Table service

Related tags Table service Customer service Public house Wizard inns

Table service is a serious investment, but can give your pub a competitive edge. Phil Mellows reports.You see them don't you? Sitting there in the...

Table service is a serious investment, but can give your pub a competitive edge. Phil Mellows reports.

You see them don't you? Sitting there in the corner of the bar, hungry, thirsty and looking slightly anxious. They are usually American, wear beige checked polyester trousers and they have made the bizarre assumption that someone is going to come up and take their order.

But in the vast majority of British pubs, even the ones that pride themselves on their food, the only people doing the waiting are going to be the deluded tourists.

Customers are expected to order their drinks at the bar, order their food at the bar, even collect their food from the bar when it's cooked and go hunting for a clean knife and fork.

Increasingly, however, pubs are seeing table service as a good way of improving their customer service and getting an edge over the competition.

Certainly it is growing among food-led pubs and the more upmarket drinks-led venues. Sports pubs too have found an advantage in offering table service while screening the big match, easing the half-time scrum at the bar. And if you've got a garden, assigning a member of staff to cover the outdoors can avoid a lot of spilt drinks and dropped food.

Table service has a lot to offer. It is a serious investment, however - in more staff, their training and, if you are really ambitious, in technology. It's when you arm your waiting staff with remote terminals or hand-held EPoS that you really start to see the benefits.

Managed chain Wizard Inns began to introduce table service four years ago and it is currently installed in 30 of its 65 outlets.

Waiting staff take the order manually and key it into dedicated remote EPoS stations. The order is printed out separately in the bar and kitchen almost immediately.

"There's no doubt that table service has been incredibly successful and it helps to set us apart," explained operations director Julian Sargeson.

"We believe it is a unique feature in that we have introduced it into quieter suburban pubs rather than big town centre outlets."

Wizard believes that table service helps to meet the needs of customers who are demanding better service.

"It seems to me that the customers are ahead of us much of the time," said Wizard managing director Chris Hutt. "Their concern is shifting away from product and price towards a need for more service.

"You still have to get the tangible factors, the basics, right but it's no longer enough."

Wizard estimates that a fifth of sales in pubs with table service are generated by staff circulating on the floor. "I emphasise that we are doing this in heartland pubs, often in unfashionable provincial, suburban and community locations," said Chris. "The customers just love it and where we get it right they spend more and give tips. This makes the staff happy and they are less likely to leave. This makes the manager's task easier and frees him or her to develop the business more proactively.

"Many companies are unwilling to invest the money to operate table service," he added. "But we believe that customers want it and it gives our outlets a competitive advantage."

All table service staff go through additional training before taking to the floor. In the case of new openings or reopenings, staff are put through their paces in a series of dry runs prior to the official opening.

Table service has been taken a stage further by Regent Inns in its Jongleurs comedy venues.

The outlet in Birmingham's Broad Street is, with a capacity of 900, the largest comedy club in the Midlands and it enjoys packed houses every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Food is only served from when the doors open at 7pm until the show starts at 8.30pm, and in that time staff have to prepare and serve more than 250 meals.

The solution has been to arm them with hand-held EPoS terminals.

"It would be impossible for everyone to come to the bar and give their food orders," said manager Chris Lambert. "Instead our staff are able to take orders at the table and receive payment there and then without having to ring up the sale at the till at the bar and then return with the change.

"As soon as the orders are taken on the hand-held terminals, they are automatically flashed onto screens in the kitchen and kitchen staff can start to prepare the food.

"When the meals are ready a server will take them to the table. On average, the time from when an order is taken until the food arrives with the customer is 10 minutes."

Pictured: Table service has been introduced at 30 of Wizard Inns' 65 pubs.

EPoS - lending a hand

No-one would blame you for thinking twice before investing in hand-held EPoS for table service staff. At between £600 and £1,200 apiece they are an expensive alternative to notepads. And that's without the technology you'll need to receive orders in the kitchen and at the bar.

But Mark Isaac, sales director at Zonal, which supplied the equipment to both Wizard and Regent, has seen operators really build business as a result.

"It's not a small investment but using it properly can see your sales increase by between five per cent and 10 per cent," he said. "Customers feel more relaxed and they are more likely to have a second drink or a bottle of wine. It's an easy way to grow your business."

Extra sales also come from having well-trained waiting staff focused on upselling, interacting with customers and keeping an eye out for empty glasses to fill rather than spending half their time dashing backwards and forwards with the orders.

Mark warns, however, that licensees must make sure they buy hand-held EPoS terminals that are going to work efficiently - and last. They should be:

  • rugged. Will it still work after you have dropped it?
  • have a battery life of at least four hours and have swappable batteries so you can still use them while the batteries are recharging
  • compatible with your EPoS system.

The next development will be hand-held EPoS that incorporates a credit card reader, something Mark expects to be available later this year.

Pictured: Hand-held EPoS improves service at Jongleurs

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