Everyone who regularly dines out has likely experienced less than satisfactory service. All one has to do is peruse Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews to explore issues in the restaurant industry today. Long waits for tables and food, out-of-sorts staff and occasional frustration is not uncommon.
Of course, there is more than one side to every story — and likely to every negative online review.
As the pandemic wanes, the public is flocking back to eateries with the reasonable expectations of having a pleasant repast and positive service. Hiring adequate and well-trained staff is a particular challenge these days.
A recent article in the Denver Gazette, “Where Are The Colorado Job Applicants,” gives insight into why so many open jobs have no applicants. Concerns about health and safety related to COVID are ongoing. Applicants with small children may have issues securing child care due to closures and reduced capacities of child care facilities. Unemployment benefits continue to provide a passable income. Hiring competition is fierce with large retailers in Colorado Springs who are able to offer bonuses and benefits. Laid-off service workers have moved on to other industries.
“Restaurants are thrilled to welcome diners back at full capacity but ask for patience as they navigate reopening and the current staffing crisis,” said Sonia Riggs, Colorado Restaurant Association president and CEO.
She added, “We ask that the dining public please be respectful and patient as restaurants are doing their best to accommodate an upswell in volume at a high standard with limited team members.”
Customers as well as staff and management are seeking a positive dining experience. Working together, and balancing expectations, can result in gratification when dining out.
It is human nature to want to feel connected to other people. Podcast host, author and lecturer Brené Brown, says, “I define connections as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued …” Isn’t this what we are looking for in the two-way relationship that is quickly formed between diner and server?
It takes little energy to smile, be respectful and be polite. Typically, people will light up when shown even a modicum of regard. So what are diners to do when service starts out on a high note, and gradually ebbs? If wait times for food stretch well beyond what is expected and tempers begin to flare, where can a balance be reached?
Keep in mind that many issues are beyond the control of waitstaff.
Colorado Springs resident Penny Bever, a former server, offers some helpful perspectives for waitstaff based on her experience: Make an effort to anticipate what customers might need before they ask for it; and expect events such as spills if kids are part of the dining group. As a server, Bever said, her goal was to make her customers happy, which would likely result in a win-win situation.
Walter Iser, owner of Walter’s Bistro, 146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., said he feels fortunate that he has negotiated his way through the challenges of COVID. His restaurant is thriving due to a loyal clientele.
Iser said he is currently short two or three staff, and because of this has had to take small shortcuts here and there. His message to the public: “Come out and support your local businesses. We are ready for people to come back, and we wouldn’t have made it without them!”
Here is some general advice for servers, customers and management:
Servers — Be friendly without being cloying. Ensure that you will be providing the best service that is within your control. Be informed about what you are serving including ingredients, and time for preparation. Make a little small talk, follow through, and check in on a regular basis. If you make a mistake, do what is possible to remedy the situation. yes you are busy and might have certain expectations for how customers will treat you. (You might want to consider whether working in a service industry is a good fit for your personality.
Customers — Temper your expectations to the place where you are dining. Assumptions for a more casual setting will be different than those in a fine dining establishment. Cleanliness, quality and plain good manners are always to be expected. If something with your meal goes awry, consider who is responsible (the server? the kitchen?) and make sure that person is informed of the situation. Give feedback (positive or negative) for the service you receive. Also, try to have some have compassion for an exceptionally busy server or restaurant. As comedian Dave Barry has said, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.”
Management — Try not to take on more than you can deliver. Filling tables without enough staff to provide adequate service will result in frustration all around. Support your staff while providing needed training in customer service skills. If customers complain directly to you, make sure you are honest, respectful and will deliver a satisfactory explanation and/or resolution.