William Barnard of Oakland dines out at least twice a week and knows good service; he also knows when the wait staff is indifferent. A recent experience at a restaurant on the Peninsula made the evening memorable for all the wrong reasons.
"I was there with business associates and wanted to try a new restaurant that had been touted," he recalls. "The place was cavernous and the eight servers outnumbered the customers."
It was a warm night and the small group decided to sit outside. After a long wait the server appeared, filled their water glasses and disappeared. "We had to hunt for more water, bread and for the waiter so we could order," Barnard complains. "There were only two other customers in the restaurant that probably sat 150 people. We knew the servers were out there but we couldn’t see them. It was almost funny."
The service did not improve as the evening wore on.
"After the meal we ordered coffee and when it arrived sometime later I tasted something strange and sweet in the brew," he relates. "When I asked the server what it was she replied, ‘I don’t know what it is. It’s something.’"
Having to chase down the waiter for the bill was the icing on the cake.
Although the food was good, the quality of service soured the entire dining experience. It was a new restaurant and perhaps the staff was working out a few kinks, but Barnard says he likes to patronize a restaurant that will appreciate his business. "It is disappointing when the meal is superior but the service is not up to the same standards," he concludes. "That is what stands out in my memory."
Creating Loyal Customers
"Quality service is vital to the reputation of any eating establishment," declares Jordan Troverso with the California Restaurant Association. "It will make or break a business, and customers will not return if they don’t get good service."
Not that providing quality service is easy. Customers can be demanding and the menu can be complex and ever changing.
Is quality service learned or is it fundamental to a person’s nature? Troverso thinks it’s a little of both. "I think anyone can learn the basics of how to wait a table. But some people are naturally in tune with the customers and how to go beyond just fulfilling their needs. Those are the employees making the big tips."
Typically, servers earn minimum wage plus tips. Particularly hectic days can be costly, since a server is often too busy to provide the personalized attention to each customer that generates larger tips.
Experience providing good service anywhere can be transitioned into the restaurant industry. If someone worked as a telemarketer or a clerk, the same principles can relate to those in a wait staff or in any other position in a restaurant.
Jobs in Short Order
You can break into the restaurant business busing tables. Once you land the job, you can learn a lot about higher-level positions from the more experienced members of the staff. Savvy new hires watch the wait staff and, when an opening occurs, they are ready to move onto the front burner as a server.
The frantic pace of a popular eatery often leads to high turnover, so the waiting list for prime opportunities is rarely long. Key to landing the job will be your ability to convince the owner you can provide top-flight service.
"Service is definitely is one of the most important areas in a restaurant," Troverso points out. "In fact, the only other area that ranks higher is the quality of the food."
Gus Talasaz, owner of Chantilly, an upscale restaurant in Redwood City, believes "there are three things that are the most important in a restaurant. These are food, service and atmosphere, and if anything is lacking. you are in trouble."
Chantilly has all those features – from an award-winning chef and professional, knowledgeable wait staff, to vaulted ceilings and long-stemmed roses.
The entire restaurant staff gets together once a week to discuss how they can improve customer service. That includes the chef, kitchen staff, busboys and waiters.
The crew is briefed on new wine and menu selections as the chef describes each new dish. He says loving food really helps in this business because customers can sense a feel and excitement for the selections when they are being described.
"Hiring those with prior restaurant experience is much different," Talasaz reports. "I talk with the applicant about wines and food and check the references and background and appearance."
Even then, Talasaz keeps a close eye on the quality of service his wait staff provides. He remembers one waiter who was leaning on a customer’s chair as he described the evening specials. "In private, I asked him what he was doing?" he laughs. "I told him if he was that tired he should not come to work."
For more information on food service careers, check these online resources:
BayChef.com – Website of the California Culinary Academy, which offers culinary arts courses, restaurant management training and personal chef training. 625 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102; 800-739-9700.
Education-Resource.com/culinary.html – College search site with information on career opportunities, professional training, business school and distance-learning programs, and answers to career-related questions.
Escoffier.com – Website for chefs with news, articles, links, resources, education and scholarship information, and a career center that offers searches, resume posting and links to other culinary career sites.
FoodService.com – Industry website includes news, resources, links, equipment and a complete career center. Click on "Search Jobs" under the "Employment Center" heading.
FoodWork.com – Find jobs within your specified geographical area and specialty. Browse restaurant bios and position descriptions, and apply online. FoodWork sends applications directly to the restaurants.
Hcareers.com – The largest and most trafficked hospitality career site has more than 9000 jobs and all the trimmings.
HospitalityOnline.com – Job listings for hotels, restaurants, casinos, etc.
RestaurantRecruit.com – Job listings for restaurants.