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  • Writer's pictureDavid B Townsend

3-Minute Rule, first impression of great food-service

I have a rule that I think is universal, although I’ve not seen any articles in current media calling it the ‘Three Minute Rule’ as it relates to the restaurant business. I often use it to exemplify the importance of creating a first impression as one of my first segments in training new servers in any restaurant, even if the staff is experienced. It applies to a couple of essential stages in the food service process. It is these first impressions that set the mood for a first-time guest for what can be the anticipation of satisfactory to excellent service, or potential disappointment.

1] Bartender- greet within 3 minutes

Your bar is packed. Couples are just having drinks, others waiting for tables. You're slammed. However, you must be aware at an instant if someone sits at your bar or immediate bar service area. Even if you can't make them a drink, you have a half dozen orders coming in from the Dining Room; you need to place a napkin and greet them " Hi, I've got a few drinks to make for the dining room, but I will be right with you." Alternatively, " Hi, I'll be with you in a couple of moments" is all you need to say if pressed for time. You don't even have to get the order, just the greeting within three minutes will buy you another three to-5 minutes or so to catch up. However, if you leave them hanging for that total of 8 minutes- you've already lost them as a return guest.

2] Newly seated guests in your section of the Dining Room. You have 3 minutes to get a greeting and possibly get the drink order. Like the bartender, if you only have time to say hello and let them know you will be back to get the drink order and answer questions, at least let them know you are aware of them being seated.

3] After you bring the main dish:

While you are delivering the entire, check water and wine, make sure there is proper silverware and ask if they need a particular condiment, more napkins, or anything.

Three minutes after you bring the entree make a pass by the table. You don't need to speak or interrupt; it's best you say nothing unless asked. Just let your presence be in the guest eyesight because if there is a problem, they will be looking for you. There may be the wrong entrée or something like a drink refill needed. But do NOT interrupt them with ' how's everything' at this three-minute mark. This, at times takes a bit of intuition on your part, as maybe this particular table seems a little more demanding and you need to say something while making your presence known. Some people just like the attention. But in general, wait a few more minutes before you interrupt their meal.

In another 5 or so minutes, this is when you can check in with a comment and see if you can sell another glass of wine. NOW, this far into the meal is where most servers fail. If you checked in at 3 minutes into the meal and never return, you're missing out on selling another glass of wine, making sure they have water or bread. This moment is when your attention to a follow-up on service is critical. This is when your tip, in the guests' mind, will go from 15 to 20% plus.

As an added detail that fits the three-minute rule: if you notice the kitchen is having a rough day and delivery of an item is taking longer than YOU expect, you need to practice a preemptive stance. Three minutes after your awareness of the problem go to the table and let them know, "just to let you know, your appetizers are taking a bit longer than is normal; I'm going to go check with the kitchen". This type of anticipation is the kind of thing that will ease any anxiousness a guest may begin to feel about waiting for food. Then go find out why and let the guest know. Don't ever lie or keep them guessing.

4] After clearing the main dish- get guests a dessert menu or present the check- This one can be tricky. In most fine-dining applications a check is never given without the 'host' of the party asking. In casual dining, its a bit more fluid. Some people want a check within a few moments of the clearing the entire table. Others still prefer to ask when they feel the night has come to its end and will ask. You, again, will need to use your intuition on this for proper timing.

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