Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reader Question: Poor Service

A reader sent me this interesting question recently about how to handle poor service.

Hello Jay:

I have been enjoying your weekly columns. I do have a question for you.

What is the protocol to be adopted by someone dining in a restaurant where the wait staff has had no training in basic wine service let alone in the art of the sommelier? My wife and I recently entertained a mutual friend in a dining room in St. Andrews at lunch where the very pleasant young waitress knew absolutely nothing about wine service to the point of not even giving the host an opportunity to taste the wine, picking up the wine glass, filling the host's glass before the two guests etc. Is it poor form to gently assist the waiter in the correct service protocol or should one just accept the lack of training the wait staff has received and grin and bear it? To the credit of the young lady, she apologized for not knowing anything about wine service.

In my NB dining experiences, I tend to find the attitude of the, usually, young staff excellent but they have received only marginal training in the art of fine dining which reflects poorly upon the establishment. Most of these pleasant young people have not been brought up in a home where fine dining experiences are part of their formative years; hence it is incumbent on the owner/manager to give the proper training. It is difficult to change a poor attitude, but skills can be acquired at any stage in one's life.

Cheers,

Ian

Dear Ian,

I hear this question often, unfortunately. And it is not restricted to fast food establishments. Fine dining restaurants frequently neglect to properly train their staff, both on the floor and in the kitchen. This has always puzzled me as it ultimately does the server and the establishment an injustice. The result often times is a reduced tip as well as dissatisfied clients who may not return. Management needs to carefully instruct the staff in all of the correct steps of service including wine service.

As far as the proper protocol for your particular situation is concerned, you need to bring this to the attention of the restaurant manager. And it is important to do this without embarrassing the server. It is the manager who deserves any negative remarks you might have. Personally, I find proper protocol can be cumbersome at times and it is easier to help the server out of their bind by making a couple of helpful suggestions if you think they would be well received. I know when I managed our restaurant, if a new server was working and was still training to understand and execute steps of service, I would personally keep a close eye on the tables they were responsible for and gently assist when needed.

I completely concur with you when you mention that in spite of the fact that a young person may not have been raised in a home where formal dining was a part of life, this young work force may well have an excellent attitude. Teaching the correct skills associated with proper food and beverage service will enhance the atmosphere and reputation of any establishment and give these youngsters valuable tools for their careers and in life in general. I hope this helps.

Regards,

Jay

Generally speaking, if you are unhappy with your meal, please speak with your server. They will deliver your complaint to either the manager or the chef. The manager will most likely speak with you directly to define the problems. He or she needs your feedback because they want your dining experience to be a positive one. That’s what building loyal clientele and a good reputation are all about.

Hopefully the problem can be resolved to your satisfaction. And when tipping your server, you must remember that they did not prepare the food. Poor food quality should not be a factor in deciding on a tip. I suggest a 15% gratuity in most restaurants and 20% in expensive restaurants. Wait staff earn most of their livelihood from tips, not from their hourly wages. This is a profession where people take great pride in delivering good service, especially if they have been properly trained and instilled with confidence. The experience of a delicious meal in fine surroundings and with pleasant servers can make for magic occasions. It is a time where mutual respect between client and wait staff can blossom.

The food and beverage industry aspires to exceed their customers' expectations particularly in finer restaurants, inns and hotels. Don't be shy when it comes to giving feedback, both positive and negative. It actually shows that you have respect for the restaurant, its staff and its guests.