The host of the restaurant is a critical role on a restaurateur’s staff list. In addition to being mathematicians, leaders, team players, and masters of organization, they are responsible for establishing the atmosphere of a restaurant and their initial interaction with guests can influence the whole experience. We spoke with Courtney Anderson, Former Corporate Guest Relations Manager for Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants, to learn about what you will need to excel in the host role and how to make a great first impression.
What are the best practices on how to determine where to seat a guest if not pre-determined?
The keys to determining where a guest will sit is based on setting up your book in advance. Plot all of the large parties first! You may need to combine tables, which will change your floor plan. Next, go through all reservations based on “Guest Requests,” whether that’s a seating preference, particular server, birthday, anniversary, first-time diner, VIP, or a regular.
Sometimes, the table you offer may not be what the guest desired (which is a common challenge for any restaurant with a view). The best way to handle that is to speak with your Maitre’d or host controlling the reservation book. If the next available table will be a wait, offer the bar to enjoy some drinks as an alternative until the next one is ready. Never say no – offer a solution!
What are your go-to tips for spacing between seating tables?
The restaurant’s pacing should be discussed and managed as a team with the chefs and customized for each shift. A lunch shift with quick turn times on a sunny day with outdoor seating can have high pacing if the kitchen and staff can support it. There is a delicate balance between maximizing the restaurant while preserving the guest experience.
Every reservation platform, like Opentable or Resy, provides a Reporting section which has analytical data showing the average Turn Times, Cover Counts online vs. phone vs. walkin. These reports will allow you to determine the best practices for different shifts like Lunch, Brunch, Dinner, a busy Saturday night, graduation season, and major holidays. Nothing is perfect, but with reports like these, constant maintenance and tweaking will have your restaurant at peak performance and gain more revenue.
In what ways can hosts/hostesses help the rest of the team throughout service?
During a busy service, hosts can also help set up tables, check the restrooms, or offer additional help to the manager. Additionally, there should be a detailed Daily Checklist on what needs to be completed by the end of the shift. Have the hosts sign off on their duties to ensure all tasks are completed and to hold them accountable.
How do you manage guests who have been waiting a long time to be seated?
Communication is the most critical factor for managing a wait at the door, and it takes a team effort! Do not lose track of where the party is and keep notes on the reservation. It’s crucial to keep guests updated on the status of their table. If there’s a longer wait than expected, a complimentary gesture should be offered to thank them for their patience.
What are the best ways to manage guests who linger, especially when you have reservations to honor, and the table needs to be turned?
When a table is needed for the turn, the best and most hospitable approach the guest is to have a Manager-on-Duty go to the table and politely offer for the guests to continue their evening at the bar. The most important detail is that we want our clientele to feel like family and keep a positive tone. A small gesture like a glass of Prosecco for the table, while they move to another area of the restaurant or bar, goes a long way!
What advice can you offer to new talent taking on the host/hostess role?
Become an absolute expert at the Reservation system you’re operating. Most platforms offer interactive training sessions or offer tests.
Understand the flow of the restaurant and how to accommodate walkins. There is a mathematical way to know how many walkins the restaurant can take during a service, which is established through a variety of factors. Hosts should learn how to sell a table, whether it’s outdoor seating, hightop tables at the bar, or maintaining a waitlist.
Speaking with confidence and positive inflection in your voice will assure any guest that they are your number one priority. To gain confidence, the restaurant should have a cheat sheet and script to memorize on their company policies, whether that’s Valet, Corkage Policy, or Dress Code.
A host is the first impression and last impression of the restaurant. A fond welcome and farewell with eye contact will make anyone feel special, and at the end of the day, that’s what hospitality is all about!
What habits/routines/practices/hobbies outside of work help you maintain your composure at work?
As a former ballet dancer, I always used the fine arts as a form of relieving stress. I strongly recommend Corepower Hot Yoga for any restaurant manager! Yoga not only forces you to take time for yourself, but the breathing and stretching exercises allow you to clear your mind for one hour. Also, keep in mind this important factor: don’t check your email or phone during the yoga class.
Every restaurant should be considered a stage and performance. Having great posture from yoga and the ability to float around the restaurant while maintaining composure is an art of its own.
About Courtney Anderson
Courtney Anderson is the former Corporate Guest Relations Manager for Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants as well as the Personal Concierge and Manager of the VIP Program and Reservations Department, 2016 - 2020.