Ugly Betty for a day leaves lasting impression, not a good one at that

 In 3. Linda Peters-Getchell, Operations

Authored by Linda Peters-Getchell

Yesterday a friend and I headed to one of our all-time favorite places to go for lunch. It is a super casual place with outdoor seating and some remarkable items on their menu. We were greeted by Bob the Builder, escorted to our table by a strange character in a very wide black and white striped suit, a ghoulish painted face and then up popped a young man dressed as Ugly Betty who identified himself as Betty, informing us he would be our server.

Well, come on, it was Halloween and everyone working there was in costume – kinda fun. Betty was in full regalia for Betty, long black wig, poncho and lots of metal braces reflecting the light every time he opened his mouth.

The amusing side of Betty dwindled quickly as he kept pushing back his long hair by taking his hands and stoking it as he pushed it back on both sides, as you might see young girls frequently doing. If he did this once he had to have done it 20 times before we left. We wished that his personality was befitting Betty, it was not, it was annoying. Now add to this his mouthful of plastic teeth with braces that did not fit well and not only were they loose enough that he had to keep pushing them back into his mouth (yes, with his fingers, the very fingers that would be serving us, handling our food, delivering our drinks), it was nearly impossible to understand what he was saying with his mouth filled with foreign teeth and metal.

We placed our order, an identical order we have placed many times over. We were adding a Caesar to our order which we always do and we share it. He proceeded to tell us that we could not do this. We questioned why, we do it all the time. He then informed us that it would not be only $1.95 as it is if you are adding it to a dinner. We assured him that we knew that and it was fine. He needed to have the last word and added in a scolding voice, “Well, I just wanted to be sure you knew it was not going to be $1.95, you’d have to pay full price!” Betty did not endear himself to us at this point.

Remember that he kept stroking his long tresses, pushing his plastic teeth back into his mouth, well he brought an extra plate for our salad, and yes, you guessed it, he placed the plate down with his thumb as far onto the surface of the plate as it could be. Needless to say we did not use that plate, nor did we request another one from him.

I might add we became aware that other guests were also watching his poor sanitation habits, and we could hear comments from a neighboring table.

So why am I writing about Betty? Because it made me think in these times when we should be doing our best to coddle, serve, and wow the guests we have and to keep them coming back we need to look beyond even our tight inventory, purchasing and portion control, but to the grooming and sanitation education of our servers.

I don’t care if you have a super casual place and your servers wear sneakers, jeans and a logo tee, they need to be clean (sneakers included with clean, tied laces ), pressed, and not thread barren. Hair clean, pulled back and anchored if long, clean shaven if male. Just like your dining room that you keep clean and sparkling to make a good presentation, so should your staff make an even better presentation. They represent the personality, the cleanliness, the quality of your restaurant.

Pre-shift is a great place for reminders regarding touching hair and nose and mouth in the dining room. Let them know it is a no no. When in fact, they need to, it is done out of sight and them hands washed immediately. Their hands have the 10 most germ spreading devices there are on them. Remember that thumb in the middle of our salad plate (ugh)? That thumb had been in Betty’s mouth, touched Betty’s hair, carried soiled plates, and who knows where else that thumb had been.

Here we are in the middle of holiday time, more people out for lunches, dinners, parties, and you want them to have a WOW experience and to return again and again. So how about spending a day observing the habits of your servers and bartenders as well as their grooming habits. If you discover challenges meet them head on before a guest observes and quietly leaves, never to return again.

We do notice.

Years, many years ago, I managed a very popular French café that sported an open kitchen. One of the cooks had gone to the bathroom and as he returned to the kitchen a man who had been waiting his turn to enter the men’s room came out and at the top of his lungs yelled, “He didn’t wash his hands, that cook didn’t wash his hands! We are out of here!”

I sprouted wings it seemed and immediately went to his departing table to talk with the gentleman. After he calmed down I asked what made him think that the cook had not washed his hands. He knew he had not, the soap was not wet. (That’s how long ago this was we still used bar soap).

I assured the gentleman that I was certain that the cook had washed his hands as he always carried a bottle of a special soap for sensitive skin. He had washed his hands so much that he developed sensitivity to regular hand soap and used a prescription one to avoid allergic reaction on his hands. I produced the bottle for his perusal.

The gentleman became very humble, extremely embarrassed and apologetic. I invited him to return to his table and desserts would be on me that evening (we were known for our desserts). When he left I gave him a letter to return and his meal (1) would be on me to welcome him back.

Will you take the challenge and observe the habits of your servers? Tighten up the grooming? No Ugly Betty for your restaurant, right?

Linda Peters-Getchell has 20 years in restaurant management and food and beverage customer service. She has owned her own restaurant and catering service, developed unique training programs and won two Key Player Awards for her customer service programs at Showboat Casino Hotel. She is currently a powerful creative force for restaurant expert David Scott Peters and his company, Smile Button Enterprises, serving as Fairy Godmother.

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