A bad mood on the restaurant floor can be a poisonous thing. When I managed restaurants, I was always very wary of the signals of one of the servers moods shifting. Shifts in body language, change in vocal tone, and changing facial expressions were always something I was super sensitive of. I was aware that if just one of the servers let their emotions get the better of them we would be in for a bad night. That mood, if not caught quickly enough, would spread like a virus to other staff members, to our chefs and eventually to our guests.
Now you may think I’m exaggerating, or that ones mood can’t really change the atmosphere of a whole restaurant, so I’m going to take you through the science behind it and see if we can start to give a bit more weight to the role emotions play in a customer facing business.
It’s called ‘Affect Communication’. If we think about communication as a two-way exchange, not just of words but as emotions as well, Affect Communication is when one person transfers an emotion or energy to another.
Happiness is perhaps the most obvious example of this. If someone genuinely smiles at you, you smile back. Our brains are incredible at reading body language and facial expression enabling us to recognise emotion. We take in all the information from the other person, process it and then the brain responds.
Now this is the amazing bit. Even if we don’t consciously see the smile the brain does. So you might not even notice that someone has smiled at you, but if your eyes have seen it the brain will release hormones and instructions to your body. With a smile the brain signals the micro muscles in your face to move - it’s like your smiling without even knowing it. Mind Blown!
But obviously the flip side to this is that aggressive or negative emotions work exactly the same way. If someone is full of tension when they are speaking to me: pursed lips, furrowed brow, hands clenched - even if I don’t consciously notice - my brain will start to tell my body to prepare to defend against this tension - making me tense in turn. My heart rate will rise, blood will go to my hands and my legs preparing to either fight or run.
And here’s the really amazing bit. When two people with opposing emotions meet, the person with the strongest emotion will Affect the person with the less strong emotion. Now anger, anxiety and stress are pretty powerful emotions and if we can look for the initial signs of these emotions, we can nip them in the bud. But if you don’t spot them early enough that’s service ruined for you and your guests.
So let’s say one of your team members is stressed and frustrated, they will pass on that emotion to all the people they come into contact with. If someone else on the floor is a little stressed then that interaction can push them over the edge, now they too are also affecting everyone they come into contact with. Before you know it, the night is ruined.
On a more positive note, if your staff are happy and taking pride in their work, they will Affect guests with their positivity. Even if guests come in stressed and grumpy they have the power to turn their mood around. Your servers just have to have a stronger emotion than your guests. That’s easier said than done - book us for some training to learn some practical skills on how to do it!
The art of communication is a complicated thing, but it’s also incredibly powerful. If you can Affect your guest's mood for the better, they will come back not just for the food, but for the emotional nourishment as well.