Two restaurant visits in the space of a week reinforced my view that it’s getting the basics right that distinguishes a superior service from a purely functional one.
Back in August we were celebrating my eldest son’s birthday and arranged a couple of meals. The first was at the acclaimed South London restaurant Chez Bruce and the second was at Locale, an Italian restaurant near the London Eye. These are two very different restaurants:Chez Bruce has a Michelin star and charges roughly twice (more if you go mad on the wine list) what it would cost to eat at Locale; Chez Bruce serves classic French food with modern flourishes, Locale serves fairly regular Italian food. Both are in the same business: of providing diners with good food and a relaxing and enjoyable time spent eating it. I would recommend both, but only Chez Bruce provides superior service.
Let’s assume that the price difference can be explained by cooking and ingredients and a slightly higher staff-to-customer ratio. What made the Chez Bruce example superior was the quality of service: it wasn’t over-familiar or over-fussy, it was, as Goldilocks might have put it, just right. It’s hard to explain how rare this is and, as someone who reads quite a lot of restaurant reviews, it seems to be a rare thing indeed in London.
Contrast the experience in Locale: food and wine reasonably good but the service was inattentive and impersonal. The waiting staff looked as if they didn’t care too much about what they were doing or whether we were having a good or bad time.
Now, I once worked in a restaurant so I know waiting is not the best-paid job in the world and therefore I wouldn’t expect front-of-house staff to be bursting with enthusiasm for me to have the best possible experience. But the fact remains that it can be done by recruiting people with the right attitude and training them in the right skills. These are the foundations of good customer service so why it isn’t done more often is a mystery this blog will try to unravel.