Dinner parties can be stressful. You spend a great deal of time prepping and preening and most of the actual event fussing over your friends to make sure they’re having a good time. It can sometimes be difficult to relax. Now imagine you play host/ess everyday – only your friends are total strangers, your house is your business and the party runs for 10 hours or more…
When you enter a dining venue, this is often the scenario you are walking into. The people employed to oversee your experience work as hard as those in many higher paying occupations and – it has been my experience over the past decade or so – genuinely want to make sure their customers are smiling. A great deal of time and energy is spent on training and education within the industry to ensure staff deliver service of the highest attainable standards. What tends to be overlooked however, is that customer service is a bilateral exchange, and when only one side understands the rules, the whole deal can sometimes spectacularly crash and burn.
So, I thought I might host a brief, un-preachy-as-possible masterclass on how to be the perfect customer. I invite readers to comment, leave feedback or make suggestions as they pertain to the following flashpoints. It’s not rocket surgery and I guarantee it will make your next eating outing just that little bit more amazing.
*actually, there are eight steps… but damn if alliteration ain’t a fine thing.
1. Every venue is different.
How boring would it be if everywhere just did the same ol’ shit? What is this? Soviet Russia? Logan’s Run? Airstrip One? Dumb.
My tip is; when visiting somewhere for the first time, try to be observant. “Is it table-service or bar service?” “Do I wait to be seated or pull-up my own chair?” “What are other customers doing?” Bowling in and reeling-off your demands is not going to kick things off well. Trust that there is a system in place and that the smoothest sailing is to be achieved by going with the flow.
2. “No” is not a dirty word.
In some cases, a business may elect not to offer a particular item or option. Imagine you walk into McDonald’s and order a meat lover’s pizza – the pimply teen’s inability to fulfill your request is not a malicious attack, aimed at ruining your day.
More and more we are seeing food venues specialising in (sometimes very) particular areas of the culinary spectrum. Hours of thought and painstaking consideration are poured into crafting a menu, and the best operations only serve that which they fully endorse. In the case of small businesses this allows proprietors to tender a select range of high-quality offerings, in place of a whole lotta mishmashed crap. It indicates they take pride in what they do and it helps develop a strong identity. Venues may also opt not to serve a dish a particular way in order to preserve its integrity. You’re in their house, so show some respect, and in turn, you will be delivered a true, from-the-heart experience. If you don’t enjoy said experience, that’s totally OK! The best way to communicate this is to take your money elsewhere in future.
Tip: Small tweaks are not always small tweaks. What may seem like a simple alteration may not be achievable, so be open to the possibility that someone might tell you “sorry, no”. Most often there will be an easy alternative or simple workaround solution, or, there’s always the place next door.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask (lots of) questions.
Likewise, please be patient if staff seem to be asking a few of you. The aim is to get your order perfect – first time, every time – and understanding precisely what the customer expects is paramount. If you are bamboozled by the description of a menu item, or unfamiliar with a particular ingredient, someone will be able to explain it for you, offer guidance or make recommendations.
When a staff member rattles-off a list of options, they are being thorough – not patronising – to make certain those they’re attending get just what they want and the experience can progress forward in an uninterrupted fashion.
4. Take a hint.
When someone suggests there may exist a better, more concise or “funner” way of getting what it is you want – listen up! You may place an order once a day (maybe?) whereas it’s likely they listen to (maybe?) hundreds of orders daily.
A “normal size, not-too hot flat white, just regular strength, with a bit of froth, but in a glass” is otherwise called a “latte”.
5. Popular places are busy / busy places are good / good places are popular.
A queue out the door almost always indicates that good things lay within. Be patient and trust that staff (both on the scene and behind it) are working as best they can for everyone’s benefit. If you’ve got nana’s 90th morning tea to get to, maaaaaaybe try someplace without a 45 minute wait on tables – or come back next week? If your food seems to be taking a while to appear, there’s nothing at all wrong with attracting someone’s attention to find out where you are in the mix. 9/10 times there will be a straightforward explanation.
6. Think about appropriate behaviour for other industries.
You’ve just had your annual dental check-up and are rinsing with that tiny paper cup and minty wash. Do you (A) kick back in the chair and make a few calls while the nurse packs up around you, (B) finish the Who Weekly article about celebrity bikini workouts until someone asks you to get out, or (C) thank the dentist and leave promptly so the next patient can enter – or – so everyone can clock-off and go home?
Quick service and high turnover reduce overheads. Low overheads keep prices down. Everybody wins.
You’re at the second fitting for a new suit when Sam calls to discuss dinner plans for Friday. Do you (A) answer the phone and ignore the tailor as he stands around waiting for you, (B) take the call and unleash an indecipherable succession of hand signals and winks to indicate what changes you’d like made to the jacket lining or (C) tell Sam you will call him/her back in a few minutes?
Courtesy is called “common” because it should be just that. Giving someone your full attention actually feels great for everyone.
Tip: Saying “please” and “thank you” is among the first things we teach to new humans. At what point / age / salary does it become acceptable to omit these from one’s vocabulary?
7. It’s spelled “C-A-F-E” not “C-R-E-C-H-E”.
If you are traveling with children, they are your responsibility and no one else’s. Think of them as something precious – like your purse or phone. Would you let those out of your sight? Would you trust another customer or a member of staff to keep an eye on them while you chat? Would you silence your mobile if it was screeching constantly and causing a disruption for others?
I love languishing in specialty cafes and dining in good restaurants, but I get that it’s not top of a four-year-old’s bucket list. They’d probably rather be colouring-in or watching SpongeBob on an iPad or reading about wizards – all of which are totally, 100% acceptable pursuits to be undertaken in public. So pack ahead and be the entertainment you would want them to have.
8. Regulars earn perks, not entitlements.
I see my regulars more often than I see my mum and dad, and as such we have developed odd little micro-friendships – with benefits. “You’re running late? OK I’ll sneakily bump your takeaway to the front of the queue.” “Look, we don’t take bookings but I can probably set aside a table for you tomorrow, since it’s a special occasion.” “Short on change? This one’s on me.”
You are much more likely to receive exceptional service if you are offered it. Patrons who overstep the line and begin making demands / nuisances of themselves may quickly find the warm embrace of “being a regular” somewhat cooled.
“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re all gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes” – Mel Brooks.
Forgetting to hit ‘attach’ on an email, mailing the wrong spare part, publishing an embarrosying typo or forgetting to mark a dish as ‘gluten free’; annoying blips? Yes. End of the freaking world? Nope. When a mistake is made, the ideal solution (for everyone) is to rectify the error as quickly and with as little fuss as possible – so let’s work together on this. An apology and a sharp turnaround is to be expected, and we will do everything we can to get things back on track as promptly as possible. If you are genuinely dissatisfied with the service provided to you by waitstaff, I would recommend expressing this to the manager or owner in the same manner that you would like to receive constructive feedback.
“No-one’s day was ever ruined by an under-poached egg or the wrong wine” – Me.
Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV. #hospo4lyf
The images used here are not owned by me, rather they were lifted from possibly the best place in the internet – http://celebsandcoffee.tumblr.com/