There are a lot of discussions going on at the moment about restaurant service. What is the trend? Where is it going? What do customers want?

The debate is mostly centered on formal and informal service. It seems the most passionate part of the argument is not whether the former will disappear but rather when it will finally vanish into oblivion.

First of all, I think it is important to put this debate in the current economical and social context. The wider issues on Europe and immigration are clearly playing a part and influencing as much directly and indirectly those with such a strong opinion on the subject.

So much so, in fact, that the service topic has been corrupted by pure sensationalism, mass generalization and stereotyping akin to those made by unscrupulous politicians hungry for votes in the run up to the elections.

The service debate is valid and very important except when it is flawed by poor and narrow judgment, hypocrisy or desperation. Informal service will not make a bad restaurant work, nor will formal service.

In the past a lot of restaurants were created by chefs who saw their dining room as a temple of worship for their glorious food where guests enjoyed the restaurants for what they were -  special occasion places. Everyone dressed up for them.

We need to live with our time and with the democratization of eating out – especially in the UK where the Hospitality Industry has grown so rapidly over the last few years.

Perhaps I should have started my article like this – Much Ado About Nothing is being made about service these days.

Personally, I think the issue is not about formal or informal service. The issue is about good and bad service.

I don’t know about you but I have had very bad service in all these style of places:

• an award-winning top-of-the-league table-clothed restaurant
• a cool place where everyone is sporting a beard and a collection of tattoos on their arms
• a five-star luxury hotel
• a budget hotel
• a pizzeria
• a pub (gastro or not)

… and the list goes on and on and on…

Equally I have experienced good service (very good service in fact) in all of the above categories too.  

Restaurants are businesses and businesses only survive so long as they deliver something that people want, and do it well and with integrity.

Customers by and large want excellence. No matter what the service or product. Service and hospitality are universal.

There aren’t any advanced levels in service. It’s all about the basics. Good service is good service anywhere you are. Good service at Polpo Soho, The Ritz, a Pizzeria, my local pub, Galvin at Windows, Le Gavroche, El Pirata Mayfair, my favorite Indian take away (Spices) or Goodmans is the same as good service in a road side café.

The word service however means much more than just SERVICE. It’s about hospitality, the connections and bonds that people create and share. Good service is good living and making people feel special. Good service is about a way of life. With service there is no grey, it is either black or white. Either customers are satisfied or they are not. And from my experience customers will only return if the performance is 9 or 10/10. Anything under (even an 8) and they will go somewhere else. Loyalty only exists as long as the performance is up to standards and expectations.

But I think we have missed the most essential point in this discussion so far: the people that deliver the service. How will we educate and teach them to deliver the service that customers really want? How can we attract and recruit them and make them feel valued and appreciated? How can we make them feel they are in a career that offers real advancement prospects?

This is the real question.

I feel it is both counter productive and useless to focus on formal or informal. Nature (in this case business) will take care of those who do not appeal. Trust me when I say it, the cull will be indiscriminate, it will include informal and formal places.

It is also unjust, sad and nasty to point the finger at those with thick accents who provide service when we go out. For if they were not there, we would most probably have to go to a very informal and soulless self-service place where we might have to also cook our own food.

Rather, we should work together and make the UK hospitality industry a great place to work in and the people within it proud to be waiters.

The below was sent to me by my good friend Erik Brown from Grayhawk consulting (he used to co-own and publish the excellent Mayfair Times). It just sums it up perfectly.

Domestic Service: An Inquiry by the Women’s Industrial Council by CV Butler, 1916, includes this line (from a servant):

“Once a servant you are treated as belonging to quite an inferior race to all other workers.”

The woman quoted wasn’t only talking about the way she was perceived by her employers (which was bad enough), but – because she was the only servant in a middle-income household – by other servants.

What are you going to do about it?

National Waiters Day will take place on the 8th June 2014. Please go to www.nationalwaitersday.com


Fred Sirieix




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