by Annie Vanderboom, Söntés Floor Manager
Since I started working in restaurants when I was seventeen, I’ve greeted guests, carried trays, and poured drinks in a wide assortment of establishments, from a Mexican restaurant run by the same family for generations to an über-corporate Italian marinara mill, from a wood-planked bar in the front room of the owner’s apartment to old school, East Coast, tuxedo-formal fine dining. Although the settings in which I’ve worked have varied widely, one common thread has run through all of them: the idea of hospitality culture.
Beyond Customer Service
This idea has been articulated in dramatically different ways, from bullet-pointed corporate memos to the nuanced subtleties of family interaction. But the goal is always the same: to make the people we serve feel welcome and comfortable, to anticipate and fulfill their desires before they even know that that—that perfectly mixed drink, that fresh napkin, that smile and warm greeting—was exactly what they were looking for.
Starting at Söntés in 2008, I was immediately impressed with how this idea had been honed in on. Everything from the placement of the bar stools to the language we use is designed to reflect the idea of being hospitable, in the true sense of providing warmth, friendliness, and welcome, rather than as part of the “hospitality industry,” which I personally see as an oxymoron on par with “factory farming.” The people who frequent Söntés are never referred to as “customers” or “clients,” on the floor or behind closed doors. Rather, you are our guests, and our constant goal is to make you feel like you’re eating dinner and sipping wine in your second home—you know, the fun one where you don’t have to cook or do dishes!
At Söntés, we’re not interested in “customer service,” because what we do means more to us (and we hope, to you!) than a simple business transaction. Rather, we focus on pleasing our guests, much the same way we would if we were welcoming you to a dinner party in our own homes.
The Next Step in Hosting our Guests
To help us accomplish that goal, guests at Söntés will soon see a small change when they get their checks at the end of a meal. Yes, the bill will still be there… don’t get too excited! And you’ll still have a chance to leave feedback on the meal you’ve just finished on our rating and comment slip. But now you’ll also have a chance to help us prepare for your future visits with our new Guest Information Card. It’s an easy way to help us get to know you and provide you with more personalized service.
All our servers already have personal relationships with specific guests; this is a key part of our hospitality culture. They know their favorite wines, their special diets, and their guilty pleasure desserts; they even know their birthdays, kids’ names, and hometowns. But in the hustle and bustle of service, it’s hard to share this information throughout the restaurant to make sure you, our guest, get just what you like, every time you’re here. Whether you stop in once a week on your way home from work or twice a year when you come to Rochester, our goal is to make you feel not just like a “regular,” but like a welcome friend. And now, you’ll have a space to tell us everything you’d like us to know to give you better and more personalized service.
The Guest Info Cards you’ll be seeing with your checks will give you spaces to tell us about yourself and your family. For example, if we know your birthday or anniversary is in September, in late August you might receive an invitation for a complimentary dessert to celebrate your special day. If we know you love big, juicy Zinfandels, our wine steward Barbara will be able to suggest exciting new wines for you to try or greet you with a glass of an old favorite, while your server will be ready with suggestions from our ever-changing menu that are perfectly suited to your palate. And over time as we learn more about you, coming to into Söntés will be less like dining at a nice restaurant than sharing a meal with old friends. So don’t be shy! Fill us in, and help us get to know you even better.