After more than twenty years in the restaurant business, I am really biased about service – because exemplary service built my business. It was a true competitive advantage that allowed me to dominate my competition for over two decades.

I frequently talk about my dining experiences around the country, and to be perfectly honest, I’m often disappointed. Being a restaurateur, it’s common to critique other competitors or other restaurants we visit… this is often a good thing as we can see a fresh perspective that we might be missing in our own restaurants… it gives us a benchmark, even new ideas we can implement to improve. When I’m disappointed, it’s rarely about the food – most often it’s the substandard service. 

It’s a real pain point of mine to be passionate about this business and to see so many operators, obviously neglecting the all-important staff training…

Training in my opinion is an absolute necessity and it should take place in every restaurant everyday.  These owners and managers put great focus into the food and ambiance, but are taking the service component for granted. It’s almost as if these operators feel that its enough that they’ve hired someone to approach the table, take orders and deliver the food, but in my book this is NOT ENOUGH its just the beginning…

Here’s an example:  This past week, I ate out in Sun Valley where I live two nights in a row… a Thursday and a Friday… Two completely different concepts with two different approaches to service.

The first restaurant is an institution, over 50 years old where Ernest Hemingway used to hold court.   The proprietor is iconic to the community and still greets his many regulars nightly with a warm handshake and kind word…  I dined with four friends and walking in, the ambiance immediately strikes you as warm and inviting – rustic heavy beams, dark woods, twinkling white lights, fine starched linens and comfortable seating.  The cuisine is “fine French”, the wine list extensive and well-selected and the prices high as one would expect!  I was expecting fine service to go with a fine meal.

Our waiter approached the table, did not introduce himself by name and simply said “Hello”.  

The host of our group asked for a wine suggestion… a nice Burgundy… this should have been simple, as there were many Burgundies on the list.  I’m sure this restaurant sells Burgundy all the time and the owner is actually from this region of France… this server opted to go ask the owner for his choice.  I found this a telling indicator of the service to come.  The server was well groomed, wearing the traditional black apron and white shirt.  He looked the part, but that was the extent of his service.  As the meal proceeded, “Order Taking” was the rule of the day… “Ready to Order” were his first words after bringing the wine!  The menu was extensive, but no suggestions were made – what was most popular, what was the speciality of the house, what were his suggestions. 

I also believe that the service staff should take diners on what I call the “Magical Journey” – It’s a special night out after all, and guests want to know everything that’s special… everything they will enjoy.  

I would expect that in this caliber of restaurant.  The service team should ask if this is a first visit and if so, describe the history of the place, what’s unique and then bring the experience to life through the food, ambiance and above all Service.  I felt as though we were one of the herd or just the “next table” – not important guests!  Our server disappeared for a lengthy absence, but eventually popped back over to ask if we needed anything.  The food was very nice of course, but the best part of the service was actually the water girl who kept our glasses filled every ten minutes or so and the owner shook our hands and thanked us on the way out.  The price per person $120 including tip, again per person for a table of 5 – nice bill!

Now the next night, my wife, three kids and I dined in a homestyle Italian restaurant in our town that we had not been to before.  Our children’s school friend’s parents own and operate this place. The owner courteously took our reservation over the phone and then personally greeted us at the door and seated us at our table. He thanked us for coming in and then introduced us to our server who was equally personable and eager to please.  This server answered our questions, made a recommendation or two and told us that our meals came with unlimited house salad and hot bread from the oven. The décor was nothing fancy, but certainly comfortable with the requisite photos of the Tuscan hills on the walls, candles and Chianti bottles. Service here was attentive, but never obtrusive. 

As soon as we had finished our starters, we were brought a fresh bowl of salad and basket of bread which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Our entrees were equally delicious and this server kept our wine glasses full which was also appreciated.  At the end of the meal, with kids, we of course had to order dessert and the many choices were appealing and difficult to decide on.  Our server helped us make the decision which was fantastic and to die for… an oreo and mocha ice cream pie with fudge crust, whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.  All in all a very enjoyable experience. The price – $108 total for a family of 5, including the tip.

I’m not suggesting that service is about the price, although some might think so.  

I expect to receive the same quality of service whether dining in a Denny’s or a 5-Star Restaurant.  The basic principle is the same… its all about hiring the best people with a true desire to serve the public and then developing them, training them, recognizing and rewarding them to build your business.  That’s what I Call “PARAMOUNT SERVICE”!