Posted by cmh gourmand on February 24, 2013
The service industry is hard work. Pleasing hard to please people is no easy thing: Spending hours on your dog-tired feet doing the hustle and bustle dance of a busy Friday night; getting stiffed on a bill or a tip. Have you ever seen the show Top Server? No, it does not exist. Again, it is hard work and not for everyone.
That being said, I have some restaurant rants. Recently Johnny DiLoretto and I vented some of our pent up annoyances on FoodCast. And while we covered some of them….there is only so much we can do in 4 1/2 minutes.
The Financial Transaction
This rant has bothered me since my first job. I was taught how to handle giving change to the customer. It is not rocket science and doing it right takes an extra second or two. Now, granted, we are largely a card based economy but we still use cash on occasion, especially for small transactions. And for small exchanges, we often deal with people with the least amount of job skills but neither party should lower their expectations. Let’s walk through two virtual transactions below. The first one will suck. The second one will be the model.
Wage Slave: $5.37
Customer: Handles ten spot to the cashier
Wage Slave: dumps wad of bills and loose change into you hand….the change slides off dollars to the ground and many of your don’t bother to pick it us since it is not worth your time. Then I will come in behind you and scoop it up. Thanks for the tip. While this benefits me, it is wrong. Next time you are at a carry out window – take a look at the ground when you park – I promise you will see at least 4-5 coins the ground. Let us proceed to the right way.
Wage Slave: “$5.37 sir”.
Customer: Hands ten spot to the cashier. (Might say…here you go sport or something like that).
Wage Slave: Out of $10 (states the type of bill to avoid the $20 vs. $10 scam).
Wage Slave: (Hands the change first). 63 (cents) makes $6.
Wage Slave: Counts out each dollar, 7, 8, 9 and $10.
Making change is a little thing. Yes, it mainly applies to fast food windows, some food trucks and QSR’s (quick service restaurants – like Chipotle) – but it still the last impression many restaurants make with a customer and it should be a lasting impression. This is a key element to the customer experience and from an owners standpoint, it helps make sure the cash drawer is balanced at the end of the night.
I look for this everywhere, especially in higher-end restaurants. Bathrooms should start the day clean and stocked. A good restaurant – like a typical fast food restaurant – checks bathrooms hourly for any critical issues. A messy bathroom – usually indicates other things are not being checked on either.
Open kitchens are cool right? On the chef end, it is a nice feature because on occasion you can see how customers react to your creations as well as the operations of the front of the house. On the customer end, it is nice to entertain yourself by watching the action between courses. So, if your kitchen is open, you are on a stage…and people are watching. What I am I watching for? Gloves, hats and head coverings, hand washing and how food is handled. If you are on the stage, you are on all the times. Watching people not handle food properly when everyone can see them….that is a bad.
Timing is the key to most thing right? On a busy evening, the best laid service plans are going to go to hell. If one order gets misplated and needs fixed – the whole grill line goes out of whack. One high maintenance table can throw the front and back of the house off their game. All of that being said, there is a need for balance. If I have to wait for my check (I track service on a stopwatch all the time) – then balance it out by bringing back my completed bill super fast and have the timing even out. Some people get bent out of shape when items arrive too close to each other. The whole experience is often dependent on when things arrive or when your begin or end your meal. I find communicating problems with timing to the customer and asking them to work with you – cancels out much of the ranting.
This is specific to me. There is one local restaurant owner who begins every conversation with the question…..”why haven’t you written about me?” After my eyes roll, I mentally note to not even think about the place for at least six months.
Otherwise, welcome the customer, introduce yourself as a server. As a customer, recall the server is not your maid or slave.
There are some aspects of the restaurant experience are not in control of the restaurant – but they need to be addressed. Restaurant staff need to be proactive about this but, when they can’t or don’t we need to step up to the community plate.
A few years ago, I was placed next to a table where a nuevo-rich salesman dining with his disinterested family sat at the table having a loud business conversation on his phone. As they say on the menu at Alana’s “cell phone use disrupts digestion“. It was clear based on the tone of the conversation and the body language of the family at the table with this asshole that the conversation had been going on a long time. This behavior was not acceptable. The restaurant was not busy. The manager of the restaurant or a senior staff person should have approached this customer and asked him to move his conversation to the lobby or outside. They did not. After five minutes of this, I asked my server to move me and told her the reason why in a normal conversational voice. I guess we might let this slide at Taco Bell because we have different expectations for the environment, but I opine that at least in the world of fine dining, equal to high standards for the food and service, we expect the atmosphere to be as important of an element. If the restaurant staff can’t protect the atmosphere sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone without making a scene. If I had my way, we would bring back phone booths for people to use for their cell phones.
I would also ask that ringers and other notifications be changed to vibrate. Think about others and disrupting their dining.
In the age of blogs, Facebook, Yelp and more, lots of people take photos of their food to share with others. Here is the awkward part. Looking back at the body of work on this blog, you see a lot of photography. I would say that photography, flashes and the like can be as distracting to other diners as a cell phone conversation. So yes, there is a certain self loathing I have for my own behavior. So, what am I to do? I try to be mindful of other diners in what I do. I avoid using flash photography and while photo quality can sometimes suffer, I now limit a photo to my cell phone (with the ringer off and notifications on vibrate). I try to go during off-peak times to minimize the people I might annoy with my behaviors and I try to be somewhat discreet by taking photos quickly and not staging as much as a I used to. This may be a lot of rationalizations but I am at least trying.
Servers that hover too much, are not getting great tips. Servers that disappear will not either. Somewhere in between is the right amount of attention and that is not the same for everyone.
Too many people use Yelp to complain. If you have a problem with your service or food or both speak with the manager of owner first. If they can’t fix the issue for you in a reasonable manner – then Yelp your ass off, but it is not fair to rip or snipe from a distance if you did not try to resolve things at the source.
If you make a reservation at a restaurant you expect them to honor it and not make your wait when you show up. On the flip side, people that do not call to cancel reservations hurt us all. They take away opportunities from the rest of us and can mess up staffing and service for a restaurant for the whole evening. I once showed up at a restaurant at 5 pm, the place was empty and I was told they could not sit me because I did not have a reservation. They could not turn a table for two before they filled up the space? I took a peek inside 20 minutes later…it was still 85% empty. I never went back to that place because they were unwilling to show some flexibility. On the flip side I spoke with a restaurant owner friend the other night and he had 15 different reservations that did not show up in one night. None of them called. A Friday night that should have busy was dead and thirty plus people who could have dined there were eating elsewhere.
What are your rants? Let me know.