Wednesday, 1 April 2015

When Service Slays Satisfaction! A Restaurant Case Study – Part 1

While in the Hotel business, each of us has the power to enchant, attract and bind guests into the brand fold; we also have the negative power to serve as killjoys, brand misRepresentatives and elements that turn guests away from us and towards Competition.

Be it the General Manager, the Sales and PR force, Front Office, Security even Horticulture and Engineering – every one of us can be a ‘Guest Magnet’ or a ‘Guest Repellent.’ But this holds significantly true and more impactful for those who are in the direct line of core hoteliering vis-à-vis the guests. Think housekeeping, F&B Service, Banquetting!

We, recently, went to dine at Spaghetti Kitchen, an Italian eatery founded by a resident Italian who used to lord over the Italian Specialty Restaurant for one of the leading hotel chains but later branched out to start his own franchise. The brain and the team behind the Restaurant seemed to have the right background and knowledge; hence we went with an expectation of having a great evening in all respects.

But that was not to be and we came away feeling disenchanted and cheated. However, they are not the solitary offenders. There are scores of restaurants – stand-alone and those in the confines of glitzy Five Stars – that kill guest satisfaction with their indifferent service and sub-standard offerings.

Taking the Spaghetti Kitchen (SK) experience as a case study, here’s how folks in the food and beverage field can ensure that guests never return to their hyped up but unsatisfactorily run places –

1.     Lukewarm Welcome

This particular branch of Spaghetti Kitchen is located in a grand mall that houses some great mid-segment and high street brands; which means that the restaurant would enjoy an eclectic guest mix spanning ages and exposure. It further means that the restaurant would have to be tuned into the guest expectation of such a varied audience, both menu wise and attitudinally. But everybody likes a cheerful welcome, whether it is at a fast food place or fine dining.

We walked into SK without the entrance greet and escort and looked around confusedly for a table. The staff was tardy and slow in coming to our rescue and leading us to our seats. The welcome greeting was conspicuous by its absence, the smiles were crooked and forced, no seats were pulled out and drawn in and the staff member left rather awkwardly after our ill placement.

When we go out dining, we want a pleasant time-out that we can cherish, recount to others and in today’s Instagrammed-times record as a happy one.

A faulty entry can set the wrong tone for the rest of the evening. We should have been warned yet we ignored the initial signs of our intuition and risked ourselves in for an evening that left a lot to be desired.

A memorable dining indulgence starts at the entrance of the restaurant and ends at the exit. Stellar or botched up service and erring attitudes can decide what part of the memory – good or bad - the experience rests in. Sadly, bad memories tend to linger on and resurface easily!

2.     Disinterested, nonchalant, ill-trained Wait Staff

When we go out to work – in any job or industry – we cannot afford to be uncaring, perfunctory and uninvolved. It is a moral binding that we bring ourselves fully to our positions regardless of internal irritants that exist or imagined issues that we wrestle with.

And when we are in the show business of providing experiential service to guests who come and spend their top dollar with us, such dismal disregard is completely inappropriate and unbecoming.

Once we were almost self-seated, we waited for our table server to arrive. When the wait time became uncomfortably prolonged by those extra minutes, we beckoned a soul in sight who looked at us, looked elsewhere and unceremoniously told another colleague to attend to us with a very uncharacteristic “you go.” The second uninterested bloke descended upon us with menus and enquired in an untrained voice about our preference for regular or mineral water. We usually do not drink water with our meals and this evening we were not in a mood for a glass or two of wine, so we told him to serve regular water to one person and take the glass away from the other setting, I had to ask the waiter to remove my tumbler at least three times before he grasped the request that seemed strange to him.

I find Mise-en-place stations and Micros centres to be such terrible breeding grounds for overly germ-y behaviour that I dread being seated anywhere close to those. Unfortunately, the layout of this restaurant was perhaps such that you were always at an arm’s length from those chit-chat coves. This evening, we had staff joking around, gossiping and doing anything but work at those hubs in a near empty restaurant. This behaviour pattern is such a dead giveaway for bad training, lack of interest in one’s job and lack of respect both for the Company and the guests.

One of the final blows to our disastrous evening at SK was by the 'better' steward who was entrusted to take care of our table after the smirking smart alec was unceremoniously removed. The somewhat better steward thrust the gadget in front of me for feedback, not knowing how to operate it himself and when asked to return to a previous page he said resignedly in Hindi "woh toh chale gaya. Ab nahin milega. (The page is gone. I cannot retrieve it)." I felt like leaving the same sentence and sentiment as our comment on the contraption!

Staff which is not trained to be brand proud and customer-oriented, Staff that lacks passion and commitment and is there to do just a job but fails even to do that, completely destroys the brand value and ruins the reputation of the Company for good.

3.     Attention to detail is amiss

We walked into Spaghetti Kitchen to get to a table that was not clean. Even a Fast Food restaurant with a packed house, pick-eat-go nature of service and fast turnaround cannot afford to seat guests at tables that have not been wiped; this place certainly had no excuse for that.

We were seated on a table that was not ready - missing napkins and sundry other things. Soiled mats is never a good way of showcasing a restaurant and you do make matters worse when simple additions of EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar are missing from the table of an Italian restaurant.

The lighting of the South-west Delhi branch is abysmally low making it difficult to read the menu. How can restaurants miss the basics while planning the structure? Hotels and restaurants have to have a 360 degree view of issues: – light – natural and artificial, temperature control, noise, location, pollution, traffic, accessibility amongst a host of other pertinent aspects.

My biggest woe, however, at any restaurant is their complete negligence of cleanliness – telling-tales in the tines of forks, stain marks on glassware, napkins with stubborn reminders of rather sharp gravy, staff uniforms that bear the stench of climate and callousness.

In the trade of Hoteliering, there is no space or scope for tardiness and lack of attention to the tiniest detail at all the multitudinous levels we function in. At least here, we must sweat the small stuff in order to present our best selves forward to the guests.

4.     The Heart of the Matter is grossly questionable

Much before experience, ambience, aspirational value and lifestyle statements, restaurants are about food. The hiring of specialty chefs, specialized ancillary team members such as the distinguished sommelier and the like, huge investments in F&B training, menu creation, planning and execution, sourcing of exotic and special ingredients, importing of fabulous flatware, appointing of renowned entertainers who are believed to stimulate the appetite and stir up the spirit by their pulsating music – all this is brought into a grand performance to present the main act, the act that defines the raison d’être of restaurateuring.

At places with ill-trained staff, the food and atmosphere can be a great saviour. Suffice it to say that at our ill-fated outing we were denied even that. The pizza was most ordinary. Domino's does far better. The little accoutrements were missing, the breads were far from fresh - yes all three, the Parmesan was floor dust massed-up in little balls and not freshly grated. And the tomato and basil spaghetti from the eponymous restaurant left a lot to be desired - the sauce was a thick, over stirred mass, overly salty and robbing the pasta of any taste or flavour, the spaghetti was not quite al dente. If you get your two basic dishes so wrong, how would you instil confidence in the customer to try out your trumped up menu that is heavy on the design value and comes out as a piece of literary fiction because your heart is not in its place.

Why do so many restaurants short-change on this and compromise their standards so appallingly? Why is good quality of food so hard to find with credible and creditable restaurants being only a handful?  

In Part two of this Case Study, let us review four more scores on which the restaurants fail so miserably and consistently.


Note - Picture  Courtesy - Google Images


  1. Usually, such brands think they will survive just because of the name, unfortunately the idea of getting the basics right is still something people take lightly