Have you been to a restaurant where the food is amazing but the service is awful? What about a restaurant where the service is amazing but the food’s average?
You’ve most likely you’ve experienced both these scenarios and have probably gone back to the restaurant where the food was average but not to the one with bad service.
Regardless of how amazing every other factor may be, including the food, wine or amenities, service is the one deliverable which can make or break a diner’s experience.
At our Inspired Series event in Melbourne earlier this year, chef Daniel Humm, owner of the World’s Best Restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York, put it perfectly:
“It’s one of the most difficult things to do, to balance good service and good food. Everyone talks about the chefs... but service is 50%. It’s extremely hard to make people feel like they’re at home and comfortable and serve food at the highest level. It’s really important to keep this in mind,” he said in front of 50 TAFE Victoria students at Higher Ground café.
For the kitchen and front of house to create a fine balance of good food and good service isn’t easy. But this my friend is integral to the success of a good restaurant.
Whether you’re a chef or a restaurateur, it’s very important to eat in your own restaurant as much as you can to appreciate and understand the customer’s experience. I do it all the time now and have done so in all my businesses. It’s important to be treated like a guest to see and experience your restaurant through their eyes, otherwise you can be blinded by what’s actually going on.
Of course, you’ll never experience exactly what your guests experience because your staff are clued up enough to make sure everything is running smooth for you… but the key is to watch what happens to other diners in the room, so I’ve been told by restaurant critics!
I even send friends undercover and reimburse them later. Give them the full dining experience and then they tell me everything. While it might not be what you expected to hear, you need to hear it to understand your business better and to improve.
During a market research trip to the Big Apple in the early 2000s, I dinned at all these amazing restaurants, had a notebook, took notes, drank the best wine and ate the most amazing food. It was incredible to see how restaurateurs and staff in the US run their establishments.
I had many great experiences but there’s one that stuck with me forever… the table for 1 at 2pm I got at David Bouley’s Bouley Bakery.
The 20-odd seater was full, quaint, welcoming and buzzed with energy and confidence. Waiters were polite and attentive to me from the minute I walked in to the minute I left the restaurant (at 6:30pm by the way! Probably a record for a single diner).
It was the most complete restaurant experience I’d ever had. The food was the best I’d ever had but it wasn’t just about that. The whole time I never felt awkward, never felt out of place or like an inconvenience, which unfortunately I think happens to a lot of single diners. By the end I’d spoken to every waiter, met the chefs, it felt like I was at home.
During a team development session, I had with my Sydney team at our HQ earlier this year, we discussed what makes a good and bad dining experience.
I’ve had my fair share of restaurant experiences and so too has my team, but the most common thing that made each of our dining experiences memorable was good customer service.
Isn’t it a fantastic feeling when the wait staff at a restaurant beams with smiles, positivity and are attentive to your needs without you having to ask for anything?
Whether it’s replacing cutlery, topping up your water or wine, folding your napkin when you go to the bathroom or simply asking how your meal was, attention to detail and constantly monitoring customers to pre-empt their needs is key for a seamless dining experience.
It goes without saying, for the above to be executed well, communication between the team is key. Exposing inconsistencies in communication to customers, like being asked for the menu multiple times is extremely frustrating and can completely ruin the customer’s experience.
No matter what heat is coming from the kitchen, it’s so important for front of house to always keep their cool. They’ve got to be welcoming, warm, professional, personal and knowledgeable about the menus. A great waiter should make you feel like you’re the only one in the restaurant.
This is what every dining experience should entail but unfortunately there are a lot of restaurants failing to deliver quality customer service like this.
Peoples’ energy and attitudes are contagious, so if you’ve had a bad day and are in a shitty mood, this is instantly going to be picked up by others around you and reflected in your work, especially if you’re a waiter serving a customer.
I’m sure you can agree, there’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant and getting this uncomfortable feeling like you’re an intruder. No matter how many times you wave your arms around like a lunatic, you get ignored. Or, just as bad, the waiter hovers and asks how your meal is every few minutes. Or worse, asks you to leave so they can squeeze another table in during service. There’s such a fine line between waiters being too attentive and not doing enough to ensure the diner’s looked after.
At the end of the day, if you treat your customer like you would if they were in your home, you can’t go wrong.