Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let's talk service

About a year ago we were visiting Carcassonne, France. A fabulous place in itself almost perfectly preserved medieval walled fortress town; where the Knights Templars were. Cool as it was, the best part was below in the real town where the current folk live and work. 

There in the town square where restaurants share space with their colorful branded tables and matching chairs was "Chez Felix" a family run place as most bars,bistros and restaurants are in France. This is what the American bistro scene is so desperately trying to mimic through the vision of how our corporate homogenizing system is  churning them out in malls across the country.

Where we go wrong and they get right is what this is all about...SERVICE.. intimate, professional, smooth. 

We sat at a table outside and away from the main bar among 20 other tables that were all served by one man, the one in this picture. Inside the bar tended by the owner, the kitchen by his wife and daughter and one more waiter an older man to care for the inside tables. Watching this operation and we did more than one day or night as well, was like watching a well rehearsed dance troupe onstage. They weren't running frantic, forgetting orders or parts of, didn't need a red flag waving to catch their attention. They weren't wearing some silly ass outfit with a colorful hat nor bringing us a balloon with Chez Felix on it. He didn't introduce himself with a big plastered grin , nor did he sit down next to me acting like my old  buddy as he took my order. He didn't engage me in some dopey ass conversation with that marketing approach of  " sell your personality" to make people feel the " XYZ Bistro" experience. He didn't try to entertain us every time he walked by. He wasn't there to make us like him.He was there to make us like the place we came to by offering us the most efficient,best and professional service and not getting in our way of enjoying each other.  

When we got the food, which over a few days we had it all, it was ace one as though my mother cooked it just for me and recently as well, not pre-made by a crew of zombies who on their own can't cut butter and slapped together by recent high school grads who were just trained in the kitchen one month ago and presto you're a chef. And when we finished, we sat there as long as we wished until we wanted something else,while all the time he had his attention on every table he had as he walked by, ready to serve whatever we wanted, a cognac,a coffee...he didn't asked every 2 minutes if we were done...which leads me to the real difference in service.

Good service is not coming over every time I put my hand down to rest and ask " May I take this away?" ...NO!!!  go away and let me swallow... nor is it asking me every two minutes " Can I get you something else?...nor throwing down the bill as I drink my coffee or sip a drink..

NEVER MIND WIPING THE TABLE in between...rare here... 

Price...did someone mention that as a quality comparison?  well the average check there was $20-25 with a glass of local wine and full meal.. 

Next time you are out in one of our bistros..count the their actions..listen to their banter.. and ask yourself, why isn't there a waiter training course, that teaches sensitivity of patrons, not amusement, attention with a relaxed, not hustle mode. Make servers professional ones, invest in them for a better return and not making a better return by saving a few bucks on that end. If you have a young staff, great but be demanding on them and have one pro-server play watchdog.. 

The dance between the front of the house and the back of the house is delicate, and for those of us who sit in the middle, we can pass off " I think I ordered the wrong thing" easier than, " the service sucks." 

A bistro/cafe shouldn't be just a burger joint with the fastest service around.  It should be place to go, when you have nothing in mind, just want to lay back, eat and talk to the ones at your table not the ones around it. 

Food?  well we can get to that another time...