Friday, June 22, 2012
Last week I had dinner two nights in a row at a well-known restaurant in a city I was visiting. Both evenings were quite pleasurable as I was dining with old friends. However, I left dinner the first night a bit disappointed with the restaurant, while the second night I left reasonably content. Upon reflection, the disparate feelings had nothing to do with the food but with the wait staff. On both evenings, the wait person had introduced him or herself, offered drinks, and pushed specials (or food treatments) without disclosing their prices-practices with which I am quite familiar. However, while the waiter on the first night often interrupted our conversation, whether by interjecting or standing tableside until we stopped talking, the waitress the second night quickly grasped that we wanted some time to ourselves and uninterrupted conversation. She told us how to signal when we wanted additional service and left us to our devices.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal (Business: February 22, 2012), the wait-staff’s ability to “read” a table of diners correctly takes training. Restaurants are interested in providing superior, personalized service (as the food or décor in different restaurants can be quite similar) but people and the personal experience cannot be replicated. With the number of diners at restaurants expected to only grow about 1% over the next several years, restaurants at all price points are increasingly competing not just on food but on service as well. Inexperienced wait-staff can expect one- or even two-week long training sessions that emphasize not only how to recite food items, but how to make eye contact, decide to whom to give the dessert menu (usually the mother if children are involved), and determine who wants fast (early diners dressed quite well) or slower (diners that actively engage the wait-staff) service. Wait-staff are also trained to use situational selling of alcohol, appetizers, desserts, or other food products based on the dynamic of the table rather than follow uniform scripts.
When to bring the check to the table seems to be the most difficult task for wait staff-so difficult that at least one restaurant chain has developed check holders that signal when the diner wants the bill and when the bill has been settled. As for me, I left the restaurant the second night quite happy that I had been able to share a lovely dinner with friends. The waitress had been unobtrusive but quite responsive, and I showed my appreciation by leaving a large tip.
Noted by WVR, MD
*This filler excerpt can be found in the June 2012 Pediatrics print journal p. 1124, or via online here.
Posted by Dr. Lewis R. First at 12:01 AM