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The Great Debates The State of
Service in our

Reader Feedback:

I live and work in Canada (southwestern Ontario) I have been an owner of my own restaurant/hotel as well as a chef. I agree with your article. it seems that some establashments think that they are doing you a favor just by being there.

I went out last night to a local restaurant that I had not been to before, the waitress asked if I would like smoking or non-smoking and took me to a table. There were about four other tables in the room, and two girls on the floor. I waited afew minutes for a menu, then thought I would have a smoke while I was waiting. Both these girls walked right by my table at least ten times. I finished my smoke and got up and put my jacket on and headed for the door. The one girl said "thank you", and I said what for, I couldn't get any service! She just looked at me and turned away. I'll never go there again. Thats not the first time this has happened. What I wouldn't give for some good service, and to make matters worse, I'm in a tourist town.

The other thing that makes me laugh is a waitress thats serving a british table and give good service but get no tip! I have a problem with the whole tip thing anyway, although I'm a good tipper, I somewhat recent the whole thing. When you go to a restaurant and look at the menu and prices, you would think that you are paying for the meal as well as the service that goes with it! Not so these days, I think it's the fault of the owners for not paying the wait staff a decent wage to live on. That's just my view!

Neil J Schrieder
Elora Ontario Canada.

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Jack Mauro's article, "Brave New Order" was a curmudgeonly essay only addressing the praises of the golden age or "old school" of waiters. Instead of offering possible solutions to his torment with all the bad service of today, he could only lament and resent what he feels makes it so awful; "get more by giving" style of management and waiter as "salesperson". Not only has service changed but so has the restaurant business. Customers have even changed. The TIMES have changed, Mr. Mauro.

The phrase, "Good help is hard to find", will always be true with all businesses. Having dedicated many years in all facets of the restaurant industry, I have experienced and practiced what Mr. Mauro finds so disgraceful and have seen it work. It cannot be denied that the problem and responsibility stems from owners and management. It is they who must make some sort of concessions to improve service. In a perfect world this would be a foolproof task.

Everyone has experienced bad service; higher disposable incomes have made dining out a common occurance along with the current restaurant boom to keep up with the demand. Naturally, somewhere, somehow bad service is likely. First of all, restaurants have always been a business, period. Given the nature of business, it is necessary to implicate standards to motivate employees. I say "employees" to the extent that a restaurant is a team. Good service does not start with the waiter although this is mostly what the customers see. Good attitudes are a crucial factor in providing good service and it is the responsibility of an employer to cultivate this. Employees may not respect their professions as in the past, accepting it as their lot, however, they can still do a good job when put in a positive workplace.

In regard to the more "human" managerial style of today, it has been proven that managers who treat employees with respect will get respect in return. I must agree that a laissez faire attitude is not a solution, however, constant policing and mistrust really fuels a bad attitude. When treated like adults, more often than not employees handle responsibilities beautifully and pride in one's work follows. Praise to good work and positive reinforcement are not cliches. They really get results! In the "give more by giving" style it can be found that there are less thefts and work is easier and less stressful for everybody. I have been lucky to have worked in such places as well as rougher environments. I must say that pride in one's work and good attitudes prevail in the end when negativity is at a minimum. This reflects to the customer in a thoughtfully run workplace.

Customers are hard enough to deal with; different personalities, moods, tastes, needs, especially when a waiter is trying to please all of the people all of the time, especially when it's busy. This is, afterall, the age of individualism and instant gratification. The last thing waiters need is to feel pressure coming from all sides with management on their backs to boot. If the managers are tyrants then the kitchen will be surly, for example, which creates a vicious cycle. Negativity, like hate, can only grow when not stopped. When employees feel secure, work can be done with "energy, common sense, and humor", as was said of the "old school" waiters.

Salesmanship is very important to a restaurant for three reasons. First, there is no such thing as a business where it is not advantageous to reap higher profits. Second, customers need to be lead to some degree. If desserts are particularly good then why not suggest them? Customers are usually appreciative to get a waiter who is knowledgable and enthusiastic, regardless of whether they wanted the dessert or not. Heck, often it's a sale and all parties are happy. Third, salesmanship goes hand in hand with anticipating needs, a fundamental of good service. This plays an important role; whether it's checking back to see if another drink is needed or merely offering, steering to desirable items or alternatives that may please the customer. What is not desirable is to do this in a "hard sell" fashion or suggesting only the higher priced items, of course. Can sincerity be taught? This is where excellent and detailed training comes into play-a whole other subject but equally important in developing good service.

Funny thing; customers today MUST have smiles as part of good service. When I smile I feel better and it's contagious with my coworkers and customers. I'm not smiley by nature but have become more so from doing it so much at work! For some reason customers are willing to forgive less skilled service if the server was pleasant. Less than perfect service will not make most people miserable. They mostly want to enjoy their company and the overall experience. The server represents the establishment and can make or break a dining experience. In defense of the server, in many ways, customers have changed for the worse as well. In the past they would never ask waiters personal questions or behave badly as is common nowadays. Indeed, waiters must be actors-the show must go on. It is not easy being a waiter, and yes, good ones are hard to find. Once trained well by competent management, filling them up with that "horrible" self esteem, as was mentioned, it is definitely and especially possible to give customers the good service that they deserve. Good waiters will make money anyway being nurtured by an excellent manager in a good house where their jobs are at a premium and the atmosphere positive. Once good waiters are found they must be treated as well as possible. They are the ones who contribute to consistency, bring customers back and help make restaurants money. If I ever find a foolproof way to nab and hire only consummate professionals, I will let you know.

Upon ending my (longwinded) letter--I have to say that some of the best service in the world is in AMERICA! Having lived in Europe for the past year, I have experienced terrible service in many countries; Gratuity is customarily added to checks even when service was etrocious. Cover charges are sometimes added to already high bills while many Americans will take it for granted that they can fill up on bread or iced tea without paying extra. In many ways, WE HAVE IT GOOD!

Kim Dalton

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As a chef with 20 years experience and more, I cannot agree with you more. I see kitchen staff concerned with food and food service. Although there are times I perceive the waitstaff with dollar signs in their eyes and making far more money than the kitchen staff, who really strive for the finest product, not making the same effort. Training is difficult, but an intigral part. Please keep up the fine editorials.

David Kugler C.E.C.

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Jeff and I just opened a tavern/restaurant 2 weeks ago. I have worked in the business since 1970 and seen of course all kinds employed and now to be in the position to make the choice of who we are to work with.

Thank you for your comments and your view on the state of the service industry. The C student has no place in the business. A good employee should not have to carry the load for those who are floundering in lack of knowledge or caring or swiftness. The door will be shown to those who are given a try and then are just not going to cut it.

Thank you again Jeff and Susan Gecas
Gun Flint Tavern on the Lake
Grand Marais, MN

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What a refreshing article on the state of play with regards to service in the 90's. I think I must have worked for a clone of your 'old school' maitre'd in the UK who would make the same snap decisions on the potential waiter from their posture/gait as they were made to walk across the length of the main function room!

However, I would like to put a cultural perspective on the 90's waiter as viewed through the eyes of an ex British waiter now a lecturer within the Technical and Further Education system in Adelaide, South Australia.

Firstly, we do have some ghastly waiting staff around with attitudes you would like to lop off with an axe (unfortunately Occupational Health and Safety and Equal Opportunity prevents this....!). Yes, we do liken the role of a waiter to stage performance, but the major difference is they have to play a slightly exaggerated version of THEMSELVES. (Although if the raw product is a pain in the derriere then you are snookered from the start!) We too have a plethora of lousy actors in Australia - have you seen any of our "TV soaps"?!

I maintain that the manager sets the standards and on many occasions we would have a situation where that person (manager/owner) has 'stumbled' into a restaurant because they thought it would be a good idea and a way of entertaining their friends. Not an uncommon occurrence. With that in mind how can some staff be blamed for attitudes that an inept manger can't even recognise?

One issue in your missive I will take exception to is the selling role of a waiter. Although agreeing that a waiter shouldn't have dollar signs in their eyes viz a viz the potential tip, it is a duty of the waiter to be totally competent in their knowledge of their selling tools ie the menu and the wine list. The culture in Australian restaurants is very much an interaction between waiter and guest to create a relationship and ultimately satisfy a range of needs. If we pick on Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs we could state that if all a customer wanted was to fill their face to satisfy their hunger then they would more than likely grab a pre-prepared pizza or a 'Chicken Tonight' meal from the deli-supermarket. Customers come for an experience and the waiter is there to help with that. This means informing, telling, suggesting, persuading, flattering, cajoling, stimulating, entertaining, charming, pleasing, enchanting, amusing their guests with a sales perspective that will ultimately satisfy the needs of the business (making money!!) and provide value for money for the customer. It is not like the new car sales person who enters into an almost voodoo like ritual dance of going to their boss cap-in-hand to try to get you a good deal which will cut his commission in half but you have such a nice face he will do this for you! I just don't think it would wash here in Australia if a waiter had to go to his/her maitre'd and say "The customer on table 23 wants to know if we can do a deal on a bottle of 1982 Grange Hermitage or a special 2 for 1 Chateaubriand"!

Speaking slightly more seriously, selling has, I would say, a subtly diverse profile in Australian restaurants due to the pay structure of our waiting staff. Waiters can make a reasonable living on the Award wages paid and the icing on the cake is any tip they make which can be an exception not a rule (also depending on the calibre of the establishment). Also (at the moment) we have no VAT taxes and service charges to clutter up the customers bill. With the higher wages that a restaurateur has to pay a side effect of this, on occasions, could be service and profit margins falling. The majority of waiters in our restaurants are employed on a casual basis and yes many are also studying or looking to get extra money for that ubiquitous world trek! The vagaries of rostered casual hours can erode the motivation/devotion of a normally good waiter towards their establishment and the result is usually poor service and no great selling at all.

To conclude, it is all down to attitudes and standards. We have a bit of a push with TQM at the moment and introduced appropriately, will definitely help hospitality establishments. However, if the initial approach of staff and management is wrong then our industry will always be open to criticism and we will be guilty as charged.

There is always alight hearted side to attitude - one waiter I worked with in the UK would always rush after guests who had left a meagre tip (maybe 10 or 20pence) and would accost them with "Excuse me sir or madam, you left this behind" upon which the guest would reply "No, that's your tip!" to which the waiter would say "No, sir/madam, you keep it you obviously need it more than I do"...... Said with a straight face he usually got away with it!!!!

Hospitality needs to be a passion and we need to maintain this passion and enthusiasm if we are preserve our increased professional status.


Gair Bethley
Regency Hotel School,
Regency Institute of TAFE, Days

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