What Has Our Restaurant Dining Experience Turned Into?


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Being in the hospitality business for over 25 years, I have seen some of the best and worst at their trade.

From the hardworking, studious college kid that was very driven and worked as a waiter 6-days a week to put himself through school; the gravelly-voiced divorced mom of 4 grown kids that needed to pay her bills and get her life back on track; the “hot” chick that thought her looks was her ticket to fame and fortune and that being a waiter was only a temporary setback for her; and the overweight nerdy-guy that really couldn’t relate well with his customers, continually came in late and never got a close shave but always found time to play dungeons & dragons.

They all had one thing in common, they wanted to earn as much in tips on each shift as they possibly could! And why not? That’s why they have a job.

But whatever happened to customer service? What happened to the dining experience we used to receive? Where are all the waiters of days gone by?

It seems like all the “nice” restaurants have been replaced by themed restaurants, ones that think the way to decorate a restaurant is to hang countless photos of actors, sports memorabilia, and even small boats on their walls. Regardless of the atmosphere of the establishment, service has definitely changed over the years.

With very few exceptions, gone are the days where a waiter will ‘de-bone” a fresh-caught fish tableside. And frankly, not many people are interested in this anyway.

But don’t they still desire fine service? Can’t we still tend to the needs, wants & desires of our customers that come to dine in our restaurants? It seems that very few establishments strive for this.

Now it seems that the primary goals of many restaurants are to “turn” as many tables as possible during their service, make sure that there is no staff overtime and hire managers that are inexperienced and too afraid to come out of their offices and check on their staff, let alone on their guests. More money is spent on designing eye-catching and colorful menus then is spent on training the staff.

We are used to seeing waiters wearing buttons on their lapels, flowers in their hair, not being closely shaven, and waiters that crouch down at the table when they are taking the order. Then there is my personal favorite choice of tactless behavior; calling all the guests ‘guys”. “How are you guys today” or “What can I get you guys to drink”, the waiter may say. These phrases roll off the tongues of most wait & bar staff today and it has become the norm.

This is not service, this is not the way to greet your customer, your guest, at the table. Does the waiter know the menu inside and out and know what options there are for substitutions of the starch or vegetables? After serving your food, did your waiter check back with you within two minutes or two bites? Probably not.

This is one of the basic industry standards of service, but it’s almost never taught. Does your waiter continually refill your water glass or bread basket, or does he wait for the minimum wage busboy/busgirl to do it? But they still want a big tip from you of course!

Today’s waiters are taught to wear the “focus-group determined” uniform, to form a conga line when it’s time to sing happy birthday to some soon-to-be-embarrassed patron and taught that wearing any color of nail polish or multiple dangling ear rings is OK. It’s OK to come in late, it’s OK to come back from a cigarette break and still smell like a chimney, it’s OK to be indifferent to the very same people that you are relying on for your livelihood.

I seek out restaurants sometimes just to see if their silverware is preset on the table next to a freshly pressed napkin. But that has been replaced with spotted, cheap silverware rolled in a paper napkin.

Then to make matters worse, customers have been accustomed to this lower level of service and have been willing to accept it. You waited 10 minutes for a waiter to take your order, that’s OK. You’re not happy with how your meal was cooked and can’t find your waiter, well “it’s OK, he will be back soon”. You want a second cup of coffee but all the waiters are hanging around the service station in the back. You’ll just wait. This is not why we go out to dine.

If we just want to fill our stomachs then this level of service is fine. But if you want more than that there are fewer and fewer affordable restaurants where the average person can go without spending a small fortune.

I just want to be taken care of, to be catered to on those all too infrequent nights out with my family. Is that too much to ask for? I hope not. Is that possible in a restaurant that is less than 5 stars? I hope so, I know so.

Remember: Only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you make the big tips. All else is not important.

You see, that’s the key. Any waiter can get to their ultimate goal of making bigger tips but only if the customer service is there first. Good food can only keep your customers for so long, but good service will keep them forever.

Steve DiGioia
Steve uses his 20+ years of experience in the hospitality industry to help companies and their employees improve service, increase morale and provide the experience their customers' desire. Author of "Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift...Even If You're a Bad Waiter" and named an "ICMI Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leader" and a "Top Customer Service Influencer" by CCW Digital, Steve continues his original customer service, leadership and management-based writings on his popular blog.


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