Thursday, April 24, 2008

Open Thread: Defining Great Service

Diners, this has happened to all of us, right? You arrive for your reservation at a not unreasonably early hour but staff is having their pre-service meeting. Loud laughter, shrieks, and exclamations all emanate from the general direction of the kitchen and service area making you feel a little like you've arrived at someone's house too early for supper. In a fine dining environment, it's unprofessional, something management should control but too often doesn't even notice. (When this happened to me last night as I met a colleague for cocktails, it was additionally disconcerting how one-by-one every server and a few cooks popped out from behind a wall to observe me, the lone customer in the bar.)

Service seems to be the sort of thing that we only notice when it's off. It's something that only seems apparent when meals and servers are late, rude, too friendly, too chatty, inattentive, or worse. But what defines great service? What should a restaurant and servers strive for? Is it an attitude more so than specific mistakes? Is it a style? Is it the idea that professional servers are friendly but not intrusive? Efficient but not fawning? Perceptive? And where does perfect service come from? Great training? A top-down management attitude? What is the essence -- and more importantly -- who in town is doing the best job? Who has consistently the best service in Indianapolis and why?


Anonymous said...

off the thread and discouraging news: last night while dining at the Glass Chimney we learned the sale is off.

Stacy said...

I'm a big service snob...I notice if the service is good OR bad. If bad service crosses a certain be fair, where that is could certainly just depend on my own mood...I talk to management.
And what defines good service is definitely a grey area. Friendly but not too friendly, you're here to serve me. Attentive but not in my face all the time. We as customers should never know you are having a bad day or hear your personal excuses. Example: my husband and I almost left Applebee's (I know...not exactly fine dining) because we sat for 5 minutes without anyone addressing us, not a "someone will be with you shortly", "have you been taken care of", or "can I get you something to drink". Someone finally took notice of the looks beginning to creep into our faces and went and found the guy. He did say "sorry about the wait but I just had a small issue in the kitchen blah, blah, blah". No. Just the 'sorry about the wait'...I don't want to hear about anything else. Why? Because it's not MY problem, but you're starting to make it my problem.
Sorry...went off a little there.
As far as 'best service', well, when I hear that I can't help but think of (I know it's not local) Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA. Very fancy but not snooty. Everyone there made you feel like you were important but not in a snobby sort of way. Friendly, efficient, VERY proper wine, food, and silver service. If you're ever in wine country, it is so worth it.
Locally, I wish I could say I've been to more fine dining...but alas. However, the Oceanaire has certainly made an impression on me for having wonderful service.

(Sorry this got a bit chatty!)

Anonymous said...

I have tenancy to notice service to notice service both good and bad. I went to Tsuki in Chicago last weekend and the service was as wonderful as the fresh sea urchin. They were quick, quiet and helpful. Frankly, I can't think of a place in Indy where the service has been superlative in a positive manner. When thinking outside Indy, Monarch in St. Louis and Green Zebra in Chicago jump out.

zcalgal said...

As a long-time former server I always aimed for three things:
1)anticipate a customers needs. I used to love it when a customer would ask me for something and I already had it in my hand for him/her.
2)know your product! One of my biggest pet peeves? Asking a server for a menu recommendation only to be told, "Oh, I'm a vegetarian I don't eat any of this stuff." Or, "I don't drink beer so I don't know what any of these microbrews taste like." I DON'T CARE! You should still know based on what you've read about YOUR menu or how the item looks as you serve the item or comments you have received from other customers who have tried the item. A simple, "Oh, I heartily recommend item A, everyone who tries it loves it!" will answer my question!
3) adapt yourself to your table. Some people want to become your best friends, others don't even want to know you're there. It's not that hard to read in the first greeting of the table what kind of experience they are looking for and then give them what they want!
Some of my best service experiences so far? Mo's a Place for Steak has a couple of standouts. Actually when just my husband and I go out we like to sit at the bar to eat. Because we eat early (like embarrasingly early) the bar isn't crowded and bartenders tend to give great service and be full of interesting tidbits about all kinds of things (we love to be entertained!). 14 West, Palomino, Harry and Izzy's all have some great bartenders.
Last point - the manager/owner I think sets the tone for service. Friendly, welcoming and aware of what's going on all over the restaurant is key.
Sorry so rambling. This is something I feel very strongly about having done it for so long.

Donald said...

I came here to say what zcalgal said ;) With few exceptions, it has to start at the top. If great service is expected by owners/management you will most likely get it because bad servers won't last long.

What constitutes great service? Honestly, I think for me it's one of those things that's hard to quantify but I know it when I see it. Going above and beyond what I expect is a start (and I think my expectations are reasonable and based on the venue).

Who consistently has great service? Mo's and Oceanaire never let me down. The service at Fleming's is spotty, but we've had some great experiences there like the time the server threw out the prime rib scraps we asked to be put in a doggy-bag (yes, really for our dog). That was bad, obviously. But while sitting at the bar for after dinner drinks we told the bartender about it. He walked back to the kitchen and came back with the entire end of a prime rib for us to take to our dogs. THAT keeps us going back to see him.