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 Offering Crushed Pepper Before Tasting the Entrée; 
The Decline of Restaurant Service Etiquette

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By John Hendrie, October 2004

As we move along the “food chain” (types of restaurants), we have certain expectations of service, courtesy, discourse.  But, what I find remarkable is the lack of regard for the customer and the guest by the Service Staff, often unwittingly disrespecting my patronage. Sadly, they have been trained no better. To echo Rodney Dangerfield, “I get no respect”.

It begins with the greeting, “Hello, guys, my name is XYZ, and I’ll be your server tonight”.  Firstly, the lovely lady sitting across from me is not a male.  I can think of many terms of endearment for her, but guy is not one of them, and we hear this term throughout the meal – “would you guys like something from the bar?”, “would you guys like anything else?”, etc.  The greeting is friendly certainly, but far too familiar and casual.  I do not want to be a friend, a pal or a buddy. I am paying for this dining experience; I am your esteemed customer/guest, not one of the Gang!

Then, we get to the order taking.  I recognize that servers are not Sommeliers, yet each restaurant represents different Vineyards.  Trying to solicit a description of a Chablis or merlot is excruciating.  We hear the specials recital; we ask about the preparation the ingredients, perhaps the calories, what is the server’s recommendation.  Well, this opens up all sorts of up-selling communication opportunity, but, usually resulting in the fact that our server is unprepared and has not had the chance to sample the fare offered on the menu.  So, the restauranteur has lost that opportunity to sell the most profitable entrée.  A cheeseburger is a cheeseburger, but Paprika dusted day boat Scallops with Ginger-carrot Puree is not.

Now, we are in the meal interlude, relishing the chef’s creation.  Beyond being offered crushed pepper on my meal before I even taste the entrée (an affront not only to our Mother’s Cardinal Rule but also to the Chef’s expertise), I anticipate the mandatory visit to ascertain my pleasure with the entrée.  Hopefully, this occurs somewhere around bite number ten.  If before, I have not sufficiently tasted the entrée and incidentals.  Too far along, which happens frequently, it would not matter what I said.  If not asked at all, this sends even a stronger message.

I would have hoped, of course, that my server also was paying attention to my other service needs:  replenishing water, butter, breads and removing filled side plates and beer bottles, empty glasses and debris (crumbs, paper, cigarettes, where appropriate).

Servers should never ask the open ended question. “how is everything?  This becomes like a crime scene, and you are a witness. No one likes to be put on the spot.   Rather, the emphasis should be on “did you enjoy the Coq au vin?”  Had I discovered something disagreeable, the server would have known.  Approach this portion of the meal, believing that I was having a wonderful experience, and couch your question accordingly. My satisfaction should not be answered with an empty gesture. It is similar to the use of the words, “can” and “may” I do something.  If you are able, of course you can.  If I give you permission, of course you may.  If I am asked to “walk this way” to my table, I usually stumble trying the various gaits demonstrated.

The meal close is the appropriate formal time to recognize my patronage, and thanks should be effusive.  We are pleased that you joined us, thank you for your business, please come again—thank you, thank you, thank you!  Not, “thanks, guys”. And, another thing  I do not like smiley button expressions, like “have a nice day”.  This is overused and banal.  Become a little more elegant and considerate with “enjoy the remainder of the evening”.

So, who is ultimately responsible?  Actually, the guest and the Restaurant owner equally share the blame for deteriorating standards.  We both have accepted this level of service etiquette, where we should be like Peter Finch of the movie, “Network”, and cry loud and clear that we have had enough, for service etiquette is the benchmark of excellence, and we have acquiesced. 

If you asked your valued guests in a survey about some of the points I have raised, you might be surprised with their answers – perhaps not outrage, but certainly discontent.  We have some work to do!

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

 
Also See: 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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