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Rescue from Mediocrity; The Decline of
Service Etiquette - A Sequel

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By John Hendrie, November 2004

November 2004 - Perhaps many astute readers recall a recent article about the Decline of Service Etiquette, bemoaning how our dining senses are affronted, from the use of “you guys”, to overused crushed pepper and underutilized courtesy.  The response to the article was stunning and the lamentations global.  Additional grievances were shared. The age old question with the entrée about to be served, “okay, who gets what?”  Where to place the solo diner – on stage in the middle of the room or closeted by the kitchen door.  The phenomenon of the celebrity Chef, who is zealous with the exposure and negligent with the daily preparation. And, the snatch of the check, spilling with cash, punctuated with “Did you guys want change?”  This crisis is not new, for service excellence has been eroding for years.  The article obviously struck a nerve!

A Troika of interests can renew our confidence:  the Restaurateur, the Guest, and the Food and Beverage Server, working together to present a memorable dining experience, which lifts the level of service above the rip-tide of mediocrity. How do we ensure that each facet of this Service Experience triangle remains in sync, for each party does have the responsibility to maintain this delicate, sometimes fragile, balance.

Obviously, the Customer has the ultimate clout.  We provide the gratuity, the testimony to others and the potential return business.  If we are distressed, the restaurant will fail.  

Yet, Customer expectations have been dulled.  We are thrilled when the meal is tepid, finally served, and perhaps a glass of water is remembered.  Plus, we are most forgiving:  the waitress is having a tough day, two bussers did not show up, the sous chef quit, it’s raining.  Compassion is good, but we tend to settle, pleased to depart, without a word and, yet, leave the usual tip.  If we do not make a statement, we are part of the problem. 

Our response can be delivered in a respectable fashion:  speak to the manager, send your entrée back to the kitchen, understand that a gratuity is representative of your thanks for the care and acceptable attention you received.  Goods and services have been rendered in exchange for your money.  You are in the driver’s seat.  Do not be abashed or embarrassed.

The counter side is just as important.  If your meal and service were extraordinary, if someone really went out of their way to make you more comfortable, if your patronage was recognized in a special fashion, let the people responsible know you are really pleased.  Your reaction goes both ways. The operator is most interested in the day’s proceeds and the reputation, the server in the tips, and you in the experience and satisfaction with the transaction.  Demand that performance!

The Restaurateur, providing that the product and the environment are acceptable, has the responsibility to manage the F&B staff – select, train, assist and motivate them. This is a daunting challenge, literally every day.  Beyond the normal operating requirements, such as purchasing, preparation, scheduling, accounting and the like, they must have a service staff prepared to greet the day and their lifeblood – the Guest.

The Labor Pool in many cases is suspect and dwindling.  It now also reflects multi cultural and national peoples with varied languages and mores, who may be unfamiliar with what hospitality means, much less service requirements.  High turnover is rampant. In many cases the four “R’s”  (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic, and responsibility) may be at a minimum.  Yet, Restaurateurs have a story to tell, they are passionate about their business, and they want a consistent message and excellence shared with the dining public.  This all begins with whom they choose to represent their business.
 
The selection process and hire decision should rest on one main criterion, above all else – Attitude.  Skill sets, table service, systems can all be taught. The technical is trainable.  Attitude is that one ingredient which translates well into a high level of performance.  

The Training effort can not be dismissed – it is not a 20 minute introduction to the order taking system and “thrown to the wolves”.  

The surest way to establish standards of service excellence, which can be measured, is the tried and true approach of “tell, show, do, review”, a formalized OJT.  This obviously should be in written form for the Trainer. Training is ongoing, for we forget, lose the distinctive touches, and always need to upgrade. Many use the “shadow” approach, which is effective, depending upon whom you shadow, understanding that if left alone, we all create shortcuts.  Naturally, all servers should have “tasted” the menu, in order to be knowledgeable about the preparation. 

Your pre-shift meeting is absolutely critical.  Problems can be addressed; new menu items and new programs can be introduced; and the Restaurant Operator can passionately proclaim, daily, his/her message, the highlights of the operation.  The team based approach is valuable:  the team serves as a wonderful support for the new hire and also winnows out the poor performer – peer pressure is powerful.  Warm bodies thrown into a service related situation simply will not work. Act decisively with your non-performers.

Lastly, how do you motivate and manage this often eclectic group, who represent your good fortune?  Your style is the key.  Be fair, be flexible, be demanding but consistent, lead by example – vast praise in public, constructive criticism in private - measure and evaluate, and share the success. 

Money is indeed a significant motivator.  With the technology at hand, you can capture data on all types of sales and situations.  Special promotions; up-selling of entrees, appetizers, desserts, cordials, even Tee Shirts; wine by the bottle; complaints as well as compliments; special recognition for the true performers.  Tie your reward system to performance, individual or team based.  It is quantifiable and understandable, and keep your hands out of the “pot”.

The Restaurateur must engage the customer.  As Lewis Carbone, CEO of Experience Engineering, Inc. discloses, this is accomplished through “rational, emotional, human and environmental” means.

The Server is the integral piece, for they must perform “live” on stage and deliver the product and the service. They set the tone for this engagement.

Most of us have worked in a front line service position, especially when we were in school or university.  And, our priorities, if you recall, were not always focused on work.  When the shift began, we may not have been particularly excited about the prospects.  But, we were earning some money, for we really had no other skills to offer the marketplace.  Perhaps, we even held down two jobs or had small children at home.  We hoped the day would be busy, our Boss hidden somewhere, and the customers not too demanding, for we were tired, bored, and anxious to move on with our lives, beyond the tedium. Food and Beverage Service was a living, not a calling.  That attitude still prevails with many other factors tied in to this service personnel mosaic.

I might add that there is a cadre of Professionals, whose vocation is Food and Beverage.  They are trained well and respond to an exacting type of service.  This is their career, and they are dedicated.  Sadly, they represent perhaps 3% or less of the service workforce.

In my discussions with Food and Beverage Servers throughout North America, I have discovered that their concerns are really no different than anyone else’s.  They want a safe and secure workplace; they have dignity, pride and want to be respected as individuals; they expect fair and equal treatment from Management. They also want to look good in their uniforms, their presentation. They understand the relationship between good performance and reward for that performance.  Yet, many of us recall that classic standoff between Jack Nicholson and a waitress in “Five Easy Pieces”.  Bad hair day or attitude?  Point made!  

At the end of the day, they do want answered, “what’s in it for me?”, and they also want to know how they have performed.  Feedback is key! 

A dining experience can indeed be saved with a server who really cares.  They have no control over how the food is prepared or readiness for presentation to a Guest.  Savvy consumers understand this, and we look to the server for attention and assurance. That is what we will remember, for perfection simply does not exist.  Their attitude will prevail.

The existing situation is not hopeless.  But, we all have a role and responsibility.  Demographics and tastes change; the economy may fluctuate; innovation and tired themes continue to clash.  The constant is change, which can be harnessed and managed through an improved Hospitality Experience – the business in which we labor and prosper.  Let’s raise that Hospitality bar! 

Contact:
By John R. Hendrie, CEO
Hospitality Performance, Inc.
www.hospitalityperformance.com
978-346-4387

 
Also See: Offering Crushed Pepper Before Tasting the Entrée; The Decline of Restaurant Service Etiquette / John Hendrie / October 2004
Destination Marketing – How to rebuild your Reputation and the upcoming Season after the Hurricanes / John Hendrie / September 2004
Six Factors Which Dictate Success in Performing Destination Marketing / John Hendrie / September 2004
Influencing the Consumer to Book Business through Your Commitment to Quality / Aug 2004
Major Hotel Operators Have Rediscovered Hospitality Fundamentals by Revisiting the Guest Room / John R. Hendrie / July 2004
Destination Marketing 101: Take Care of Mom / John R. Hendrie / June 2004
Service Unions Combine, Presenting Huge Challenge to Hospitality Industry / John R. Hendrie / March 2004
What Value Quality? Most Hospitality Operators Use the Term “Quality” In their Advertising. What Exactly Does that Mean? / John R. Hendrie / April 2004


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