Table Matters

Is Local Restaurant Service on the Decline?

Chef Judi wonders if we all need to adjust to a new standard of hospitality when dining out.

By Judi Gallagher February 16, 2016

Table setting at the canadian museum of rail travel  2014 09 01 12.02.36 by hey fritters  jo94cj

As more and more restaurants open in our region, it seems like the pool of competent servers is growing smaller and smaller. 

Many of our area's long-standing restaurants seem, for the most part, to be cocooned by servers who are devoted to their craft and possess a strong sense of loyalty to their restaurants.

But more and more, I'm sensing that there's a "new normal" in the hospitality industry that diners might have to get used to.

Recently, a friend told me a story about a serving saying, “Hey, I'm new here and don’t know what to do yet" in response to being reminded several times about a need for clean silverware and for dirty dishes to be removed. I myself called a new casual restaurant just this afternoon and the hostess said, “Look online for menu questions, we are busy,” then hung up. Somehow this doesn’t say "service" to me!

Last week, when we gave an educated culinary suggestion to a fairly new restaurant, the manager kindly took note. I just wanted him to know that if they patted the sautéed mushrooms and fresh mozzarella cheese with a paper towel before adding them to our pizza, the crust would not be soggy and go limp--something my dining companion found disturbing. But then the owner came over and bragged about having served 250 pizzas a day in another city. Could he possibly have been suggesting that no feedback was needed? We really want these places to succeed, but that attitude comes from the top.

Perhaps the oddest service we received recently was at another new restaurant, when the server began to tell us the daily specials, then stopped abruptly to complain that another server was taking her table. Later, at the same restaurant, when we were asked by the manager what we thought and suggested that there was no sign of any truffle in the truffle pasta, she responded, “Yeah, they are still pretty inconsistent but you can’t tell the chef that.”

While there are plenty of great servers and hosts in Sarasota-Manatee, it is the responsibility of restaurant ownership, via managerial teams, to invest in detailed training and formative supervision. 

In the meantime, here are some basic principles of service:

Do not say “What do we want for dinner?” I did not ask our server to join us.

Please, fill my water glass--I really am thirsty. This is South Florida, after all.

Please, always let the customer know the price of daily specials. Sticker shock after the meal will ruin the whole experience.

And to all the many servers who do smile, bring a steak knife when requested, and treat all guests with courtesy and warmth--job well done, you are professionals!

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