Even though our real objective in this business is to get the customer to come back, we as restaurant employees cannot make the assumption that they have come back, and therefore understand how it is all supposed to work. That’s our job.
Help them out
Unless you recognize them as a repeat customer (and even if you do), it is still your duty to help them out. Don’t get mad at them because they seated themselves when they were supposed to wait, or didn’t seat themselves when they were supposed to sit, or seated themselves at a dirty table that you did not have the chance to clean off yet, or didn’t see your sign on how things work.
We must assume that every customer who comes in to your restaurant does not know the operation. That they are not familiar with many of your options and might have a question or two about the offerings. Answer them patiently.
Could you repeat the specials, please?
Yes, it’s true, you might have to repeat the specials. More than once. Annoying as it can be, especially when you are extremely busy, it is what you do.
The golden rule
Think for a second what it is like when you walk in to a joint for the first time. If you are like me, a much seasoned restaurant diner and former employee, it doesn’t mean you are going to know what to do when you go out to eat at some new, different restaurant. Sure, you might know which fork to use, but there is so much more to it. I’m sure even you have had to ask for some assistance, or advice here or there on how things work in a place. Remember that feeling.
So, do whatever it is that you need to do to help these customers out. Breathe. Go out and get some fresh air every once in a while. I used to lock myself in the bathroom for a few minutes just to get away and calm down when customers were driving me crazy. In the old Spago days, doing over 400 dinners a night–in Los Angeles of all places–a server could go crazy attempting to accommodate a bunch of very needy Hollywood types, where everything was a special order. Just imagine.
Find that inner person who got in to this business in the first place because they liked people and do whatever it takes to make those guests happy and wanting to come back for more.