The Art of the SmileIt’s funny how the little things — the simple, often-overlooked things — can make or break a dining experience. More specifically, losing focus on the little things can risk permanently ruining guest relationships. Not only might they never come back, but how many people are they going to tell?

The most basic of these is a smile…

We were recently out to dinner with friends at a well-known, upscale restaurant chain (which shall remain anonymous).

From the moment our server approached the table it was obvious she was not happy. No smile. No “Welcome to…” No, “How is everyone doing tonight?” Just a scowl and, “Can I get you something to drink?” We ordered 2 margaritas – one with salt and one without — and 2 club sodas. No repeating back (active listening), she just scribbled down the order and walked away.

We all exchanged glances.

So when only the two club sodas showed up almost 10 minutes later, I immediately looked around for clues: no crowd at the bar; no line of servers waiting for their drinks. Since logistically it just didn’t make any sense, the only logical conclusion based upon our brief experience with this server was: indifference.

About 5 minutes later we got our margaritas — both with salt. My friend mentioned the salt on the glass and the server’s response was, “Do you want me to have them remake it?” At this point my friend just wanted to sit back and enjoy her drink after a tough day, declined the server’s half-hearted offer, and just scraped off the salt.

The rest of the meal was more of the same: a general sense of I’ve got better things to do than be serving you people.

When I noticed the general responses to our mutual “How is your food?” questions  leaning more towards, “It’s okay.” rather than, “Oh, it’s really good!” I was again reminded why I place such importance on the little things.

Not only is smiling the right thing to do in service industries, but on a practical level a genuine smile will affect a guest’s perception of everything that happens throughout their dining experience. A smile will enhance the positives and diminish the perception of any challenges related to timing, mistakes, quality, etc. On the other hand, the lack of a smile which creates perceived indifference and/or rudeness will negatively impact even the highest quality meal.

We decided to have our dessert on the patio and listen to live music. Our new server gave us a friendly “Hello!” with a big smile. We told her we just ate inside and came out for dessert. “Sounds great!” she said. “And maybe some coffee?”  Sure! “Excellent. Let me get those for you while you look over our dessert menu.” When she returned shortly with our coffees, we asked her how big the brownie sundae was and she immediately became very animated in describing it and said we we were going to love it. We did. I believe the brownie sundae tasted better as a result of her energetic, smiling description.

I then watched as she moved from one table to the next through the packed patio connecting her smile with each of her customers.

The art of the smile is everything in the service industry. It is the package of every interaction and everything that’s said. The more this becomes a second-nature habit, the less chance there is to have personal challenges leak out and affect a guest’s experience and ultimately the restaurant’s short-term and long-term bottom line (not to mention the server’s tip).

Guests are not just paying for a meal, they are paying for an experience. A friendly smile isn’t just a good idea, it’s part of the job.