What is in this article?:
- Nancy Kruse, Bret Thorn address service levels at restaurants
- Bret Thorn's response
The menu trend watcher and NRN senior food editor discuss restaurant service, which some critics say is subpar.
In a monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. For this installment, they contemplate the state of front-of-the-house service at U.S. restaurants, which some critics say is often subpar.
Dining room service falls short of kitchen excellence
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, offers her view on dining room service levels at restaurants in the United States.
Do you think restaurant service levels will ever catch up with kitchen excellence, Bret? I’ve been concerned for a very long time that the good work being done by chefs and menu R&D professionals, especially at the chain level, is too often subverted by the dining room staff.
I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way, of course; research regularly shows that bad service is the biggest turnoff to diners. Other things being equal, they’re willing to forgive the occasional kitchen gaffe — but treat them badly once, and you’ve pretty much lost their business forever.
It’s not that the industry is unaware of the issue. After all, good culinary schools offer front-of-house training, even though it is only an adjunct to their primary mission. And a number of chains have been trying to reset their service systems by employing tactics like team service and tip sharing, though the jury is still out on whether these experiments will help or hinder service levels. I’ve always suspected that the whole tip thing is the crux of the issue — earning a really low hourly rate on the hope that diners will come across with tips generous enough to make a living wage is sort of like monetary Russian roulette, from my perspective.
The conventional restaurant wisdom has it that Americans just don’t have a service ethic and points to European service pros, who make their life’s work waiting tables in boîtes from Paris to Prague. I’m not so sure that the latter is invariably true, but there’s no arguing that we’ve failed to establish the attractiveness of restaurant service as a viable career path here.
The real sea change in the American dining scene over the past 25 years has been the recognition of the role, importance and influence of the. Chefs have become media celebrities, and there’s pride in working in the kitchen. Do you see a way to create that same kind of celebrity and pride in the dining room? Do you think that I’m just overreacting to the whole thing?