In a recent interview for Australia’s Good Food website, Heston Blumenthal—the world-renowned chef of The Fat Duck fame—said he believes that for restaurants today, service is more important than food.
The statement might not come as much of a surprise, given that Blumenthal oversees a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. Consumers shelling out £195 (wine not included) apiece for dinner rightfully expect a certain level of personal attention to go along with their salmon poached in a liquorice gel.
But his comments, offered up in a conversation with several other of the world’s most highly regarded chefs, bear truth for a wide range of restaurants, I think. “If front-of-house is arrogant and the customer gets that bitter taste, it doesn’t matter what you put in the food, it’s bitter,” Blumenthal said. In contrast, he suggested, “If the service is human, then, my God, people will forgive you.”
As a consumer, I know I’m more likely to give a second chance to an establishment—be it a chain coffee shop or a chef-driven hot spot—where I wasn’t wowed by my menu selections the first time around but where staff members were friendly, attentive and helpful than I am to one where my service expectations weren’t met.
In our “now, now, NOW” society, it’s easy for restaurant operators, like managers of other businesses, to sacrifice a great deal on the altar of efficiency. It’s why “thanks-have-a-good-day” gets dashed off in the way that it does by restaurant counter associates trying to get through a queue of hurried lunch-goers. To some degree, in some situations, consumers accept that.
But among all businesses with which they interact regularly—often several times a week—restaurants stand out because consumers use them by choice, and generally to treat themselves or to make something about their day a little easier. No one goes to the bank because he or she wants to, or expects a particularly pleasant experience at the post office. Restaurants, on the other hand—consumers use restaurants as a break. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, they go into a restaurant expecting to feel a little better when they leave than they did when they entered. And the memory of the tone of their interaction with staff members is as likely to linger as is the memory of what they ordered. Restaurant operators that put this idea at the forefront for their staff stand poised to earn the trust, and the repeat business, of their customers. And in an extremely competitive foodservice landscape, that’s absolutely invaluable.