A restaurant is a great place and it should be. It’s a great place to enjoy good food and good conversation. It’s a great place to unwind with one’s loved ones and friends. It should be a good place because we pay for both the food and service.
The very unfortunate thing is, many restaurants forget about providing good service. This is often reflected by the front-line staff — waiters, cooks, managers/supervisors. Many establishments fall into the illusion that providing good food is enough. And so, they provide bad service. They upset customers, who, most likely, would vow never to return to the place.
They fail to realize one important thing: people stop patronizing an establishment not because of the product given — but because of poor service. Many studies also show this. The inverse is true. People often patronize establishments that have good service, and are even willing to pay a higher price for it over a competition with cheaper goods but poor service.
I’ve experienced quite a lot of poor customer service at restaurants these past few weeks. And it is sad to see the same things over and over again at different places. What I have noticed are the seven deadly sins of restaurants and food servers. Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Not listening to the customer’s needs and orders. This is very basic. You order, but the food server does not listen. And the worst part: he forgets to bring you your order. He comes back to you and asks that you repeat every single thing you said. Or he brings you something you did not even order. This happens in both full-service and fast food establishments. Why does this happen? Laziness? Many servers do not take notes, even if they are taking the order of a big group. And many do not take the initiative to repeat the instructions you have given them. They don’t ask questions or make clarifications.
2) Not listening to the customer’s instructions. Aside from food orders, customers give some special instructions. Some want certain ingredients removed. Some would want an extra ingredient. And yet, servers are not able to follow. Again, this is the result of poor listening.
3) Not leveling expectations and poor inventory management. Don’t you just hate it when you drive for so many hours only to find out that the specialty dish is not available? Or don’t you just hate it when the dish you are craving for is not available? This happens a lot. There are two approaches to cure this. First and ultimately, it is better inventory management. Restaurant owners and managers should not wait for stockouts to happen. They should improve on monitoring their ingredients. If this is not always doable (although it should be, if you are serious about your business), then the waiters should level expectations in terms of what is available and what is not even before a customer opens the menu.
Recently, I went to a restaurant in Taguig owned by a prominent chef. The waiters excitedly recommended that I have the bottomless tamarind/sampaloc iced tea. I ordered it. After one serving, they could not longer give me a refill. They ran out of it. The restaurant also did not have artificial sweetener for coffee, which is basic. They even gave me an excuse: “We only have a few customers during weekdays and have more customers during weekends.” I guess the chef and owner of this place is more busy coming out on TV rather than fixing his restaurant, which made him prominent to begin with. And to think he named his restaurant after himself. Does his surname now equate to bad service?
4) Poor product knowledge. Many food servers have poor product knowledge. They know what is written in the menu, but are not able to explain what each dish really is. They are not able to differentiate one dish from another. How can they upsell then? How can they even sell anything?
Also recently, I went to this restaurant that not a few bloggers are raving about (I wonder why). It’s a place in Alphonso, Cavite that serves Tuscan cuisine — or so they think. I asked about what the Corsican Beef Stew is. The waiter replied: “Sir, parang caldereta lang yan (Translated as: “It’s just like caldereta.” Caldereta is a common but popular stew in the Philippines, and for sure, it is not anything close to what they were selling).
5) Serving dishes in the wrong sequence. When you look at the name, an appetizer is self-explanatory. It is meant to appetize the customer. Unfortunately, many restaurants and servers still do not understand this, even if their menus have clear headings to separate one category of food from another. Has English comprehension gone that low? Personally, this has happened to me a countless number of times — even if you explicitly tell them to bring out the appetizer first. Poor listening? Yes. Poor service? Yes.
6) Manager not managing the restaurant. A manager has a critical job. It is to ensure that front-liners are doing their jobs and to make sure that these are done consistently. They are also key people who can address complaints from customers. As such, they should NOT make their availability scarce. The sad thing is, managers would try to escape from responsibility by telling their waiters to just deal with problems themselves, and by telling them not to bother management when there is a problem. I had a complaint at a Japanese restaurant and asked for the manager. The waiter replied in an impolite tone, “Wala kaming manager!” (Translated as: “We don’t have a manager!”). For goodness sake, how can a restaurant not have a manager or supervisor? We eventually found him, of course, and it was ridiculous how the restaurant was trying to hide the manager from customers. Where on earth have you heard of such a thing?
Managers should remember that bad service on the part of front-liners is often the result of poor leadership.
Oh, and remember that Tuscan restaurant I mentioned earlier? They had the same case. When we entered that restaurant, all the servers and staff were busy. No one was in charge at the entrance. It was silly how we needed to go all the way to the kitchen just to be seated.
7) Just being plain rude. Unfortunately, some servers are just plain rude. Lack of skills can sometimes be forgivable. But there is no excuse to being plain rude. Some servers are sloppily dressed. Some even smell horrific! But the worst part is unprofessional attitude of many. They are very unpleasant. Many don’t smile. You make a request for water and you have to ask for it thrice in order to get it. And yet, when you ask for the bill, they are so willing to give it. When you complain, they give you all sorts of excuses. And some, even blame the customer. They define quality themselves and forget that quality is actually defined by the customer. Some servers feel that they are doing you a favor when you eat at their place. Come on. Without customers, any establishment will cease to exist.
To be fair, many managers do apologize for bad service and even have a customer recovery system in place. But there are additional considerations. First, many complaints could be prevented. Second, apologies have to be sincere. Not long ago, I went to this Spanish fusion restaurant at a popular upscale mall in Makati. They are well-known for their cochinillo, a roast pork dish. And the owners, a husband-wife tandem known in the fashion industry has even gained a reputation for putting up good restos and cafes. I guess, not anymore.
The server recommended that we order cochinillo with two other dishes we ordered because the it was the perfect partner of the two. The problem, they served the cochinillo much later. We constantly followed up, and we were asked to wait without any certainty, and they asked us to reconsider cancelling the order. While I still maintained calm, I already became vocal about expressing my displeasure. The manager was nearby and did not approach our table. Instead, at the end of the meal, he just gave us this hideous complimentary dessert. We didn’t even eat it. A dessert cannot apologize for people. And please, don’t insult us by escaping responsibility.
Promises also need to be concrete. Actually, many customers are willing to wait. But they don’t want to wait in uncertainty. Again, expectations should be leveled. Waiters have no right to be irritated when a customer follows up on his or her dish.
I make it a point not to give a tip whenever I experience bad service. After all, why should we reward bad service? And really, do we go to restaurants so that our day would be ruined? I am often perplexed as to why some restaurants even have the audacity to include service charge as a real part of the bill. To begin with, is such practice even legal? Paging policy-makers here. Does this mean that we even have to pay for bad service?
What else can we do as customers? Supervisors really need to be given immediate feedback. Owners need to be given feedback in person, email, or phone. And when complaints are given, there is a need to give specific details. If all else fails, you can either boycott the place and let the whole world know about how bad their service is. Go ahead, you can even use Twitter, Facebook, or your blog!
Restaurant owners should see to it that people are equipped with attitude, knowledge and skills in order to serve customers. Remember, poor service on the part of front-liners is a sign of poor management. Business owners should also see if there procedures and systems need to be fixed. Many times, the problems are not caused by a gap in skills, but because of organizational issues that should be addressed by management.
Sure, a customer may not always be right. But a customer is still a customer. And without the customer, a restaurant won’t be in business.