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The Restaurant Host.

Updated on February 21, 2015

The Host Stand

The Restaurant Host

I have worked in the restaurant industry since I was 12 years old. I used to help my dad, working special events, when he owned an outback steakhouse. Thus set my status as his right hand girl/ protégé ever since- he was committed to teaching me everything he knows. He is now the president and operating owner of a small chain of tex-mex restaurants in NH called ‘Shorty’s’.

At 25 years young I now manage his highest volume location in Nashua, NH. I don’t consider being a manager to qualify me as an expert in FOH operations but rather my being an expert as what qualifies me for management. Within the restaurant, I have worn every hat but that of a prep cook, line cook and GM. I have hosted, bussed tables, served, worked the bar, expedited food, and: BECAUSE I am a manager, I will be the first person to jump on dish if need be. Kitchen training is the next step in my personal development, and I cannot wait.

On the job and as a leader, I have often longed for a tool to reference in describing the A+ standard FOH employees I envision and expect mine to become. Of course my restaurant has an amazing Employee Manual that outlines job descriptions, as they apply to the direct duties of an employee at Shorty’s. I was looking for something more general as those jobs apply to general industry standards, so I decided it was time to write some. This is the first in a collection articles I will write for others in the business to utilize as they please, and what better place to start then the front door, the Host.

What do they look like?

Uniform

Almost all restaurants will provide a specific and detailed uniform standard. The host should look ‘fresh to death’: uniformed clothing should be worn, cleaned and ironed for the shift. If the restaurant has not detailed a uniform standard and left it open to interpretation (i.e. business casual, business professional), I would suggest a solid colored button up shirt, black pressed pants, and non-slip shoes. If you are going to be risking it with anything but a button up shirt, I would limit colors to black and white.

Again, uniform! All hosts should be uniformed looking when working together as well, and easily identifiable to guests. The simplest, most professional way to guarantee this is to detail a uniform standard in your employee manual.

Hair should be combed, and pulled back (up off the shoulders). Teeth should be brushed. Fingernails should be clean.

If a smile is not listed on your uniform standards it should be. The host of any restaurant should blow away any guest the second they enter your building, with his/her smile, and welcoming warmth. You should also be able to hear a smile through the phone!

What does a restaurant host do?

Greeting Guests

You want a customer to have an immediate feeling of genuine welcoming, like they’ve been expected. They should have the immediate sense of familiarity and comfort, even if it is the first time they have ever been there.

“Hello! Welcome to __________! How are you doing today?”

{pause for a response} “Fantastic! How many will there be in your party tonight?” etc. etc.

Keep in mind; most restaurants have areas of the venue that are open seating, like a lounge. Casual and welcoming greetings should be adapted for and used for these situations. A great host has no thought process associated with adapting to guests, they are just transient about what the guest desires of the experience and able to accommodate accordingly.

Scenario:

Lounge Guests: a guest heading towards open seating will never stand in front of the host stand, they will stop and talk as they pass by to the area they are headed- a great host knows / expects this and will adjust so they don't miss the chance to greet the guests.

“Hello! How are you?”

passing by and nodding a guest replies “Good, just heading into the bar”

“Sure, absolutely.. Enjoy! Try the drink of the day if you get the chance, everyone is raving about it”

Short and sweet and exactly what the customer had wanted of that transaction.

Seating guests.

Never walking too far in front of a guest, and if possible engage them in friendly conversation about what’s happening at the restaurant that week.

Menus are to be either laid out for each guest on the table, or if there is time to wait for the guests to be seated, the guests should be handed their menus once they have sat down.

Always inform a guest of who their server will be. If it is the random off chance the name of the server is unknown because volume is keeping things too busy, a host should still say: “Your server will be right over to take care of you.”

Taking/Packing Take-Out orders

Undeniable knowledge of the menu, and ordering system. Able to acquire an accurate order for the guest by knowing which sauce options, side options, modifier capacity (the ability to make to order), each item on your menu comes with.

Taking take-out orders: is highly dependent upon knowing the menu, the way a server should know the menu. Questions are vital to accuracy! Do you need a meat temperature for that meal? Are there a variety of side options? Are the fries and coleslaw that come with that alright as your side? ETC

Packing take-out: a host needs to know how orders are put up by the line cooks for the hosts to pack them!

Example:

The rib meal at the restaurant I work for is put up into the window with ribs. No more. No less. If my host put just that take-out container into the take-out bag as-is, I would have a severely unhappy customer when they got home.

Host Knowledge Requires:

  • Call for a corn muffin to be put into the window (the bbq sauce from the ribs would soak through the muffin if they were packed together by the kitchen)
  • Wearing expo gloves, wrap the corn muffin in a piece of tin-foil and pack into the container with the ribs.
  • The host then obtains a 6oz Styrofoam packing container and lines it with a piece of wax paper and packs fries for the rib meal (unless another side was specified)
  • They next walk over to the reach-in fridge grab one butter packet for the corn muffin
  • Grab 2 wet naps from shelving underneath the expo line to pack with the meal
  • Grab a 3oz plastic ramekin and fill it with coleslaw to go into the box with the ribs and cornbread
  • Then put the small styro with the fries, the butter packet, and wetnaps in a separate bag as the fixings for the meal.

That meal is the most complicated with pieces to put together, but I expect each and every host and server to know how to put that meal together to go if necessary.

Managing a wait and running the board.

There is a seating chart in every restaurant and some sort of rotational system for how and when to seat guests in certain areas of the restaurant, A host should know the finest of tiny details on how to operate that system for every scenario.

A working knowledge of all fire-code friendly seating options for large parties. They know which tables are positioned for, and meant to be, easy to move and re-arrange for large parties

On a weekend night when multiple hosts are working, each host should be able to at any point, work any of the positions designated to them for that night

There should be a system to always be updating the main seating chart.

At my restaurant, whoever is running the board that night, sends the “float host” to update the second seating chart we have, so that at all times the person running the board not only knows which tables are open, they know where tables are in there eating experience. Not only do I have my hosts mark the open tables on the second board, but also signal on the board which tables have their tab.

*In managing a wait, the goal is to always be one step ahead and to have set up your sections in a way that assures the quickest turn over for large parties. Stagger the rotational seating so that before you are on a wait, the areas of the restaurant that can accommodate larger parties are being staggered in seating so they will also be staggered in leaving.

Above and Beyond- The many, many hats.

As a team leader, I utilize my hosts in different ways depending on the different parts of a restaurants day. In my many years in the business I have found that the typical lunch and dinner restaurant’s day tends to happen in waves. I would never expect any above and beyond tasks of my hosts during a seating wave, because they belong at the host stand then.

Lunch Seating Wave

Lunch Food Wave

Lunch Clean Up

Siesta Time

Early Seating Wave

Dinner Seating Wave

Dinner Food Wave

Dinner Clean Up

End of Night Bar Business

During a weekday lunch mealtime, there’s usually no employed bus staff for a restaurant. If servers get really busy during a lunch, there section can sometimes remain dirty for 20-30 minutes until they have a free hand to clean up in between serving guests/ running food, etc. This can sometimes leave an unappealing eye-sore for customers who are walked through a filthy dining room to that one table in the corner that has had a chance to be cleaned an re-set already.

A host by definition is required to do nothing more than to go back to the host stand and wait to begin another guests experience.

A fantastic host however does not pass off all responsibility for the remainder of the experience to a server and walk away. As soon as the seating rush is over, they are taking pride in that dining room and cleaning it up.

They take personal responsibility for the experience of any guest they have welcomed into the establishment.

You should train your hosts to be fantastic hosts, to take ownership in their work and to assume a responsibility to the customers above and beyond “greeting and seating”.

Bussing Tables, Running Food/Drinks, Being an over-all gofer

So long as there is still some sort of physical proximity to the front door (to welcome people as they arrive/ answer the phone as it rings) your hosts should be act as a experience assistants after your any seating rush.

-They can act as a food runner for all of the food that will undoubtedly need to get out of the kitchen since you now have a full restaurant. ---

-As always, updating the kitchen on how many menus are open in the restaurant still.

-They can be bussing tables and assisting with cleaning up the dining room.

-Asking servers if there is anything they need a hand with, Etc.

Tools/ Systems

I'm ending this article with a list of tools and systems I have utilized in maximizing the functionality of my host staff. I also started a collection of articles called the restaurant operations series, will be continuing to publish on these topics.

The Open Menu Count.

Job Posts- Board, Float, Take-Out

Volume Sheets

Side-Work

Rotation Charts/ Seating Plans

I appreciate feedback! Please take my poll.

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    • Nationette profile image
      Author

      Jackie DelMonte 4 years ago from Nashua, NH

      Great point. I should have specified... GM is general manager, and FOH means 'Front of House', the employees that the guest see's.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Lots of great information here. But, I have never worked in a restaurant so I am curious to know what FOH and GM mean. I can guess, but I might not guess correctly. Thanks.