Food Scene: New Restaurants – Service Etiquette 101

On Sunday night I went to a hip, new restaurant, which had been open for less than a week close to the suburb I live in. Hip and new is not generally associated with my suburb or its surrounds, however trendy establishments seem to have finally filtered out to the outer suburbs from the CBD.

My companion and I ordered our food, and then waited for entrees whilst other patrons who had ordered after us received their plates of food. I asked the waitress to check on our meal, and she did not return. The second waitress whilst pleasant did not offer an apology, but merely said that the restaurant had been open for a week, even after I complained that we had waited more than 30 minutes for our meal and that patrons seated after us were all being served. In such a competitive market with new restaurants vying for patronage and regular customers, simple etiquette was not followed. Whilst the second waitress was friendly, a simple apology would mean the difference between being a returning customer or not.

Given that we were waiting for over 30 minutes, an offer to give us free drinks would have made the experience more acceptable, and made me more inclined to return to the restaurant. The dessert was really terrible (Roti cut into four with a few measly slices of grilled banana placed on top for $14.) I expressed my concerns to the waitress who said that desserts were not the chef’s strong point, but no mention was made of removing the item from the bill.

Trendy light fixtures and unique flower arrangements never make up for poor service. An apology, a smile and free drinks or food for the inconvenience to a patron go a long way.

I can appreciate that new establishments take time to find their feet, and mistakes can happen, but simple service etiquette doesn’t take huge effort and can enhance the customer’s experience. There’s no doubt that restaurants renowned for their food and service have greater longevity than those who miss out on simple service fundamentals.

In fairness to the new restaurant, I won’t reveal their identity, but if I do return, then all will be revealed. I’m not in a rush to go back given my experience and the fact that there are restaurants serving better food, and have superior service for which I would prefer to spend my money on.

A few weeks earlier I visited another new establishment in the burbs for a coffee and lunch, on recommendation from a couple of people who live near the area. I ordered a skinny latte and upon receiving it was asked how it was. I replied too milky. The waiter hesitated and then came back and asked if I would like another one with less milk in it, but the correct reply was to say I’ll make you another one given that I would like to think I know how coffee should taste, as do many Melbournians serious about their coffee. At the counter he then proceeded to say that he knew me from somewhere and touched my forearm. Although I am friendly by nature, I do not want a restauranteur touching me unless it’s someone who I know well or have a friendship with. In the meantime about three different people asked me if I wanted anything else, and how the food was. I actually lied and said the food was OK, because I didn’t want to be subjected to more inane comments.

I returned to this cafe to give the food another try upon a regular’s insistence, and will say that the second meal was better than the first, however two different staff members asked me if I wanted another coffee within the space of two minutes and luckily the partner was not there to touch my body and be sycophantic. I do think that you have to get things right the first time, to retain customers in such a competitive market. It astounds me that basic etiquette, service and training eludes some new cafes and restaurants, when there are so many cafes and restaurants out there that do a brilliant job, which they can learn from by example.

Here are some take home hints for restaurants out there:

1. Smile

2. Be courteous

3. Never ask a patron how their meal is unless you are prepared for the truth

4. Don’t feel up your customers

5. Apologise if a patron has been waiting too long for their food

6. Offer free drinks or food if you have inconvenienced your customer

7.If you admit your chef is crap at desserts take the bloody desserts off the menu

8. Never be over eager or insincere, customers can see through that crap

9. Be humble

10. Trendy fixtures do not mean you have the right to talk down to your customers

11. Serve good quality, seasonal produce in a timely manner

12. Be professional


(Photo of Seven Seeds Cafe, Carlton, an example of excellent service and food!)

About Anna-Maria Megalogenis 166 Articles
Anna-Maria has been writing for Street Press in Melbourne and Sydney for over 20 years. She is passionate about food, music and the arts, is an avid reader and used to hand write reviews for Beat Magazine at the Great Britain Hotel, where a patron once suggested she was ripping off articles in Rolling Stone magazine.

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