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The Great Debates The State of Service in our Restaurants

Reader Feedback:

I am a restaurant manager with a life time of experience in food & beverage. I currently manage a franchisee's single store operation of a casual dining restaurant. Having come from a fine dining background, I take the approach that good service should transcend "concept". In other words, although it will be performed in a different manner, the level of service in a casual dining establishment should be equal to that of a fine dining establishment. Of course, this is great in theory, but in practice it just doesn't work. The reason for that is not that it's a bad theory, but rather that as managers, we are no longer there to teach. The expectation of our role has changed.

When I was a young girl, my father owned a business that serviced bar equipment. In those early days, chain restaurants were rare, and few of those chains were corporate entities. It was not until the late 1970’s that we began to see those types of "houses" spring up in our community, and those surrounding communities that we called our client base. It was around this time that I began my "career" in the food & beverage industry, and for a good long while, managed to limit my employment to the smaller, sole proprietor variety of bars and nightclubs. In the years to come, I would see the corporate world turn the industry on its ear, and never let it stand up again.

Restaurant managers have always worked long, hard hours, at low pay for the privilege of having the job. And while I am heartened to see some changes there – slightly better pay and slightly shorter hours, I’m not sure the trade off holds much value. To achieve this gain, restaurant managers have been, for all intents and purposes, bound and gagged. We’ve lost our voice, and our creativity has been stifled.

It was inevitable that this would happen. Managers running a restaurant under the tutelage of an MBA who tended bar for one summer during his college years, has become the norm. And this new way of doing business has more than changed food & beverage for the worse; it has all but ruined the industry. Managers are trained in the company’s standard operating plan, and left to learn the essential intricacies of the spirit of the job alone, in the trenches. The majority of servers and bartenders have become order takers who believe that a gratuity is their right, viewing a tip as a sales commission. And customers have come to expect that the most minor inconvenience or perceived slight, permits them the right to badger the manager into offering them something for nothing.

There was a time when managers were allowed to expect professional behavior from the service staff, and for the most part, they got it. But the professional server or bartender – that is to say the individual who makes a career of that job, has become extinct. We are staffed by a culture of employees who are all waiting for something better to come along. And host/cashier desks are being run by seventeen-year-olds, whose parents have spent years telling these kids how wonderful and brilliant they are (regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof). We have become the keepers of the overblown self-esteem of a generation of spoiled children. And to make matters worse, corporations have begun to recruit staff by advertising their establishment as "a fun place to work". As though it is incumbent upon the employer to show their employees a good time.

What the industry has evolved into is something completely unrecognizable for many of us who grew up in this business. Others have followed blindly, carrying the pods of the alien upper management staff who are figuratively occupying a foreign planet simply for the sport of over-taking it for profit and power.

Sure, often times those "good old days" that look better in hindsight, really weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that sweeping change is the road to a worthy end. I, for one, have grown so tired of fighting the good fight, that it’s time to leave this business that I have known and loved so well. But I won’t be missed, because in the end, it’s not industry knowledge, or service skill, or management style, or even accomplishment that the industry is looking for in a manager. They want a warm body, with a college degree, who will follow the book to the letter, no matter how poorly it’s written.

Michele deCesare

**Next Post

I've worked in various occupations over 25 years but have gravitated back to the restaurant industry as a server because I find the occupation most rewarding. I've always been service oriented. I consider it an honor to serve. Even when it gets hectic, I find the customers fun, I work with a good team and the restaurant is clean and organized. Aren't I the lucky one?!

Well, we do have our hurdles. In the last three years our hotel is on it's third General Manager, we are on our fourth Dining Room Supervisor, change over of POS operations, we have just recently gone through an ownership change of the hotel and our second chef has just quit without notice. There has been a substantial turnover in kitchen and serving staff in the past three years! The hotel has currently hired a Hotel Beverage and Food Manager.

I was hired back at the restaurant as a weekend waitress and bus person three years ago. I could understand the first day back where there would be difficulties. One of them being the six higher seniority staff, of which the top three were sisters. There would be one bus person on a shift clearing a football field of a dining room, as servers ran back and forth between tables empty handed. Unless the servers were bringing food or drinks, they would be chatting amongst themselves or favoured customers. Customers or other staff trying to flag down these servers would often go unnoticed. I often wondered if it would be advantageous if the customers executed jumping jacks at their table, waving arms in the air to attract the staff's attention.

The long reigning former General Manager stepped down. He had basically let the girls in the restaurant run the show for years. I had to introduce myself to our new General Manager wandering through the building. He made sweeping changes. When the Dining Room Supervisor of 17 years had a difference of opinion on one of his changes, she came to work after the weekend and found that a memo had been posted announcing another staff member as the new DR Supervisor.

I've worked at various restaurant establishments in town where my current coworkers would be stunned at the abusive treatment received from management and almost horrifying working conditions/enviroments. Even though we have a tremendous amount to improve upon in our restaurant, I strongly feel it is the best place to work.

Believe me - over all these years I have outright asked for staff meetings on numerous occasions. We had log books where I made sure to document and address concerns. We are highly visible because all other departments of the hotel stroll through our restaurant to get to the time clock and their own departments. I have suggested to some that if they have such a keen interest that they consider making the switch over to experience it fully and first hand. A staff member of the front desk was one of the DR supervisors but ended going back to her former position before the 60 day trial period was over. She has full view of our diner and continues to meddle into dining room matters.

I give out personal recommendations for potential serving staff sparingly - only to people I feel would be a genuine asset in the dining room. To date that would be two people. One was hired and all the staff enjoyed working with her but sadly she left after two months because she got an extremely good offer at her former place of employment that she could not refuse. I know her current employer and customers are ecstatic to have her back!

One of my coworkers, is thinking of switching over to another department. She almost put me into shock! I told her that if she did that I might not be able to take it and might have to consider quiting. I know that when I work with her that we don't have to worry about too much. We know what we are doing, the customers are taken care of, the side jobs are completed thoroughly and properly!

Sigh - I know the restaurant industry is hurting for good experienced staff. I keep my eyes peeled because we need them at our restaurant - that's for sure! The dining experience starts the minute one steps in the door. It only takes a moment to establish eye contact, acknowledge a customer's presence and indicate you will be there as soon as you can if you are busy. Trying to get that basic knowledge across to the staff is another story.

I used to go to a world famous local establishment in town. I once applied at the same place when they advertised for experienced and energetic waitresses. I've personally served the owner myself at other places I worked. I didn't get a call but noticed all the young, pretty and cute waitresses that seemed to always get hired. None of them seemed particularly service oriented or aware. Two years later I was having lunch at this restaurant and the owner approached the table and asked if I could help him out as a server. The city was anticipating more cruise ship traffic and tourist season was coming up. I thanked him, but declined. I told him that I wouldn't be able to do so as I was already working two waitressing jobs. He lost out. At 43, I have an enormous amount of energy and plenty of serving experience. I'm not too bad to look at either.

I tire of lip service regarding communiction and teamwork. When I asked our present General Manager why the dining room and kitchen staff couldn't have a staff meeting so once and for all we can collectively discuss the problems and issues at hand the reply was: "I can't justify paying for a staff meeting given it's a slow time during this time of year economically for the dining room. I can spring for pizza and those that want to attend the staff meeting voluntarily can. But I won't call for a staff meeting."

A note went up a few days later for a dining room staff meeting and it was mandatory that everyone attend. After three years or more, the DR staff got a meeting. There were things that were brought up that needed to be addressed with the kitchen staff. When I mentioned this the reply was: "Maybe that will happen." I was taking notes all during the two hour meeting. The General Manager asked if she could get a copy of them.

I sent a letter to our current GM congratulating her on her new position and was looking forward to working positively with her in the future. Guess this staff meeting could be considered a positive step in that direction. I am really looking forward to meeting our new Food and Beverage Manager. Someone has got to help us!

I think it's essential to have a sense of humor in this chosen profession. What I love about serving is that it is pretty well always the same routine but every day is differnt and that makes it interesting.

As a server I'm not perfect. I have the energy to burn and though I can't please eveyrone, doesn't mean I'm not going to knock myself out trying. I also have this key chain: Isabel ~ (bottom line says - Employer's dream.)

Prince Rupert, BC, Canada

**Next Post

10 years in serving has really opened my eyes. When I started I thought that every table was supposed to tip me 15-20% no matter what I did, but I know that is not the case now.

Tipping should be based on service. When you pay for the price of your meal, you are paying for the food and for the kitchen staff, when you tip, you are paying for the service. Gratuity Paid Service, this is you thanking your server for bringing your food. If you do not want to tip your server, then don't go to a service restaurant. No matter what, if you received drinks, food, and a check not tipping is never acceptable, although if that is all the server did then do not tip above 10%. I have gone out to eat and seen my server standing around talking 30 ft away, while I sit with an empty glass. You know that person is not going to get 20%.

I expect 20-25%, because I know the quality of my service. If I do not get such, I understand that people don't know, but I still get angry when I get less than 15%. Most of the time it is because of a misunderstanding. If you food comes up undercooked or overcooked, please remember that I did not cook your food. Why am I punished for a error is cooking? If you do not like the prices, remember that I do not set the prices.

The last thing that I want to talk about with how you treat your server. There are people that feel that because they are giving us money, that we are supposed to take whatever they can throw at us. This is not the case. If you are rude to me, you can bet that you are not going to see very much of me. Just because I am receiving your money from tips, that does not mean I am your whipping post. If you treat me bad, I don't care about your money. I don't need it that bad.


**Next Post

I couldn't agree more with the waiter who wrote the article. In fact just today I went with my wife and kids to a Peruvian restaurant at Hollywood Blvd. and 20th Ave., in Hollywood, FL, and felt cheated not only by the extremely bad service but also by what was written on the check by the time we had finished eating.

For starters we asked the waitress for the special hot sauce that is supposed to come with the seafood Jalea (a tasty mix of breaded seafood with fried cassava, lettuce and onions) at the time the food was served, but she never came with it because she was "too busy" serving beers to customers that came after us. After asking her for this sauce over three times and never getting it, we asked a man who apparently was in charge, and a while latter he finally brought in the sauce.

When we finally got the check my wife found that the price of at least three items was higher than those listed on the menu, which we were able to verify. When we called the waitress she acted as if she didn't know what was going on, although she was the one who wrote the check. We then called the manager and when we explained the situation to him he told the waitress with an angry look on his face and without apologizing to us, to write off $2 from the check, although the real figure actually was supposed to be more than that. He mustered some words with a low voice which I couldn't hear, but words that I imagine weren't for our blessing.

Just to make matters worse, we realized that the tip ($5) for the bad service was already included in the check although we never saw it listed in the menu. Naturally, that restaurant will NEVER be on our revisit list.

- FH

**Next Post

I believe Mr. Mauro's suggestion that service has dramatically declined because of the attitude of today's youth is incorrect. There are lots of customer service oriented, hard working "kids" around today. It's just that they don't want to work in restaurants where they often don't get even the minimum wage; get abused by cooks, managers, and customers on a regular basis; and have little to no status in society.

Over the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to speak with high school seniors and college students about customer service. Because they have all too often heard and read comments about what low standards their generation has, I often start my seminar with the following quotes:

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly today’s youth are reckless beyond words. When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint." Hesiod, 800 BC

"The world is passing through troubled times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress." Peter the Hermit in 1274 AD

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners and contempt for authority. They show disrespect to their elders. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, and are tyrants over their teachers." A character in one of Shakespeare’s plays circa 1600 AD

"Kids! What’s the matter with kids today? Who can understand anything they say? They are so ridiculous and immature! They are just impossible to control with their awful clothes and their rock an' roll! Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way? What's the matter with kids today?" From the musical Bye Bye Birdie circa 1960

David Cyrelson
The ultimate "how to" manual by servers for servers.

**Next Post

I would like to first state that by no means am I as seasoned as many others who are contributing. I am a 25-year-old dinning room manager in a Country Club. I have worked in the industry for 10 years (my first job as a dishwasher) and this problem of service has been around at least that long.

The chef who hired me for my first job made a comment to me on my first day that has stuck with me for these 10 years. He said to me (age 15) that "You work like an adult". I recently have really come to understand what that means. I like most restaurant managers have a team of mostly "kids". I would be as bold to say that 90% of servers today are only holding that position until they figure out what they really want to do for a "career". There in lies your problem. They are no longer any "professional" Servers. Now the real question is why?!

This goes back the great debate of tipping. And what a monster that is. We would like to think that tips are based on service, but they are NOT. I have served in any type of restaurant/bar you can think of. Tips are based on two things. The server's personality and the predetermined amount the customer has decided on before they walk in the door. There is one exception to this rule and that is you and I, people who manage servers. I worked along side a young man in a restaurant who really knew how to "work" a table. He made them laugh and love him yet he was one of the worst "servers" in the restaurant. Food was late, cold and wrong. Yet he always received at least 30% tip. My point; service is an art that is no longer taken seriously and is increasingly harder and harder to teach. We have forgotten what it looks like and in the case of those "kids" working for us; they have probably never even seen it.

Jennifer M.

**Next Post

Dear Mr. Mauro,

I whole-hearted agree with your article "Brave New Order." I have been serving for almost 6 1/2 years having worked for corporate establishments, a private club and a hotel. I have witnessed the best and the worst of service, management, and simple functionality. I take pride in whatever task at hand and work hard to ensure that I put all I have into my trade. Especially with service, I continually strive to broaden my knowledge of food and beverage, and simply providing a pleasant dining experience with personality and fun.

Too often, especially in my current position, the lack of leadership and discipline show negative results in staff morale and guest satisfaction. From the Back-of-House attitude to the hostess' involvement in bettering the dining experience, I feel a lag in pride and respect of the service world. I feel as though I'm doing the job of 3 other workers, especially when it comes to decisions of where the dining room lands for the night. Unfortunately, I work in a resort where the "dining room" is consistently, inconsistent. One night, a wedding will have us serving on the front porch and other function room. Or the next, we'll simply have room service only orders.

I love my work and what I do and truly care whether or not my guests are having a pleasant dining experience or if they would have been happier at a corporate chain restaurant. The inside has to start looking at the outside and realizing that the art form that used to be known as waitering is simply fading into a way to pay for college.

Thank you for your article and concern with the service standard. This standard plays into all fields and the overall attitude of the general workforce seems to be that of money-hungry civilians trying to get by in life. But at what costs?


Chris Palmiotto

**Next Post

Wow! This is a topic that really hit some hot buttons! I would like to weigh in on this ongoing story, which is of great professional interest to me. I am a 30 year veteran of the business (waiter, manager and owner)and I have recently completed Training and Development coursework in order to begin a hospitality service training and consulting business, called "Polished Service" here in Washington State. It appears that most of the readers believe there is a need - good news for me!

Here is what I have learned through experience, other management professional and extensive reading on the matter:

1. You must communicate your business goals and mission to your employees, otherwise how can you expect them to know what they are? ("We will do everything possible to make our guests feel welcome and pampered so they will be eager to return again soon with their friends")

2. There must be a clear expectation of behavior, competence and attitude and THERE MUST BE CONSEQUENCES FOR NOT LIVING UP TO THE MODEL, AND REWARDS (or praise) FOR CORRECT PERFORMANCE. Employees must also know that you notice what they do and care about making them successful.

3. The desired performance must be specifically taught, reinforced regularly, and modeled by management. Asking employees to be 'nice' or 'professional' will get you as many variations as there are people. A thick employee manual, read and instantly forgotten, will NOT embed the knowledge.

4. There must be clear leadership by management, otherwise an 'informal' leader may emerge from the ranks of employees and urge a different performance model. You will never win out over peer pressure.

5. Give your employees the tools and resources they need to do the job right. Don't expect a certain level of service then, for example, make the sections enormous, double book the table, and make them hunt all over for clean forks.

6. Make it easy, pleasurable and profitable for employees to do the right thing, and make it uncomfortable and risky for them to do things the wrong way.

7. And last, or first, give your employees the authority to make decisions that will further your business goals and mission statement. If they have to find (tucked away in the office crunching numbers?) a manager to check if it's OK to buy a dessert for an anniversary couple, or remove an entree from a bill, then seamless hospitality is NOT being delivered. Build in a safety net so that this is not abused, but, ultimately, you want your server (or host or busser) to say to themselves, "What would Mr. Smith do in this situation?" and then DO IT.

This is only a rough outline of some of the relatively easy fixes that are available to any manager, but are too often overlooked. Why not take a look at your own practices and see what things you might start with?

Good Luck,

Dorothy Frisch

**Next Post

I have been a server since 1996 and I know that is not very long considering my mother started waiting tables in the early 70's, but I do have some comments of my own about this topic. Yes some servers are TERRIBLE (I am not one of them...I learned old school) but customers have gotten worse over the years. They want everything and they want it NOW! Well I'm sorry but I only have two hands! And as for tips...if you don't plan on tipping your server, then DON'T GO OUT TO EAT! I make $8 an hour -- I work in Washington State, but I get taxed LIKE CRAZY! For two FULL weeks my paychecks are only about $200.00!!! I NEED those tips to pay my bills...and when someone doesn't tip me, I remember them and WILL NOT wait on them again. And if I HAVE to wait on them they get shitty service ON PURPOSE...because it's just plain rude....

- AV

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