Things For Your Bored Hostess To Do

QUESTION From Jean S. in PA:

“How do handle hostesses constantly complaining that there’s nothing to do during down times? I feel like I’m always asking them to put away their phones, stop leaning, stop talking to the bartender with their back to the door and asking them to just hang out in case a customer walks through the door but they’re bored and after everything is clean and organized, I’m having a hard time coming up with other things for them to do.

Any ideas?”


Contrary to what some may believe, the hostess’ (or host’s) job is not to simply stand there and look pretty.

The host staff is often a guest’s first and last impression of a restaurant. If they are not guest-facing, your restaurant is not guest-facing.

Few things present a greater deterrent to an otherwise clean and reputable establishment than an unwelcoming host or hostess which is why the 10’ rule (greeting anyone 10’ away with eye contact, a smile and a warm greeting) is yes - that means no backs to the door, no cell phones, no screen surfing, no shopping, no books or magazines because being ready to greet is as important as greeting itself.

If they (or any employee) is not following your direction...they should be corrected immediately and documented ASAP or, at the latest, at end of their shift / before they clock out.

In addition to greeting and bidding guests farewell, there are plenty of productive things for a host staff to work on during slow periods without having to resort to the old adage: “If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean”, namely:

  • Menu cleaning, inserts, updates, etc...

  • Door, Handle, Entry Carpet, Menu Box & Window Cleaning

  • Learning table #s, seat #s and how to set a table

  • Buffer (front door to curb) inspection / cleaning

  • Stock supplies / Discard & Replace soiled, torn, creased or defaced menus

  • Call to confirm upcoming ressies

  • Google names of people with reservations to update mgr with helpful info during pre-meal / pre-shift meeting.

  • Refer to any notes on guests with reservations and write down on separate index cards or slips of paper for mgr to give to server(s) waiting on those guests. (e.g., food allergies/sensitivities, drink preferences, special event or celebration, industry, spec requests, etc...)

  • Call to follow-up on satisfaction with and quality of deliveries made / to-go orders

  • Take menu quizzes

  • Stuff to-go bags with take-out menus

  • Etc...

Just remember, whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it while they’re facing the door or the door is locked.

Make it clear in your Host Guide or Employee Handbook (or whatever New Hire Paperwork you’re using) precisely how host/hostess is to:

  1. Present themselves (hygiene, grooming, attire, etc...)

  2. Arrive and Depart work

  3. Take a break

  4. Request off / submit schedule requests

  5. Greet guests upon arrival (spiel)

  6. Answer the phone (spiel)

  7. Take reservations / cancellations

  8. Know menu (same quizzes as servers)

  9. Address food allergies / sensitivities

  10. Address rude, offensive or disruptive guests

  11. Take or direct take out / delivery orders

  12. Respond to large party requests

  13. Take messages

  14. Bid guests farewell

  15. Read non-verbal cues

  16. Handle a “bum rush

  17. Reach the MOD

  18. Track tables (sat, desserts, paid/checks down, turning and open)

  19. Go on a wait (record distinguishing features)

  20. Handle, document and direct guest complaints or incidents

  21. Know where the next 1, 2, 3 or 4 top is going

  22. Seat / Lead at the guest’s pace

  23. Combine tables

  24. Check every menu before leaving the stand with them

  25. Prioritize the guest in front of them over the guest on the phone

  26. How to put someone on hold (spiel)

  27. Know the business’ vs. kitchen’s hours of operation

  28. Know of any buyouts / closings

  29. Know the restaurant’s: reservation policy, concept, vibe, location/address, dress code, ADA accessibility, website and phone number.

  30. Know the menu(s)

  31. Be familiar with “pet”, “assistance animal” and “service animal” policies. (Generally speaking, staff may only ask two questions re service animals: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls. Additionally, a person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence. Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.)

  32. Be familiar with neighboring businesses, nearest intersections, available nearby parking, local landmarks, points of interest, taxi service and places serving after you are not.

  33. Respond to spills and bathrooms that need attention

  34. Handle Lost & Found Items

  35. Check a coat, stroller, walker, wheelchair or bike

  36. Report out / broken light bulbs damage to the facility or FF&E or other potential hazards.

I’ve never once had a mgr tell me the host/hostess has “nothing to do” when they were, in fact, on top of all of the above points.

If your host staff has ‘nothing to do’, it’s more than likely they’re not being managed (tested, inspected and practicing / role playing).

If they ARE on point and fully prepared for service, consider one of these 6 additional tasks:

  1. Cover the door for them while they sample something from the menu (at a table, bar or in BOH- NOT at the host stand).

  2. Cover the door for them while they read a book, study the host guide / handbook or study the menu (somewhere other than at the host stand).

  3. Role play with them to sharpen their spiels.

  4. Cut their hours / send them on break (just make sure someone else is on the door)

  5. Offer them some extra $$$ to make Catering or Private Event Cold Calls to local businesses (with your script)

  6. Cover the door while they visually ‘shop’ the area - take a look at how busy the street, retail and/or other restaurants are at the moment (should not involve actually entering any other business or exceed 5 mins).

Hope this helps,