Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NO random Restaurant Talk!..

One of my areas of concentration lies in customer service training. This comprises less of the technical training to do a job as a server, bartender, as a front-desk agent, PBX (phones) agent, concierge, sales person or as a reservations agent, and more of the people skills, communication skills, polished good manners and follow-up skills. These "soft skills" complement the technical training given by supervisors, managers or corporate trainers. I come in to polish it up a bit.

Given the nature of one of my concentrations, I always find myself meticulously observing, silent-commenting and judging service. I mostly do so at hotels and restaurants, because of my previous work experience and industry knowledge and passion for hospitality.

I stopped expecting excellent service (so sad, I know), because that would put me on the streets as a trainer and consultant. No, honestly, I haven't experienced flawless service in a casual dining establishment in a long, long time.

I expect A+ service in fine dining establishments, no questions asked. A few years ago, my husband and I celebrated our Anniversary at Manuel's on the 28th on Downtown's Orange Avenue. The contemporary cuisine was absolutely, flawlessly served by our very knowledgeable, very well trained server. The whole team was in sync with their guests, amazingly anticipating our needs over and over again, only stopping by our table when necessary, knowing how to pause, not interrupting our table conversation. Well, a few years later, I must say I just remembered, my husband and I dined at Antonio's on Sand Lake Road by Dr. Philip's (also Orlando). Service was a delight. Although I would not consider it a fine dining establishment, white linen cloths, serving from the left, waiting until both of us were done to clear our plates from the right, and using a bread crumber before serving our dessert was mirroring the service we received this past Valentine's Day at The Vineyard Grill at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes.

Sadly, as I was saying, I don't recall the last time I received excellent service in a casual dining establishment. There is always something to mess it up, I must say.
The other day, my parents and I were about to order lunch in one of Downtown's newest restaurants (very nice place, discriminating decor, interesting, tasty menu items). When asked how the chicken was, the waiter's facial expression (and I am not joking!), was a mix of skepticism with a slight disgust. To finalize his answer he said: "It takes so long to cook, and then when you get it...you're just better off having much better chicken at KFC or so!". Enough said.
At a nice Steakhouse known for having some of the best steaks in the State, while clearing up the dishes from the table, piling them up as much as possible on one of those oval trays, my stepdaughter was nicely splashed with meat sauce. It didn't burn her, but soiled her shirt and pants. A not empathetic "sorry" was delivered so low you could hardly hear it. One might say it was just an accident. perhaps. But accidents can be prevented, and the way he was clearing up the table was not indicative of any preventive measures.
One of my all-time favorites is a very friendly, yet clueless waitress letting us know that "the bread we have now is so hard, that I'll have to put some fresh dough in the oven for you!" Thank you for sharing. We don't want to, we don't need to know about these situations in the back of the house.

A guy I worked with a few years ago, when answering a very upset guest's question why the elevator was still out of order, sarcastically responded "Sir, we also have stairs!"...The guest was staying on the 17th floor...(now, that was at a hotel, not at a restaurant, but you know what I'm talking about. Service is service)

In my opinion, service has become way too casual. The fine, little respectful attitudes are somehow lost in time. We are so often rushed through lunch/dinner, many waiters making a complete wrong assumption that we're in a hurry just because it's lunch time. We are judged by our waitstaff the minute we sit down, I get that, ok, and sometimes you see the pathetic transition of horrible service to nicer and careful service once you tell them you are taking a NY Strip home to your husband and 2 desserts will be to-go as well. Now, I must say, diners (people!) have also been slacking in their manners. Uff, that will be a whole other post, but if you're trying to serve someone who's constantly on the cellphone, loud and obnoxious, disturbing other guests and barely paying attention to you, server, I understand that frustration very well also.

There are two sides to everything, right?
(The restaurants mentioned above are linked to their web sites!)


U+Me=Us said...

Great topic! Having worked in restaurants (from fine dinning to pizza shops) i have seen all levels of service and i learned in the very beginning how important good service is to the success of a job and also the business. Ultimately i feel that it is the managers/owners responsibility to educate, train and enforce proper customer service skills. Key word here is "enforce". Many times i've seen managers go over a standard book of guidelines at the beginning of employment but then never bring up those standards again regardless if they are being up kept or not.
I also think that a lot of casual dinning establishments are so "busy" that they don't feel as if they need your return business. I saw a lot of this in Orlando, tourist capital of the world, tables where always full regardless if the service was bad. I try to avoid eating at casual dining restaurants as much as possible because of the lazy service and mediocre food. We usually leave these places unsatisfied and disappointed. Fine dinning may cost more but its for very special occasions and we always leave happy with the service and food.

Nimesh P said...

Great blog. I agree with you a 100% Denise. It's sad when customer service is just an afterthought in today's business world. You almost have to pay a premium to get good customer service, now that does not mean we do not have those business's that truly care, it's just rare.