In 2015 there was a report by Microsoft done about shorter attention spans. It stated that goldfish can hold attention for 9 seconds which is now longer than humans who are down to an average of 8 seconds. Whether this holds factual ground in animal behavior may be in question, but this is still a prevalent topic that people in the hospitality industry battle. Statistics aside, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that commanding someone’s attention at the table is a challenging task. Competing with social media check-in’s, conversations, and googling what is on the menu recognition of staff can be difficult. People often opt to research menus on their phones as opposed to asking the question face-to-face in an attempt to not appear unintelligent.
Here are a couple of quick tricks that I have experienced in helping servers, managers, and sommeliers grab the attention of those who are drawn to distractions. Eye contact, commanding posture, and a smile can grab people’s awareness but is usually most effective when done at the first point of contact. This may be more challenging with a party of ten, but with smaller groups this can typically be achieved. Stand at the head of the table with an assertive upright posture and look at everyone, attempt to make eye contact and smile at each individual. This will immediately establish a connection. If it feels impossible to drag someone’s attention away, engage the others around them so that it draws them to you.
Do not be too verbose, deliver the specials or any crucial information quickly and with concise and captivating language. Think through how you will guide guests before approaching the table. This may change slightly when selling to different types of clientele but it should stay pretty consistent. Ask the team how they are explaining things, this may give staff ideas in how to re-word or pair down some of their communication.
Subtle hand gestures, there are classically trained servers who are expected to stand with their hands behind their back and are told not to use them when speaking. But times are changing and I have found that using small hand cues to subtly animate descriptions can help gather focus. This does not mean wide flailing of hands but simply cupping your hands to show the shape of how a dish is presented gives people something to look at. This movement can turn the experience into something engaging and plays into the need for entertainment provided by a phone.
Whatever the technique used, don’t forget that customer service is the base of the interaction. Kindness and a smile should always be the principal when connecting with guests. Overcoming technology and shorter attention spans can be achieved but we must incorporate focused habits into our approach. If we are able to interrupt this disconnected behavior we can achieve an experience that will be remembered. People will continue to come back because they will recognize how the connection made them feel and not just what they ate.