How not to run a restaurant

A personal look at recurring things that cause grief to customers in restaurants and eateries.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a training course participant about the things that leave us bitter and twisted when we go to restaurants or are eating out. Now I don’t suppose for one minute that either of us would be your normal customers — far from it — we both eat out more often than most people, and because we’re involved in hospitality management our view of things is likely to be more critical than normal.

First impressions are so important

My particular ‘What cheeses me off’ file starts with the visual approach to a restaurant, cafe or fast food business. Some owners and managers seem to only approach their businesses from the back door and don’t make a habit of regularly checking their customers’ view of the entrance to their business. Call me capricious, but dead flies on the window ledge or parched, half dead plants in the entrance don’t enhance my experience or give me confidence in the hygiene standards of the place, no matter how well run the rest of the business is.

First impressions start outside and last all the way to the table.

Hello . . . I'm here?

Service starts at the front door.

Then there’s the all important greeting, or lack of it. All too often I find myself standing in a foyer like a shag on a rock with staff darting all around me studiously avoiding eye contact, while everybody assumes the designated host or hostess (who always seems to be busy somewhere else) will take care of us. Hello! Am I invisible? I’m often tempted to wave a fifty in the air just to see who really has spotted us.

We move on then to the well known Aussie restaurant greeting: ‘Fa’two?’ or its full length version ‘Table fa’two? Pardon me, but I still like old fashioned stuff like ‘Good evening’ and ‘Hello’. I’m surprised some enterprising contemporary restaurateur in a frenzy of wage reduction hasn’t just painted numbers on the floor so you can assemble of the spot and the staff don’t have to ask or engage in any unnecessary communication. The host or hostess could just have ‘follow me’ written on the back of their uniform.

Let’s say you’ve survived all that, been seated and the waiter pops the question ‘Would you care for a drink?’ You call for the wine list which turns out to be standard fare — all in their infancy and quite expensive. After failing to spot anything interesting you shut your eyes and point, just to get the show on the road. A week later you are relating your disappointment to someone else and they exclaim ‘Why didn’t you ask for their reserve list, it’s fantastic, they’ve got ‘95 Bass Phillip Premium for $50 a bottle!’

Your menu is your prime selling tool. It must communicate clearly.

Then the menu is presented with a flourish and to your horror you note that it is printed in 10 point fancy type in unfamiliar, culinary language and the lighting is dim. You young folks won’t relate to this but anybody over the age of forty-five will know exactly what I’m getting to here. Now you’re faced with a serious dilemma — do you fumble around and put your reading glasses on and transform from Mr Smooth into Mr Magoo, or do you excuse yourself and sneak off to the toilet with the menu under your arm? Neither is a good look really.

Your menu has to communicate clearly - unlike this one.

At this point we’ll gloss over some minor tribulations — like deciphering a menu written by a sensitive artiste with grandiose ideas about the use of culinary language, or being subjected to the ultimate test of concentration and memory when the waiter recites a long list of specials at the table — we finally get some food. Unfortunately it is accompanied by a disinterested waiter with a one metre long pepper grinder that doesn’t work. Being so far away from the business end of the grinder they can’t see this, and after a few non-productive twists they pirouette and withdraw, leaving black pepper lovers like myself in a state of agitated anticipation.

Understand the customers needs as well as your own

That person sending a faulty wine back may know a lot more than you about wine.

We now settle down to enjoying our food and our guest. Sensing the perfect opportunity to spin a complex and sophisticated yarn that relies on perfect timing, we commence to tell a joke. Right at the vital pause before the punch line we are interrupted by the waiter who stops to enquire if we are enjoying our meal. The magic moment lost forever, we valiantly finish the story — and are met with the disinterested expression of someone who has moved on to other thoughts. We make mental note to halve the tip.

Our second bottle of wine arrives. It is corked. We politely call the waiter and explain that we would like a replacement bottle. The waiter responds: ‘Certainly sir,‘ but the body language says: ‘What would you bastards know about wine?’. A short time later we see the waiter, the barman and a kitchen hand all sampling the wine, looking our way and shrugging. The kitchen hand takes the bottle and two glasses into the kitchen. We further reduce the tip.

The end is just as important as the beginning

Finally we call for the bill; it arrives twenty minutes later and we place our credit card into the tray. It sits there for another ten minutes and then a waiter en route from another table to the kitchen sweeps it up without a word. A short time later they return. ‘I’m sorry sir, we don’t take American Express. Do you have anything else?’ We do actually, but it was declined for no discernable reason that afternoon at a service station and we’re not game to try again. A short, one kilometre walk to the ATM will do us good.

Finally we politely enquire: ‘Can you call us a taxi, please?’ ‘We could’, comes the response, ‘but you’d be better off hailing one out the front yourself. If we call them they take forever. There’s a taxi rank near the ATM.’

The last impression is as important as the first.

I hope you don’t think I’m exaggerating. I get all of these often enough to warrant comment, but thankfully not all at once . . .

To learn more about the topics discussed in this article please consider the following courses,

For documentation to support the management systems discussed in this article, please visit our resources website.

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