Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Importance of Service


With annoying frequency, the age-old debate about the value of service is kicked from its slumber. Whether it accounts for twenty, thirty, fifty, or any other percentage of a dining experience, the fact that the debate exists shows that it's an important element of a meal.

The debate still misses the point, mind you. It suggests that service can be split into an exclusive part, separate from location and food.

It can't.

You might visit a restaurant in an uninspiring location, because the food is excellent. You might visit a restaurant with average food, because of an incredible or convenient location. You won't visit a restaurant with poor service. Period.

While location relates to accessibility (or the view) and food the substance, service relates directly to the enjoyment of the experience. Was it easy to get to? Yes. Did you like the food? Yes. Did you enjoy yourself? No.

That's not a score of 66%. That's a zero. You won't visit that restaurant again, nor will you recommend it.

So, good service isn't important, it's essential, and no restaurant should underestimate its importance, ever.

Good service is only the beginning, however; it dictates whether or not you enjoy a meal, while great service dictates how much you'll spend.

Logistically, between the customer and the kitchen, lies service. Financially, between the customers wallet and the till, lies the same. Waiters are there to explain the menu and take an order. Within that process lies the opportunity to guide the customer towards an aperitif, a particular starter, the specials, a digestif, the cheese, and another bottle of wine.

The skill of the waiter is to make this up-sell seem perfectly natural; a suggestion to enhance a meal, not a cold-call sale. Would I like some olives? No. No I wouldn't. Would I like a snack while I consider the menu? Yes. I'm hungry, of course I would.

The difference for an individual customer is relatively small, the difference for a restaurant, magnified across a table, a sitting, a day, a week, a month, is potentially huge.

Take a table of seven people arriving at a crowded restaurant only to find space at the bar. They're hungry, they're through the door, and they've sat down. That's seven mouths, seven stomachs, and seven wallets, sat in your restaurant. A poor waiter takes and delivers a single drinks order - £7 each; £49 in total. A good waiter converts this to two drinks - £14 each; £98 in total. A great waiter upgrades the order to include bar snacks - £20 each; £140 in total. The greatest waiter keeps them happy at the bar and works to finds them a table - ££ each; £££ in total.

Three recent examples demonstrated that even the most fashionable and sought-after restaurants don’t get service right - at least not all the time. Whether it’s extreme aloofness in Soho or damn-right rudeness in Hoxton or the City, these three restaurants lost pounds from that day’s taking and subsequent pounds from potential future visits.

I’m sure the owners, sat high in their counting houses, won’t worry about the missing pounds from a single bill. For now, these restaurants are popular, no doubt profitable, and with queues around the corner on most nights, there isn’t a cloud in their business plan's sky. Over the long-term though, customer disappointment leads to a slippery slope of increasingly bad press, fewer tables, fewer bums on seats, stagnation, and possibly failure.

It’s important, then, that no restaurant should underestimate importance of service - ever.

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