Check backs: Investigation or interrogation?

‘Checks-backs’ are one of our service benchmarking questions. The reason for check-backs are simply to give the server (not the customer – more about that later) an opportunity to correct any issues before too much of the dish is consumed.

This week, a silent customer wrote that the check-backs on one visit were both intrusive and irritating. In part, because the waiter kept asking: “Are WE happy with OUR meals?” which they found rather condescending, but more-over because of the frequency of these questions which happened after starters, mains, desserts and coffee and not just by her server but by the manager as well.

The business of finding out if customers are enjoying their meals is tricky for servers who are not able to read the subtleties of body language. Customers who whisper to their guests while picking with their food, who ask to see the menu again or who say its fine but avoid eye contact when asked, are all signs that something is wrong.  If a server has a trained eye, however, they only need to ask verbally IF they are not given non-verbal positive signals such as nodding enthusiastically while chewing and pointing at plate with their fork.

The majority of young servers do not have this level of training so a simple “how is your food?”, even if it is said in a rather perfunctory manner with lack of genuine concern or understanding for why they are doing it, at least gives the customer an opportunity to say if something is wrong.  However, do you remember that I mentioned that check-backs are to give the servers an opportunity rather than the customers?  Well, the problem with perfunctory check-backs is that, unless there is something very wrong with their meals, such as a hair in the dish, most customers will say nothing even if they don’t like what they are eating.  This is due to one, some, or all of these reasons:

  • They are there as a guest and don’t want to make a fuss in front of their hosts
  • They are not confident that they know enough about food to make a fair judgment
  • They are frightened of a defensive or confrontational response from the restaurateur
  • They don’t want to hurt the restaurateur’s feelings
  • They don’t care enough because they just won’t bother going back

Now, the trick is, if the server can establish that there is a problem, discreetly extract from the customer what it is and resolve it without a fuss. That customer will think they have had the BEST SERVICE EVER!