Did you see the recent Washington Post report about how difficult it is for restaurants to attract good cooks? In essence, the thrill of cooking on the line is fading. Long hours and low pay have made many reconsider their career choices. There was no mention in the article, however, of the apparent shortage of good front-of-the-house workers. And this shortage baffles me the most because good servers can make considerably more money than back-of-the-house folks because of tips. Yet, the level of service in so many places is tragically bad.
Here are just two recent examples that got my blood boiling.
I was seated on a restaurant patio and waiting for a server to approach my table. There were two servers on the patio covering four tables. I waited 20 minutes for a server to approach, then went inside to order the drink myself. A friend who was meeting me there, but running late, eventually arrived and walked onto the patio, escorted by one of the two servers. My friend pointed to me and said, “There he is,” and walked over to my table. Another 15 minutes passed and neither of the servers came over to the table to take my friend’s drink order. I could have walked inside and gotten her a drink, but we chose instead to go next door to a restaurant where servers have no problem seeing their customers.
Days later, I’m sitting at a half-full bar where the bartenders apparently suffer from the same malady—the inability to see customers. Wine glasses sit empty for 15-minute stretches; needed plates, napkins and utensils have to be requested, etc. Finally, after waiting 50 minutes for a whole fish to be served, the bartender is waved down and asked, “Can you check on my fish order, please?” ”What fish order?” he says. I had earlier discussed ingredients in the fish entrée with him to match a wine to the dish.
So many of the servers I keep running into are either clueless or mailing it in. I could blame a lot of this on the Millennials, but would that be fair? Is it fair that I want to smack the crap out of most of those 20-something servers who seem to think it’s acceptable to do only the parts of the job they like and ignore the rest?
I can only assume that, like the kitchen problem mentioned above, there’s a very shallow pool of good help to select from for both the front and back of the house. It’s only going to get worse. In September, Chipotle unleashed a one-day blitz, hiring 4,000 new workers, dangling the carrot that hourly workers can rise to the level of management jobs paying $133,000 annually. How do you compete against that? On the other hand, how do you put people on the floor of your restaurant who act as if they’re Walking Dead cast members?
We all know training is key, and there’s way too little of that going on. But it goes further than that. Many of these young servers got trophies as kids just for showing up. Parents have spoiled them and now these careless kids are ruining your business. How are you dealing with this problem? Email me.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]