished, as if she could not wait to be done with us. 

There was no final apology or a confirmation of any deductions from the check (my steak was removed). She didn't make an effort to resolve the situation on a high note by asking us to come back again. She simply processed our check and wordlessly dropped it back off at our table.

 

Positive Role Model Actions

There are many things you can do to be a positive role model.

The first thing you should do is model customer service skills when interacting with both customers and employees. Treat people exactly the way you want your employees to treat customers. Your team is looking to you for guidance and your actions will speak louder than words.

Positive role models also take the same training they require employees to take. This move brings three benefits:

  1. You'll have the same skills as your employees, so you can model them.
  2. Your presence sends the message that the training is important.
  3. You'll be better able to coach employees after the training.

Finally, it's critical to support your employees.

One of the worst things the restaurant manager did was undercut his server by stepping into the situation she was already handling and then blind-siding her by deliberately putting in my replacement steak at the wrong temperature.

Here's how I've seen other restaurant managers handle a similar situation.

They start by talking with the server off to the side to get the story and see if there's anything they need to do. Then they come to the table, introduce themselves, and confirm the server is rectifying the situation.

This action supports the server while still sending a positive message to the guests that the manager is monitoring the situation and is there to help. 

Work on these role model actions and you'll likely see higher levels of service from your employees in response.