This is not the blog I had first intended to write but after a recent holiday to America I feel compelled to write about what makes great restaurant service.
I am in the lucky position of dining at some of this country’s finest restaurants, where the service is as exceptional as the food and on some occasions the level and quality of service has covered for the food maybe not reaching the standard you would expect. But this blog is not aimed at Michelin star restaurants and alike, but more towards high street chains and independent restaurants.
It all stems from an experience at the start of our holiday at a well-known restaurant chain at a large airport, where it’s fair to say I probably received the worst customer service I have ever experienced. On arrival at the restaurant we were informed there was a 15 minute wait for food, as we had over two hours until our flight, we were happy to take a table and wait, from this point it was all downhill. Firstly we sat at the table for 20 minutes with no acknowledgement of us being there or even an order for drinks taken. I finally caught the eye of a waiter, who even though he said ‘we weren’t his table,’ reluctantly took our order. When our waitress finally came over, some 10 minutes later, she was most put out we had already placed our order with someone else.
Now I don’t really need to go into every detail but after 3 conversations with the duty manager we finally received our food an hour and thirty minutes after entering the restaurant, they did admit they had lost our food order. I know these problems do not lie totally with the waiting staff and I have been in the industry long enough to know these things happen and we all have bad days front and back of house. But what I found unacceptable was the lack of any form of apology and to top it off a service charge was added to our bill!! I have never refused to pay a service charge but I could not bring myself to pay it so asked for it to be removed, we paid and promptly left very dissatisfied and not the start to our holiday we anticipated.
I have travelled to America many times; this holiday was a 3 week road trip around Florida. When I go on holiday I am honest enough to admit that I don’t really want to be cooking so we plan to eat out every night. Florida is not the culinary capital of America, although I am sure there are many fine restaurants, but this not what we go there for, it is mainly made up of large chains and small independents. In total we ate in 21 different places and I can honestly say, although the food was not always a gastronomic experience, the service in all of these places was nothing but excellent. I know some people do not like the full on approach or style of service you receive there but personally I find it refreshing. I love the way you are met, shown to your table, greeted by your server and quite often the manager ensuring all is well.
In all of the restaurants we ate in and across most of America the culture of tipping can divide a lot of opinions. When you receive your bill at the end of a meal there is a guide, as a percentage of the bill, that is expected as a tip. This ranged between 15 – 25% apart from Miami where in the majority of places a 14% tip is automatically added, plus a further 5% which they classed as a resort tip, whatever that means? On average we left a tip of around 18% which equated to £10- £15 this was for our family of four. Now I know this might seem a lot of money, but for me I feel this was indicative of the great service we received. I always left the restaurants feeling we had received friendly, warm and attentive service, nothing was ever too much and if there was even a slightest problem it was dealt with promptly and courteously, what more can you ask!
I am not, in any way, saying the service we receive in restaurants here is all bad, but I feel there is a lot we can take and learn from the style of service in America. The servers we spoke to said they get a good percentage of the tips, along with the kitchen team and that the restaurant didn’t take the majority share. They also see their role as a real career path, not just a stop gap to something better. I can honestly say for good food to be appreciated it really does rely on the waiting staff to deliver this to the customer with equally excellent customer service.