Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeing Quality Service with 20/20 Vision


It has been my pleasure to have worked in the restaurant, hotel and event industry for the last 30 years.

My experience ranges from deli sandwich maker to 5 Star resort captain in some of the world’s finest hotels. During that same period I have enjoyed being a customer in many of the same kind of establishments. As you might expect, as a service professional I am keenly aware of service quality when I visit as a customer.

Sadly, I must report that my general observation is that mediocrity and indifference have become woven into the service standards of many of our restaurants, hotels and especially in special events. It has been a gradual, almost imperceptible decline and included in that downward slide has been our (your) expectation of what quality service truly means.

I would like to offer my vision of quality service. Twenty service basics for restaurant service, which if are all present should merit a 20% gratuity. Should a few service items be missed, I suggest a 1 point reduction in your gratuity. If 10 items are missing, a strong message must be sent by leaving no gratuity, as difficult as it is. Remember it is your hard earned money and don’t you want to spend it where it is deserved.

I call this 20/20 Service Vision, seeing quality service as it should be and rewarding appropriately. For example, do we reward a student for a D grade? No we don’t. Do we reward an employee for doing a poor job; no we don’t. So why do we reward a server or bartender for doing a poor to mediocre job. It does seem to be ingrained into us as Americans that we have to tip no matter what. Well, you don’t and you shouldn’t. And there are really no excuses, even though we as Americans can come up with hundreds as to why we should tip on an experience that we did not enjoy.

Don’t feel you have to memorize the list below either. What’s important is you remember two or three standards at the beginning that may be important to you and then each time you dine out, remember a few more. After a while you will appreciate the distinction between mediocre service and quality service, and tip accordingly.

Now, there are no perfect scenarios or situations where the below list will fit flawlessly. But based on this information, you will be able to determine if your server is working hard at creating a quality experience for you or working hard trying to do as little as possible.


A pleasant smile from the server should be a mandatory beginning but is only one small part of your experience. That smile can also mask many service inadequacies.

Here are BASIC service tasks your server should be performing after you have been seated. If you have a few pet peeves that you insist when dining out, replace a few below that are not that important to you, or just add to the list.

1. The table and chairs should be neat and clean, even at a self-service/buffet.

2. All condiments on the table should be reasonably filled and always clean.

3. You should be acknowledged by the server or “someone” within one minute of sitting down.

4. Server pleasantly greets you and introduces him/herself –it is proper etiquette.

5. The server uses appropriate language; “Yes Sir/Miss” and “May I”. “May I’ clear your plate?” It is a service industry and you should be courteously attended to and respected.

6. Suggestive Selling – the server should know their menu and what variations are available. The server’s responsibility is to match your taste with the products being offered. That includes food as well as beverage.

7. After taking the order, the server says, “Thank you.” – This may not seem important, but it is important that the server is always courteous. A sure sign of creeping mediocrity is the use of “Thanks” rather than a more professional “Thank you”.

8. After taking the order, the server should explain preparation times especially if a specific
menu item takes longer.

9. Water/iced tea/coffee/sodas refilled – you should never have to ask for refills when they are complimentary. This includes the condiments and cream for coffee.

10. You should never have to ask for another cocktail, glass of wine, etc. as the observant server should ask you when your drink is almost finished.

11. When your server brings another drink, the empty glass should be taken away immediately or as soon as it is finished.

12. There should be a napkin/coaster placed under every drink, except wine. Nobody likes to have the overflow or the perspiration from the glass dripping on the table or themselves.

13. If more than one course is served, the following course should not be served until the previous course is completed, unless you have requested it that way.

14. When several courses are served, all empty plates should be removed immediately. The server should ask before clearing a dish if it has some food left.

15. After the entree is served, the server should ask if you would like anything else to complete the meal.

16. Between 2 and 3 minutes after entrée is served, no longer, the server should check back to ensure satisfaction. This is a standard that is so important yet has slowly faded away.

17. Be Available; your server should be visible to you so they can acknowledge your signal for additional service. Many times servers tend to disappear for to long.

18. The table should be completely cleared of empty dishes, glasses, trash, etc., before the bill is presented.

19. The server should say, “Thank you” when presenting the bill and explain how payment can be made.

20. When the server returns with your change/card, he/she should again say, “Thank you and have a nice evening,” or some other courteous farewell. “Thanks” is once again a less genuine thought and not acceptable with quality service.

So ladies and gentlemen, if you are happy offering money to someone who does not work for it, that is fine, but also, don’t complain about the service later.

Thank you very much for your time. On a future blog I will offer my 20/20 Service Vision on Catering and special event service.

David B. Jones