The answer to any question in the hospitality industry is never simply ‘no’. If a customer asks you about an item on the menu, and you aren’t sure of the answer–go find out the answer! Don’t ever just say, “I don’t know.” If they ask, “…can I get that with this?”, you don’t just answer ‘no’. Even when the answer is no.
I have worked many places that have their rules, and I understand why those rules are in place, but it is the job of the server to soften those negative answers with some other options. As in, “No I’m sorry we can’t do that, but we can do this…”
While on this subject, it is also important that the servers aren’t making up answers either. Besides the fact that it is wrong to be dishonest, I promise you that the chef, owner, or manager don’t want you making up answers to questions that you don’t know the answer to. Go ask.
Is there any garlic in that dish?
Let’s assume a customer asked that very innocent question of a server. And let’s assume the server didn’t know the answer, but was too busy to go find out. So they made up an answer. The customer ordered the dish based on the answer given to them, and it turned out the customer had a severe allergy to garlic. Oops.
Yes, it’s true that if a customer has a food allergy, they should mention it to their server. But, the truth is that a lot of the time the customer does not take on that responsibility. Yes, if they have a severe allergy to something and don’t mention it to the waiter, they are being really stupid. That doesn’t mean we want them to go in to anaphylactic shock at the table. Waiters carry some responsibility, too.
And when you do go ask the chef…
Best that it is not on a Saturday night at 7:30. Of course, if you really need to know because a customer has an allergy, fine, but be a professional and know your menu. Ask those questions at 4:00.
I worked at a place in Los Angeles that quizzed the servers daily on the menu. It was a ‘fusion’ restaurant (long before there was such a thing), and the servers were expected to know every single ingredient in every single dish. To this day I can tell you everything that was in the Thai melon-octopus salad.
I am not suggesting that you take it to that extreme, but if you are the manager, or owner, or chef of a restaurant–make sure your waiters know what is in the food! It starts by being an approachable chef who the servers should not be afraid to ask a question or two of.
Remember, you want your food well represented
You are back in the kitchen, but you should know what is going on out on your dining room floor. This works by training your staff and by being available should they have any questions. I have heard many versions of the same specials depending on who is reciting them. Another thing to keep in mind: You want consistency through and through, no matter who the server is. They should all have the same idea of what the food is about.
The absolute last thing you need in your place is a customer being rushed to the hospital because the waiter did not know there was shellfish in that dish that they recommended…