Thursday, November 03, 2011

Indignados of the Restaurant World: Hope or Utopia?

This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand:

For once, rather than review restaurants, eateries, hotels, agriturismi, wine shops, pizzeria, bars, historic or newly opened clubs, and so on, let's try to cross to the other side and think about the minimal interaction there is between restaurant personnel and customers. How many times have you found yourself disappointed by the poor quality of the service, dirty restrooms, dishes that don't meet expectations, and, perhaps, even thought about protesting, but then decided to leave be, thinking "I just won't come back, and will warn my friends to avoid this place too."

You might not realize it, but a survey by people who work in the hospitality industry has shown that only 4% of unsatisfied restaurant customers actually protest: most prefer not to make waves, rather saying everything was fine to the people providing the service. This behavior obviously does nobody any good; it doesn't help the establishment to improve, but can on the contrary do it considerable harm, especially now that people can and do "spread the word" on the Internet.

For example, if we enter a restaurant and the waiter delivers the menu orally, why don't we react logically, by asking for a written menu? Why do we accept the idea of eating and drinking "blind," having no idea of what we'll be spending. Do we really believe this state of affairs is normal?

And why, if we visit the restrooms and find them foul and smelly, or even simply lacking such basic necessities as toilet paper, soap, and hand towels, do we emerge disgusted and return to our table without protest? After all, it's quite probable that if the restrooms are horrid the situation in the kitchens won't be much better.

Be it a high-class restaurant, an eatery, or a simple neighborhood pizzeria, certain minimum standards of hospitality must be met, and there can be no excuses. For this to happen, we must take umbrage, and have the courage necessary to voice our discontent, because when we pay we are paying not just for the dishes we eat, but also for the entire framework, including courteous service, a welcoming atmosphere, cleanliness, and clearly stated prices.

Companies (never forget, restaurants are companies, in business to sell a product) whose goal is to provide excellent service do their best to get their customers to express their dissatisfactions, because they know well that this negative feedback can help them improve their service, and will also show that they value their patrons. No patrons leads to bankruptcy, and therefore paying customers play a fundamental role in the survival and qualitative growth of a restaurant.

Here are several requirements I think any restaurant we visit, from the greatest to the most humble, must meet:

Hospitality: It is unthinkable that one enter a restaurant and not be greeted quickly. Even if the place is hopping, the waitperson should signal that he or she will be back as quickly as possible.

Cleanliness: No spots on the flatware, glasses, plates, or tablecloths, no dust, clean functioning restrooms, and if the room lacks windows it must have a ventilation system; the aromas of the kitchen should stay in the kitchen lest they settle in our clothes, and the waiters shouldn't be sweaty, because we know where drops of sweat can land...

Service: Be wary of those who don't provide menus with clearly marked prices but rather speak, forcing us to depend upon memory. Be wary also of those who ask us if we want a wine, and which, before we have decided what we will eat and had time to look at a wine list. The waiters should also be able to describe the dishes, because their names can be based on whimsy, or contain local terms unknown elsewhere.

Waiting Times: This varies, but the time between one course and the next must be reasonable. It's obvious that a complex dish made to order will take longer, but the waiter must warn the customer who orders it.

The Bill: The bill must be a receipt, not a scrawl on a piece of paper. It's our right, and we shouldn't fear being surcharged for asking for it. If we don't fight the custom of paying without receipts, we cannot complain about others evading taxes and thus forcing us to pay more.

Complaints: When we are asked if everything was satisfactory (assuming we are), think about the points listed above, and then answer. There's no need to be aggressive, rather it's important to be precise and say exactly what we found to be amiss. If the waiter (or chef or maitre, depending upon the situation) accepts the criticism as constructive, it's worth coming back. If he doesn't, becoming angry or trying to justify things that cannot be justified, we know we won't be returning unless the management changes. In the meantime, we'll have joined that 4% of the "indignados" that are so important for the restaurant world.

I'll close taking the opportunity to point out a site that provides a fine overview of the rules for good service:

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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