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restaurant waiter

When it comes to service, the details matter

I often recommend that all restaurant owners eat in both their own establishments and a variety of other restaurants from time to time to notice details from a customer’s perspective. Put on your “guest hat” and you’ll have a powerful advantage over the restaurant down the street. 

Although I am no longer a restaurant owner, I still dine out frequently across the country and I am constantly amazed at how often these restaurants miss or botch the details.

I was in Denver recently, and I dined out in a very nice Italian place downtown. I was drawn by the gorgeous exterior, chandeliers, beautiful windows… you get the picture. This restaurant wasn’t five stars, nor particularly expensive. It was right in the middle. I walked in, was greeted instantly with a smile and brought to a very comfortable booth, and the ambiance was very inviting. So far the details were pleasing me—until they didn’t.

My server was pleasant, but an average order taker. I looked at the beverage list as she asked for my drink order. Lots of wine and beer choices, nice specialty cocktails, but no suggestions made. No question as to what I was in the mood for followed by her recommendation.

The menu was extensive: meat, poultry and fish choices; pastas, flatbreads and pizzas. I would have appreciated knowing what was most popular or my server’s favorites… again, a pad and pen in hand with “Ready to order”?  In my book, this approach completely kills the experience. 

When you’re a first-time visitor to a new restaurant, do you enjoy looking at a menu and deciding for yourself, or do you appreciate a knowledgeable server who tells you what’s special about the place and popular choices that you might enjoy? I believe the service team should take the customer on a magical dining experience where choices are suggested and information presented with flair.

Instead, I settled on three courses that sounded good to me.

The bread basket arrived overflowing with warm bread from the oven, mouthwatering and delicious. The problem was, there was just one pat of butter. I had to request more.

The wedge salad arrived with a beautiful presentation of crispy bacon bits, crumbled gorgonzola, diced tomato and creamy Parmesan dressing. No sooner had I taken three bites of my salad than my entrée arrived.

Timing is essential in restaurants. This place was not busy at the moment—about half full, but either the server hadn’t timed her order entry into the computer or the kitchen had disregarded the timing of the plates. Either way, I was not ready for my pasta just yet, but the food runner dropped my plate and ran.

I wanted to enjoy another slice of fresh bread, but I was still waiting for the butter to arrive. My server was nowhere in sight for quite some time, so I continued to work on my salad as I enjoyed my entrée before it got cold. Normally I don't do this, but I was hungry.

My server came back to ask how everything was. She asked if I wanted another glass of wine, which I did. I waited again for both the butter and the wine.

I finished everything set before me and the food was quite enjoyable…perfect presentations, portions and flavors, but the service was tainting my experience and overall impressions of this restaurant.

I had already ordered my dessert course, a caramel cheesecake which I assumed would immediately follow the entrée. I laughed to myself that maybe it also would come in the middle of the meal, but in this case, the server asked me if I cared for any dessert. I had to remind her that I had already ordered it. “Oh, yes!” she said, as if she was thinking of 10 other things.

Five minutes later she brought me several pats of butter, but now I was waiting for the dessert. I was puzzled.

I wondered what was going on behind the scenes in this not particularly busy restaurant.

So there you have it… all the details that make up the guest experience and their expectations are lasting impressions. I believe that attention to detail and execution of all these important elements of the dining experience separates the best restaurants from the also-rans and ultimately impact repeat business.

Although I enjoyed the food and atmosphere of this restaurant, I won’t be back.

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