My first day managing the restaurant was one I’ll never forget. In fact, it changed my perspective on what it is we do as workers in the industry.

One table stands out to me from that day and it was one that hadn’t gone so well. Their food was cold, it took too long, and they were angry.

“When you approached the table, what exactly did you say?” my boss asked me afterward.

“I apologized for the long wait. I told them we were remaking their food and that I would follow up with my team to fix the –”

“–You have to see it from the perspective of the guest,” she said.“Those people didn’t just come in for some food, they came in for an experience; to try something they don’t normally eat, to make some connections, to have every need met, to escape into someone else’s home for a change – our home!”

She continued, “When something goes wrong, we’re destroying that experience for them. When you approach a table like that, you have to know what you’re apologizing for.”

I reflected on what had happened with that table; how they’d come in for a great experience that we didn’t deliver on. And while my interaction with them had not gone well, I did learn from it.

It’s true what my boss had said to me: Guests don’t come to our restaurants simply to have some food, they come in for a great experience. That’s why our business exists and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Here are five tips to remember to ensure we never do.

First Impressions Are Everything

We want our guests to feel valued the moment they step through our doors. Our behavior should convey how much we appreciate them coming in. They must feel acknowledged, important – like a guest in our own home.

Imagine walking into a restaurant and being neglected at the front door. Would that make us feel important? Is this the type of place that’s going to take care of us?

As managers, we must ensure our hostess team understands this. Perhaps we should be standing alongside them making sure it gets done ourselves.

Servers Must Be More than Just Order-Takers

Imagine the difference between a server who simply jots down the orders and then one who approaches with a genuine interest in how we’re doing and what we’re looking for.

We’ve all dined at a restaurant and been less than impressed with our waiter or waitress, haven’t we?

Our servers need to be the latter; someone who takes the time to make suggestions or ask questions to ensure the guest gets the experience they came in for.

If we look at our team, do we see order-takers or true representatives of our business? Everything about their behavior should reflect the desire to give guests the greatest experience imaginable.

Perfect Timing and Flow

If the guests are neither making decisions nor enjoying something in front of them, they are a top priority.

Unbeknownst to them, everyone from the hostess team to the cooks on lineplay a role to keep that from happening. We call this controlling the flow of the restaurant.

Our ideal situation is that from the guest point of view, they are never waiting long for anything and things are always on the way.

Managers should always be scanning the restaurant to ensure everything is flowing. Are all tables being greeted within thirty-seconds? Is there a consistent pace of orders coming in rather than all at once? Are any servers overwhelmed from looking after too many tables?

Guaranteed there will be mistakes if there is an interruption to this flow. It’s also guaranteed that those mistakes will take away from the perfect guest experience.

Emphasis on Presentation

No doubt that what we serve must be high quality, it must be hot, and it must be unique – but that’s not enough.

The dishes and drinks themselves need to look great as well.

Imagine what a guest might think when we drop off a soup with specs of dried food stuck along the rim. How about a mojito with a wilted mint-leaf garnish or a wine glass that went out with lipstick on the side?

One of those experiences will have a guest bragging about us to their friends and family, the other one will keep them from coming back.

As managers, it helps to remind our serving team that they are the final gatekeepers before a dish or cocktail hits the table. We should never run something out that doesn’t make us go “wow” before doing so.

A Genuine Welcome and Departure

When I was a server, one of my classic closing lines to tables was, “See you guys soon! Next time you come in, try the pumpkin pie I told you about.”

I can’t count the number of times a guest laughed and said, “I will, I promise!”

It’s not enough to simply say hi and bye – our team needs to be sincere. We’re glad you came in and we’d be glad to have you back!

That message should underline every interaction we have, but it’s only possible if we actually believe it. For that to happen, we need to know why we’re in this industry.

I recall what my boss had said to me on that first day, that what I should have been sorry for was ruining that table’s experience. Because that’s why they’d come in and that’s what we should be aiming for.

Next time we’re running the shift, let’s do so through those lenses. Let’s not forget the reason why we’re in this industry, which is to give the greatest guest experience imaginable.