Copping a Serve: 7 Common Service Fails and How to Fix Them

Originally published in The Age Good Food.

Good service can make average food taste better. Bad service? Different story.

According to Hospitality Magazine’s report on Eating Out in Australia, there are more than 85,000 places to eat in Australia right now. With so much choice, it’s becoming harder to separate what takes a restaurant from good to great.

Service. It’s the one factor powerful enough to make you return or not.

Great service can do wonders to average food. But good food and awful service? That’s hard to come back from. In an industry where there is so much to choose from, building a loyal customer base is important to the survival of a cafe, restaurant or bar.

Starting off strong
First impressions are important, especially when diners walk through the door. “Hello”, “welcome”, “someone will be with you shortly”, “crikey, that’s a terrific tie” (even if it’s not, most people won’t be able to tell if you’re telling the truth) – greetings are golden.

Sweat over the small stuff
Offering to hang someone’s coat (if possible), taking a dripping umbrella off someone’s hands, getting a customer’s canine companion some water – manners and attention to detail will never go out of style.

If I’m having an argument with someone, please stay away
Attentiveness is important as a waiter. Taking a quick glance at the table you are soon to approach and ensuring a couple is not about to kill each other is wise. I mean that metaphorically. If a murder is occurring please, don’t ignore it and call the police.

Don’t terms and conditions me, right at the last minute
The $25 lunch special advertised on the website should be just that. But what if not everyone wants to order it?

“Everyone on the table needs to order the lunch special, otherwise it doesn’t apply”, we were told recently when three of a party of five wanted to order the special. No minimum number applied necessarily, just “everyone on the table”.

“So, if I came in with me myself and I, and I made up ‘a table’, that makes me eligible for the lunch special?” The answer was “yes”.

We got our way after arguing the illogicalness of this “condition” and the three out of five got the special. But, we were punished for our free speech with even worse service.

No one  can be bothered debating when they’re hangry.  “The customer is always right” is often an unfair philosophy to teach, but compromising with the customer is important. If an amendment doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, please see if it’s possible to make.

I would like to not feel like a burden please
A few notes to waiters: taking away plates before the whole table is finished makes people feel like they’re burdening you. As does giving them a death stare when they ask for a little salt or pepper. Oh, and giving a receipt before a table is ready to leave, unless you’ve notified them that the restaurant is closing, virtually tells your customers “thanks for the dollars, now scoot on out of here”.

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