Did you ever think you’d see the act of tipping by restaurant patrons receive tons of media coverage? Why did this happen? The answer: Changes in the minimum wage. Not only did it expose the income differential between the back of the house and the waitstaff, but also the possibility of various operators installing mandated tipping or raising their prices to reduce said differential.
And that, my friends, puts the spotlight on the quality of service that today’s customers are receiving. I would submit to you that whatever course of action you choose—even if you do nothing—consumers, on balance, are not happy with the level of service in restaurants and with the level of service everywhere. When it happens in a restaurant, unfortunately some don’t complain to the management. They simply don’t come back and, instead, tell 10 or 15 of their friends (or more, through social media), and that’s the worst complaint. It’s known as the “silent complaint.”
For example, Michael Sanson, editor-in-chief of RestaurantHospitality.com, recently wrote an editorial titled, “Why Is Service So Tragically Bad?” In it he described waiting 20 minutes before being approached by one of two waiters for four tables; he was also waiting for a friend who was running late, and then having the same problem getting his guest a drink. They finally went to a restaurant next door.
Days later, he encountered a similar situation where the bartenders suffer from the same malady: the inability to see customers. Wine glasses sat empty for 15 minutes, and the needed plates, napkins, and utensils had to be requested. Finally, after waiting 50 minutes for a whole fish to be served, he waved down the bartender and asked, “Can you check on my fish order, please?” The bartender replied, “What fish order?”
Why have I selected Michael’s examples? I did so for two reasons. First, he is a knowledgeable industry person, and both operations were average, full-service restaurants—not quick-service operations or coffee shops. These were the types of places where guests tip. Would you want to tip in either of those situations? I don’t think so.
While most surveys that deal with service involve patrons, a few years ago I came across one that dealt with over 500 operators and it was published by RestaurantOwner.com. The operators shared their collective viewpoints on the impact that customer service, both good and bad, had on their restaurant. Not surprisingly, just about every respondent strongly agreed that the level of customer service they give has a direct and significant impact on their overall success.
In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, the average respondent rated the importance at 9.5. Interestingly, though, when asked to rate the quality of customer service in their own restaurant, they rated an average of less than 7.5 out of 10.
When asked for the important factors as they relate to creating consistently high levels of customer service, this is how they responded: 84 percent, hiring the right people; 73 percent, treating employees well and providing a good workplace; 73 percent, constant and ongoing reinforcement of service standards; 70 percent, teaching employees basic social skills such as smiling, eye contact, positive attitude, and conversational skills; 61 percent, educating servers on the correlation between good service and higher tips; 41 percent, access to good customer service training resources.
I found the next part of this survey not only the most interesting but the most helpful, in that once you indentify the cause of a problem you are halfway on the road to solving it. For example: Reasons Cited for Poor Levels of Customer Service – Operators that rated their level of service at 7 or below, cited these reasons for not having better customer service: inadequate management … staff turnover … poor-quality labor force … transient staff … shortage of staff … uncooperative staff … not a priority, too busy running the business … seasonal, changing staff … failing to weed out “bad apples” … quality of employees … poor leadership … complacent employees.
While all of these reasons are valid, none are acceptable. I thought it was interesting that the first reason for not having a better customer service was INADEQUATE MANAGEMENT. It reminds me of an old expression: “The speed of the boss is usually the speed of the crew.”
One of the challenges of writing for a knowledgeable audience is that invariably they already know 75 to 80 percent of what you’re writing about; however, sometimes the comments might act as a reminder or wake-up call. That is my mission. I hope it’s helpful.
Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org