Chef John Malik

a writer trapped in a cook's body

A Side of Hospitality

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The go to model in today’s restaurant business typically features counter service, no matter how grand their culinary aspirations.

The restaurant industry has never been static and in the last five to ten years it’s really had an overhaul. I’d guess it’s because so many young cooks watched employers close their doors during the years immediately following the crash and recesssion of late 2008. When I was a young culinary apprentice, I, and most of my friends, aspired to own white tablecloth brasseries and cafes with a professional waitstaff in crisp black and white, a leather-bound wine list, and an occasional special of Dover sole with capers and beurre noisette. However, that model comes fraught with challenges. There’s pricey real estate, a large staff, that huge wine list, and the overhead that comes from lots of bricks and mortar. However, in that labor model, one’s waitstaff can make a significant amount of money. Remember how it was done? A polished waiter or waitress could size up your party of four, ascertain if you were in the mood for a quick meal or a leisurely dinner with multiple courses, cocktails, and matching wines, make sure you understand carpaccio is raw, and recommend the perfect dessert all while also taking care of three other tables. A great server can make an average meal into a memorable one. Pardon me while I sigh over my misspent youth and what the restaurant business once was.

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Now the business model of success for an independent restaurant leans towards the lean. One orders from a chalkboard, fetches their own drinks, pays immediately and right away we’re asked for a tip. At the risk of sounding like Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man (yeah I’m at least 50), I don’t tip until I’ve actually received hospitality.

I suddenly feel defensive and yet, why? Why do I even need to defend this position? Heck for years the only folks that used this manner of table service were the fast food outlets and the old school BBQ joints. Sadly in my experience I’ve been shown these suggested tip percentages before anyone has even bothered to smile at me, welcome me into their business, or tell me about the daily special.

Recently we dined at a very well known cafe in the Southeast. We read the chalkboard, ordered our food and beverages, were handed a number on a metal pole, sat ourselves, fetched our own tableware and when we were finished I headed to the men’s room and found this sign reminding me to bus my table according to their directions.

Jeez…

It’s decision time for restaurateurs because the restaurant business is once again going through a period of reconciliation and guess where it’s growing by leaps and bounds? Delivery! More and more diners are choosing to stay at home and have dinner brought to them and they’re utilizing meal delvery services such as Bite Squad, Grub Hub, or Uber Eats. These services take a big bite out of an operator’s bottom line, starting at 15% per order, and that can have a significant impact on profit margin, and these services are only projected to grow over the next few years. Why, though? Why are more people deciding to eat at home and not in YOUR restaurant?

Well…shall we start with hospitality, or the lack of it?

What happens when someone walks into your establishment? Does one of your team smile at them immediately? Are they made to feel welcome? Are they made to feel special? Are they asked specific questions such as “Is your steak cooked the way you prefer? How’s that beer, is it everything I promised?”

Or are they met with zero eye contact, a sullen “next?” and paper signs reminding them to drop their dirty glass in one bus tub and their tableware in another?

There’s an art form to hospitality and the less it gets practiced, the less diners want to be diners and instead will choose to be eaters. They’ll order online, have their food delivered, and eat in their own home because they don’t feel special or important in your dining room. Heck if we’re carrying our own food around, fetching our own drinks, and cleaning up after ourselves, what’s the point of driving to your restaurant?

And if your restaurant, cafe, brasserie, or food truck is looking for an edge in this ultra-competitive business or needs to get its mojo back, perhaps I can help. Give me a call and we’ll talk, I can’t help everyone but maybe I can help you.

Author: ChefJohn

Cook without tattoo, writer without a pen

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