Did the Service Taste Okay?

On a rainy, blustery Sunday, my mom, brother, and I decided to spend a little quality time together over brunch. We opted for Hell’s Kitchen, an old standby in the Kitsilano neighbourhood, where the chairs are as familiar as our own at home.

The restaurant doesn’t boast extravagant linens, crystal stemware, or exotic ingredients, however the food is generally dependable and the service adequate. But this turned out to be a day like no other.

As we slid our still groggy bodies around a table, we debated the merits of coffee and tea against a trio of lattes. After more than a few minutes of waiting patiently, we began anxiously craning our necks for a glimpse of our server. From across the restaurant, we saw someone slowly begin to head in our direction. When our server reached us, she draped herself over the table to record our request for tea and coffee on a scrap of paper. With that, she said she’d be back to take our food order and abruptly turned away.

The three of us exchanged a look. We had already decided on our brunch choices. But what could we do? The server had made up her mind about the proper order of events.

So we waited. And waited. And then waited some more.

My brother was the first to pipe up. “What are they doing, grinding the beans?” he asked.

“No,” my mom replied, rolling her eyes, “they must actually be growing them.”

As the minutes continued to tick by, we contemplated going elsewhere, but we didn’t want to seem rude and we kept telling ourselves it couldn’t be much longer. We were wrong. After an unbelievable 25 minutes (yes, I did keep count), our server returned. She lifted the cups off her tray and plunked them unceremoniously onto the table.

“Oh, I’ll be right back with your teabag,” she informed me.

As she turned away, I shot my family a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

But this was no joke. There really was no teabag in the pot. So we waited again. When she finally sauntered up to our table five minutes later and asked if we were ready to order, I inquired about the teabag.

“Oh, I meant to get it,” she said without apology, and began to explain what had kept her from picking it up. Aside from her memory, that is.

Fortunately, I did eventually get my teabag and our lunch arrived within a reasonable amount of time. But while there was absolutely nothing wrong with the dishes, our appetite had been soured.

This is an experience you’ve probably had yourself. You go to a restaurant looking for easy convenience or to spend time relaxing with friends or family. Unfortunately the meal is ruined by the service you receive. Maybe it’s the complete lack of attention paid to your table, a combination of blunders, or a sense the staff feel they’re doing you a favour by letting you dine there, rather than the other way around. Whatever the case, it puts such a bad taste in your mouth, you don’t even enjoy the food regardless of how good it is.

So if service really has such an impact on how much you enjoy your food, are what are some restaurants doing to make sure the above scenario never happens?

To provide some insight, Christina Mackintosh, General Manager of the Earls Paramount restaurant located on Hornby at Smithe Street, agreed to share some of Earls’ secrets for providing diners with a great experience.

She first explained there are a number of technical points every restaurant must meet in order to have any success. One of these is, of course, service.

To provide great service, you have to begin by hiring great people, Mackintosh told me. So, Earls seeks out staff that is warm, sincere, and fun.

But it’s not enough just to have great people, she explained. They must also be trained well. The rigorous training Earls provides, gives staff the skills and knowledge to ensure the guests’ needs are always put first, Mackintosh shared.

And this training is not reserved for just the front of the restaurant staff. By Earls’ standards, great service includes the efforts of those behind the scenes: the cooks and kitchen staff. Mackintosh explained it is crucial to “set a standard around food quality.” This means every cook who takes his or her place in the kitchen is taught to create each dish with the utmost care and attention. The goal is to create “food that is unbelievable,” she said.

Part of Earls’ secret to providing great service also includes a commitment to consistency, Mackintosh said. Earls’ guests should be able to come into the restaurant each time and have it feel comfortable, similar to “an old shoe.” But she also pointed out consistency doesn’t mean complacency. Earls aims to provide service that goes beyond their guests’ expectations, she said.

“Life is an active choice,” Mackintosh explained and since the guest has made a choice to come into the restaurant, it’s the staff’s goal to “make sure that’s the best choice they make all day.” She followed up by saying, “People don’t have time for a bad restaurant experience – time is precious, money is precious.”

And wouldn’t it be great if all restaurants had such respect for their customers’ time and money? Of course not every restaurant has the training budget or business experience that comes with the Earls group of restaurants and sometimes servers just have bad days. But if restaurants don’t take the time to choose the right staff and provide them with the proper training, they risk losing that all important ingredient that makes a restaurant successful – the customer.

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