It’s time to sound the alarm to red alert status regarding service and I have found the evil culprits. The problem is bad and it’s getting worse. We love chefs and we need them, but I would like to point out the following specific examples as to what customers are seeing, feeling and actually doing followed by an explanation:
1) A recent article in the NY times regarding the challenges of casual restaurant chains (they used Olive Garden and Applebees as examples) and they don’t even mention service.
2) High end restaurants are chef focused and not customer focused.
3) The proliferation of chef driven television shows like Chopped, Iron Chef, Top Chef, Kitchen Nightmares, etc.
4) Disposable income is at or near a generational low and people in general are more value focused and seeking high quality on occasion for a fair price.
As editors, publishers, chefs and foodies pontificate what makes a restaurant spin on the correct axis, there is a lot of fiddling going on in Rome! It’s as if some of the “fix up the restaurant shows” just tell the FOH staff to fix their attitude and smile as the total recipe for change and success.
The point is missed again and again. It seems everyone has an opinion on great restaurants and the quality of food that drives it, the reason restaurants either succeed or just get by (or fail) is the service. I have heavy conversations with many a foodie and chefs who (including my father who was a restaurateur) swore the only reason they go out is because of what comes out of the kitchen. How wrong they are.
Very few diners expect the service level you might receive at a restaurant like Aureole or Le Cirque. However when you dissect their service you will find that yes, they spend more $$ on FOH personnel but so many of their touches and empowerment come at little or no cost to the operator. How do they do it? Here is the mystery unraveled:
They understand that the FOH, the folks who touch the customers are the most important decision makers within the walls of the restaurant. Specifically if the customer has a request the wait person should be able to make a decision on how to handle the request.
How is that result achieved?
1) By empowering the wait staff to make decisions.
2) Daily training on menu itmes and daily specials (if any).
3) Making them the final decision makers on food presented at the window.
4) Establishing a sense of pride and honor to FOH staffers similar to what is given to the chef and his staff.
5) The overall displaying of genuine concern to the customer.
6) Establishing tight service points.
7) No excuses on the above while instituting the same laser focus by management on the FOH staff as well as the BOH staff in terms of training, knowledge, respect and culture.
8) Lay on the love for the FOH. Feed the FOH. Besides fully knowing and tasting all menu items, they should be fed shift meals of some sort. There is nothing worse than feeding your BOH staff and not the FOH on the same level.
So many will disagree with my words and swear that if the food isn’t good they won’t go to a certain restaurant. Whereas that is true, if the food is phenomenal but it comes out in poor timing, by un-informed servers with an attitude, they will never return either (you can’t assume anything is a given when it comes to service).
The proliferation of all the chef driven T.V. shows has hurt the landscape for casual and upscale restaurants. Folks believe in today’s times, if they go out at all it better be great and you can’t do that with just the BOH. Folks say they want phenomenal food but actually go to locations which provide it all. The numbers tell the story. Upscale restaurants are struggling and casual chains are finding new directions.
And with all the struggle to stay alive in today’s environment, chef driven restaurants are not waking up fast enough. Myself and countless others have denoted countless visits with great food, but mediocre service. Why return for $20-$100 or more per person? It’s no longer good enough, and frankly it never was.
During the past 5 years as there has been an explosion of T.V. chef/kitchen driven shows, there has been an avalanche of failures in chef/kitchen driven restaurants.