Escalating costs cut into profits. This leads some food and beverage operators to raise prices, reduce portions, drop quality standards or resort to a combination of all three.

A more effective and sustainable strategy to drive the bottom line is to exploit the sometimes overlooked potential within their organisations — the waiting staff or personnel hired to serve at the tables.

Even if the food is highly recommended, most diners will think twice about patronising a restaurant that is known for its bad service. When people shop, they often look for the specific salesman with whom they have built rapport — the one who brings out the 10th pair of shoes while retaining her smile.

People constantly and even unconsciously seek comfort zones. A comfort zone is more than a place. It is a state of mind created by people.

Try to recall the last time you went to a place you really enjoyed. Who were you with? When you returned to that place alone, did you enjoy it just as much? People make the difference: they create comfort zones. The place, décor, lights, colours, music and taste merely trigger our senses.

Wait staff spend the most time with diners, from receiving and leading them to their seats, explaining the menu, taking their orders and delivering the food and drinks. They help to form an impression of an establishment’s service in customers’ minds.

Thus, waiters and waitresses are in a strong position to build rapport with customers, and many do. Customers come looking for familiar faces and are more forgiving of service lapses, which inevitably occur even in the best-managed outlets. In return, many wait staff welcome the friendliness and respect with which their regular customers treat them.

This bond is a powerful tool; it entices and encourages customers to return and motivates your staff to do better and stay with you. It grows sales.

This strength is something your competitor will find hard to surmount and is a true “win-win-win” situation for you, your staff and customers.

Unfortunately, some F&B managers are casual about losing wait staff and because the loss of sales is gradual, they do not even recognise that there may be a causal link between the two.

Find out which of your staff have managed to build up a following among the regular customers. Build a database that pairs customers and waiting staff (see table below).

With this information, you will know the probable opportunity cost of losing a particular staff member. More importantly, it will help you to fairly reward and retain both your staff and your regular customers.

Having a backup plan makes good business sense because the reality is that your staff may leave the restaurant. When that happens, there is a possibility that you may lose your customers too.