Are the steps of service really necessary in order to provide a great restaurant experience?
Are the steps of service really necessary in order to provide a great restaurant experience? Recently, I was fortunate to travel around Europe and enjoy some amazing restaurants. And while the food was consistently exceptional, the service was… well, let’s just say quite different than what I was accustomed to in the United States. It didn’t matter if it was a fine dining restaurant or a casual pub; I quickly noticed that the only step in their steps of service was, taking the order. And even then, that sometimes took a bit of patience. At first this apparent indifference really troubled me. No, “Can I start you off with a cocktail?” No 2-minute check back to see if my food is prepared correctly. And the check, that didn’t arrive until I was able to finally get my server’s attention and ask for it, sometimes repeatedly. How would I ever survive this restaurant experience? Then it clicked. Restaurants in Europe aren’t about eating but rather the experience of dining. There wasn’t a “turn and burn” mentality (at least in my limited sampling). Rather, guests are encouraged to take as much time as they like to enjoy their meal. Believe it or not, after few meals, it actually felt strange to eat at the traditional American pace I knew and loved. I too was slowing down which, as a born and bred New Yorker, was remarkable in of it self. And those cookie cutter steps of service, I wasn’t missing them at all (23 contacts at “those awful chains” according to “Waiters: Take a tip from the Europeans” article in the Denver Post). I began to realize, if I needed something I was fully capable of asking for it. Or, if something was wrong with the meal… well, that never happened. But if it did, again, I could simply alert the server.
Oh, and dropping the check, this process was the antithesis of those newfangled devices suddenly appearing on American casual restaurants tables enabling guests to leave as fast as possible. By the end of my trip I was actually quite fond of making the restaurant experience the centerpiece of my evening and not something to be rushed through in order to get somewhere else. After returning home sweet home I began longing for that relaxed European dining experience which allowed me to savor my meal and the company of whom I was dining with. This got me to question whether all those steps of service really necessary or were they just unnecessary interruptions to the restaurant experience? Unfortunately, necessary or not I don’t believe it would be possible to completely do away with America’s standardized style of service. What is most striking about this realization is that it has little to do with what the guest wants or needs. What it does have to do with is perhaps the biggest distinction between American and European restaurants, the serving staff. In Europe the waitress and waiter are not only respected careers but also valued and well-paid employees. And while there are many exceptional servers in the US, more often than not, American servers are typically not revered the same way as their European counterparts. Perhaps that is why the United States restaurant industry suffers from a turnover rate of a 140%. To combat this revolving door, restaurants then feel compelled to standardize their service, policy and procedures, which lead to disenfranchise staff and, eventually, employee turnover. But what if servers were treated with the recognition, respect and wages they deserve? Or providing them any tools necessary (like the Waiter Wallet) to help them perform their jobs more successfully. Or how about, as this New York Times article suggests, “provide health insurance and retirement planning.” Wouldn’t waiters and waitresses then find greater success and satisfaction in their jobs? This, I believe, would then lead to long-term careers where a server’s knowledge and expertise would make those standardized, cookie-cutter service standards obsolete. Maybe then I can get another taste of that European dining experience.
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