Eulogy for the death of customer service

September 22, 2015


Annie Walchuk
Zenith News

Raising two kids on a tight budget does not allow us to splurge on dining out frequently. We are also chefs ourselves, who really like to cook at home, so going out is a rare treat and one thing we look for is to be, at the very least, respected.

But customer service seems to be a lost art. Last weekend, our family was in Minneapolis taking our first-born daughter to her first year of college. We stayed at the historic Normandy Hotel, with a storied (and supposedly amazing) restaurant.

We went there for a farewell breakfast and, granted, we entered the restaurant half an hour before breakfast was over. We were greeted coldly with, “Four?” Once seated, our waitress greeted us with, “Have you decided?” What ever happened to “Good morning”?

We could tell that it was near the end of this waitress’ shift and she just wanted us to eat and get out. Each time she visited our table, she grabbed plates, never asking how our food was or if we needed anything else. I had to hover over my plate to keep her from taking it as I ate.

At the end of our meal, the ticket was presented—just dropped—and once again we were not asked if there was anything else we would like. I would have ordered one more mimosa if given the chance.

As we were getting up to leave we heard her loudly declare, “We are done with breakfast!”

At $15 for two eggs, I would like a little more effort.
I am picking on this establishment because it is fresh in my mind, but this is a trend everywhere. Wait staff are not afraid to let you see that they are irritated and angry, as though you have committed some sin against them by sitting in their section.

We recently encountered a bartender who is curt and impatient, with a talent for making people feel unwelcome. He is considered this establishment’s top bartender. Who hires people like this?

First, say hello to your guests and make them feel welcome. Make them feel like you are happy to see them even if you are not. Take care of them even if you are having a bad day. Maybe they are having a bad day, too.

A server’s job is to give patrons the best experience possible. A great server can compensate for poor food and make great food taste even better. A server’s section of the restaurant is his or her stage and you are onstage until the end of the show.

Second, never rush your customers through their meal. They are there to relax, enjoy themselves, and spend money that they may have been saving for months for this one night out. Given the opportunity, they might order more wine, food, or even dessert.

Now, service is a two-way street and patrons have responsibilities as well. It can be difficult to be a great server if customers are demanding, unforgiving, or rude.

First, when greeted by your server, say hello. If a server says, “Hello, how are you?” don’t respond with, “I’d like two chardonnays.”

Second, there are many legitimate food needs. But some are created just to see how far a restaurant will go to appease the individual. If you have a food sensitivity—especially an unusual one—be patient while the restaurant tries to accommodate your needs.

Don’t give your server a list of 20 items or more and say, “I can’t have any of this. Make me something.” I saw this happen at New Scenic Café, where food is an art that takes time to assemble. Then the Café did a spectacular job of putting together a masterpiece for this individual, only to be snubbed because it took a little time.  

Third, turn off digital devices until you have ordered. It is uncomfortable for a server to approach a table while people are on a cell phone, texting, playing games, etc.

Many local establishments excel in customer service. Expect the best and if they don’t deliver, let them know. Be a kind, respectful, and patient customer. Sometimes service is slow for reasons beyond anybody’s control.

Annie Walchuk is a born and raised Duluthian whose thirst for adventure led her to writing. She is a cook and baker, who spent over 20 years as a restaurateur, including a stint at the Northern Grounds Café in Ely. She also oversaw operations for a catering company and bistro on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

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