Hosts and Hostesses
The front line of customer service in restaurants and other food service establishments is the team of workers that comprise the service staff. These workers serve as the "face" of the establishment to the customer, and, as such, their jobs involve a great deal of customer interaction. One of the key components of the service staff team is the job of Host or Hostess. Hosts and hostesses handle the logistics of the customer's accommodation and adjustment to the establishment while supervising and coordinating the activities of the dining room. They welcome customers and control the reservation lists and/or waiting lists. They often direct patrons to coatrooms, restrooms, or waiting areas. In addition, they assign guests to tables, provide menus, and sometimes escort customers to their seats. In addition, hosts and hostesses organize parties and any other special services offered by the establishment.
Other members of the service staff team include the following:
- Waiters and waitresses: They take the customer's order, serve the food and beverages, prepare the itemized check, and sometimes accept payment.
- Bartenders: They fill drink orders from patrons at the bar or from waiters and waitresses who place orders for dining room customers.
- Dining room attendants: They clean tables, remove dirty dishes and silverware, and keep serving areas stocked with supplies.
The focus of a restaurant host or hostess is to reflect the ambiance of a restaurant in terms of manner and dress and to create a positive first impression on the customer. As the outward "face" of the establishment, the host or hostess is able to immediately convey an expectation of the restaurant's quality of customer service. The most obvious responsibilities of a host or hostess involve duties which facilitate the success of a customer's visit; for example, fielding calls from customers, scheduling reservations, welcoming customers as they arrive, escorting them to their tables, providing menus, and completing transactions at the cash register. Duties which are less obvious include assisting other service staff members during busy times, ensuring the comfort of waiting customers, and maintaining a smooth flow of customers as they come and go.
A good host or hostess in a restaurant setting is attuned to the amenities which can make the difference between a memorable visit and an unpleasant one. Customers should be greeted in a warm, friendly manner. If guests have to wait to be seated, a good host or hostess will give them an accurate estimate of how long they will have to wait and will seat them comfortably in the waiting area. As part of doing a quality job, hosts and hostesses will oftentimes suggest that waiting customers wait at the bar and have a drink. When assigning a table, they will locate one that is the right size for the party and will assist guests in seating small children.
Hosts and hostesses in non-restaurant settings may have duties which are slightly different but with the same general focus of customer satisfaction in mind. At a catered social function, for example, host/hostess duties may include introduction of guests and coordination of planned activities such as dancing or games. Hosts and hostesses may also provide direction to food-service workers and to personnel who serve refreshments. Depending on the nature of the function, they may sometimes be called upon to pick up guests or arrange transportation for them to the event.
Before ending their work shifts, hosts and hostesses are usually responsible for recording the transactions that took place on their watch and totaling all customer checks to determine how much money has been taken in. These records are used at the end of the day to make up part of the establishment's balance sheet for daily accounting.
In addition to the duties mentioned above, hosts and hostesses have "behind-the-scenes" responsibilities such as the following:
- Maintain cognizance of specific customer requests for seating
- Be aware of strengths and weaknesses of servers
- Continually rotate the dining room to take inventory of open tables
- Keep up with special paperwork on server counts, complimentary meals, etc.
- Maintain dress code requirements of the establishment
- Keep the reception desk clean and organized at all times
- Ensure standards of appearance of the dining room are consistently being met
- Maintain adequate stock of photocopies, ingredient lists, and time sheets
The work environment for hosts and hostesses is generally an attractive one since work is typically done in a place that serves the public. Some settings, such as upscale restaurants, can be elegant. Hosts and hostesses are normally required to be on their feet throughout their shifts. In a job where interaction with customers is vital, hosts and hostesses must continually maintain a neat appearance and must always be courteous to guests, even when they are not so inclined. There can be pressure during busy times to handle customers quickly and efficiently. The work is relatively safe, but care must be taken to avoid slips or falls. Full-time hosts and hostesses typically work a 40-hour week but may be required to rotate shifts, and should plan on working a fair share of weekends, evenings, and holidays. Part-time work is not uncommon in this profession.
In order to be a successful host or hostess, individuals must be well-groomed and have a clean and neat appearance. Strong communication skills in this job are critical to success. Hosts and hostesses must be well-spoken and need to have a pleasant demeanor. They should be friendly and outgoing people with an ability to remain calm and courteous during rush periods. They also need organizational skills, an ability to work as a part of a team, and a high level of attention to detail. In this profession, having a "thick skin" is a very important asset since hosts and hostesses deal with a high volume of customers.
Based on projections by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), average employment growth is expected for hosts and hostesses through the upcoming decade. Restaurants that offer table service are expected to grow in number to match the population growth and the growth in the number of customers who seek the convenience of restaurants and other dining options. However, there is also expected to be a good deal of competition for jobs in this field, especially in popular establishments and upscale restaurants, where potential earnings from tips are greatest.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Although there are no hard and fast educational requirements for this profession, many employers show a strong preference for hiring those who have at least graduated from high school. Most hosts and hostesses are trained on the job; however, some vocational schools have specialized programs that can help prepare students for this kind of work. Those interested in becoming a host or hostess would be well-served to take courses in math, business, bookkeeping, consumer science, and/or public speaking. In general, employers tend to make their hiring decisions based on a candidate's people skills and personal qualities rather than education.
Once hired, employees will receive some type of training from their employer. Some employers rely on training derived from observing and working with more experienced workers. Others teach new workers using self-study programs, audiovisual presentations, and instructional booklets. Still others provide some form of classroom training that supplements on-the-job work experience. The classroom training often conveys the operating philosophy of the restaurant, and reviews customer service situations and the proper ways to deal with unpleasant circumstances or unruly customers. In addition, it is often possible for hosts and hostesses to sharpen their skills by attending classes offered by public or private vocational schools, restaurant associations, or large restaurant chains.
- National Restaurant Association
- International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education
- American Hotel and Lodging Association
- International Hotel & Restaurant Association
- International Association of Culinary Professionals
- Restaurant Hospitality
- Restaurants & Institutions Magazine
- Food Service Equipment Magazine
By a large margin, most host and hostess jobs are found in restaurants and other food service locales. Other employers include hotels; amusement, gambling, and recreation establishments; and civic and social organizations. Jobs can be found in most places throughout the country but tend to be most abundant in large cities and tourist areas. Employment can be found at vacation resorts on a seasonal basis. Some workers alternate between resorts during the summer and winter months.
Schools for Hosts And Hostesses are listed in the column to the left.