Aug. 01, 2012 - Issue #876: The Art Of Serving
The Art Of Serving
More than taking orders: servers on the ups and downs of the job
The fast-paced, sometimes borderline chaotic atmosphere can be too much for some to handle, but those who stick with it and make serving a lifelong career are in it because they love it, particularly when it comes to public interaction and transforming a meal out into a memorable experience for their guests.
"To me, it's not about service, it's about hospitality," says Ed Cordova, a server at Lux, the flagship of the Century Hospitality Group, who has been in the industry for 30 years. "You can get service from a bank machine, but you need a real person to get hospitality. Service is the foundation of your section. The way I look at it is service is making sure cutlery's there, glasses are polished, taking drink orders, bringing the food out, but hospitality is actually remembering names, favourite drinks, talking about things."
Andrea Olson, who owns the Red Ox Inn with her husband and has been in the industry for 23 years, says it comes down to becoming a host for guests and servers taking ownership of the restaurant as if they were hosting a dinner party at their own home. She adds that top-notch food is definitely important, but if a restaurant has terrible service, it's unlikely a customer will return.
"They go hand-in-hand," adds Red Ox Inn server Sandy Morton, who has been in the industry for 21 years and has become a crowd favourite at the restaurant for his attentiveness, personality and knowledge of the menu. "There's only so much people as potential customers will take, and they'll only take bad service probably twice and they're done."
Cordova simply point out that food is food, but people are looking for the whole package. If customers have an experience where the food does not meet their expectations, but the service has been impeccable and everything has been done to remedy the situation, they leave with a more positive outlook on the establishment.
Both servers state that product knowledge is key to feeling confident in one's ability as a server, and will make guests feel like they are in much better hands, particularly when they are at fine dining establishments where prices are steep. This knowledge also reflects a sense of pride and ownership servers take towards their restaurant. From correct verbage to being able to offer suggestions for wine pairings and knowing the difference between cuts of steak, servers need to be able to answer any question a guest can throw their way.
"We have confidence in our product that we're putting out. Believe in what you're selling," says Lux co-manager Jill Domes, who has been serving for 12 years and has stuck with it because of the ever-changing atmosphere and her love of working with the public.
A key element in ensuring guests have a positive dining experience is the server's ability to read their tables and maintain a sense of intuition towards their guests' needs.
"In this industry, you have to have a really good sense of what your table wants from you. There's some tables that want you to be a little more personable with them and really make it their night and dote a little bit, and then there's tables that don't," Domes says. "It's about being able to find the middle ground and make them happy no matter what style it tends to be."
"It's really easy to please people when you have the tools, the knowledge," Olson notes, adding that her team works hard to tailor the experience to each guest and create a rapport with them that makes them feel welcome and comfortable.
The same holds true at neighbourhood pubs. It's a different kind of experience and different demographic, but the experience is just as important nonetheless. The same expectations of staff are prevalent.
"I think people assume that servers are just these pretty, smiling faces. You have to be people smart, you have to be money smart, you have to know how to read different situations." says Marie Golonka, a server at O'Byrne's Irish Pub, who has been in the industry for 10 years, but just started with the pub in April.
O'Byrne's manager Dean Mergel adds that he expects servers to be attentive, but know when to back off. This is all part of the personality he looks for when hiring new staff.
"If somebody comes in and just wants to drop off a resume and there's no interaction, that shows me, that's your first impression. That's your initial OKhow are they going to interact with the guests that come to your establishment," he notes.
However, attentiveness does not mean a server is simply looking for a big tip. Some do, but the pros maintain that the most important thing is customer satisfaction, not the money.
"I'm not thinking about that every second of what I do. I'm not saying, 'How high can I jump for you?' because that's what I'm doing. I'm doing it because I want you to enjoy yourself," says Lux lounge server Serena Fretwell, who has been in the industry for a decade. "I do take it personally when people felt they haven't had good service."
"I find it really uncomfortable when people as me questions like, 'How much should I tip you?'" Golonka adds, noting the question has come up more than once. "People ask that and then they get quite shocked when they see how uncomfortable it is for us. It's not about that. It's about people leaving with a positive experience."
Of course, experiences don't end on a high note 100 percent of a time, and servers need to be equipped with the know-how to salvage a less-than-ideal situation. In an era of easily accessible technology, customers have now become critics through websites such as Urbanspoon, and there are instances where the server may not have been aware of an issue that could have been remedied.
"A lot of times people are uncomfortable complaining about the food, or if it's not what they expected, because nobody wants to be that person who sends it back—well, most everyone doesn't want to be that person," Golonka says, adding social media keeps her on her toes, because the last thing a server wants is to see their name pop up in a negative review. When things do take a turn for the worse, she says it's important to remember the customer is always right.
Olson says she never wants a customer to leave feeling that they have not had good service and would rather they tell her upfront than go home and let it out via the Internet.
"We care about it. We want people to know if something's not OK, that's not OK with any of us," she notes. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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