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  • Rhett Parsons

Who is Your Russ?

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Over the past 25 years I have dined at over 3,000 restaurants, from high-end to casual dining. I have also had the privilege of working with the guest care teams at many of the top 100 restaurants in the country. In every dining experience, the server had the chance to make an impression and to create a memorable experience. Out of the thousands of servers I have interacted with, there is only one whose name I can always remember, Russ.

Several years ago, my family and I were on vacation in Florida. While there, we had two drastically different dining experiences and illustrates the impact one person can have. As you may expect, our vacation plans included a visit to Disney. We were excited to attend a themed dinner at a Moroccan restaurant in Epcot. I respect and appreciate the great customer service attitude of Disney and I am sure our experience at Epcot was most likely an exception and not the norm. However, because of the reputation of Disney our expectations were high. The experience at Epcot wasn’t “bad” but it was very disappointing. We were expecting an “over the top” experience and we paid a high price. What we got was a very mediocre meal and poor inattentive service. The restaurant, like all of Disney, is hinged on the experience, which sorely missed the mark.

In contrast to this anticipated event the next night we just happened to stop by a Bahama Breeze in Tampa. This is the first time we had ever visited a Bahama Breeze location and our choosing it was serendipitous. There were 6 hungry beach goers and unbeknownst to us, we were in for a treat. The hostess took good care of us and found us a comfortable table and introduced us to our waiter, Russ.

Right from the start Russ was “on-point”, explaining the specials and asking questions about what brought us into his restaurant. We shared that we were on vacation before taking our daughter to her first year in college and that it was also our youngest daughter’s birthday. Russ was engaged and spent time to learn about us and shared some things about him. Russ was busy with other tables, but he made us feel like we were the only ones in the entire restaurant. A great server not only does the basics (which we all expect) but they have an opportunity to make an experience memorable. He recommended a dish for each of us and offered his opinion and his suggestions were great! Then to cap the evening off he brought a dessert on the house to the birthday girl and made her feel special.

The direct impact of Russ’ service was certainly a good tip. However, the residual impact is what I want to make sure is understood. Bahama Breeze became one of our favorite restaurants; we still make a point of dinning there anytime we are near one. The other result of this great service is that every other server I encounter is now measured against Russ. I have certainly had other good servers and other exceptional experiences at restaurants but none that immediately come to mind when I think of great service, like Russ.

As a business owner, you have a lot of areas to be concerned about. The responsibility of hiring the right people is one of the most critical parts of running a successful business. But, it is equally important to give them the training to go above and beyond, and then give them the freedom to do so. Your guests might only visit your business one time, or they might come back every chance they get, and their experience with their server may be the deciding factor. They will likely tell their friends and family about their experience as well. So, remind your team that they have the unique chance to impress every guest they serve and that they have your permission to go above and beyond.

That’s just good common sense!

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