Why service with a smile just isn’t enough

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th October 2014
So much time is spent on getting the food right in a restaurant that it’s easy to forget how important a role the front of house staff have in its success. We take a closer look at this vital role as part of this weeks National Customer Service Week, an event which seems especially important considering the Institute of Customer Service have found UK customer satisfaction has fallen to its lowest point since 2011. Will-Smith-2“Sadly the younger generation probably do not experience enough in the way of great hospitality and I don't think they're learning about it before they join the industry,” explained Will Smith, co-owner of Mayfair’s Wild Honey restaurant. “They think it's all about service but it is so much more than that.” Will has been managing various restaurants in London with his business partner Anthony Demetre since 1998, including the Michelin star-winning Arbutus. Before this he was a hotel manager at places such as The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. A recent report by People’s 1st agrees with him, with 53% of businesses surveyed believing their employees lack vital customer skills, and 66% of vacancies being hard to fill because of this. “It is always difficult to fill vacancies and find people with 'hospitality' intelligence. Sadly our industry attracts too many who 'just want a job' or 'want to improve their English’,” said Will. He also believes that young people, new to the industry are eager to climb the career ladder without first learning the basics. He said: “Too many young people seem to want to be promoted and become managers too soon and at too early an age, without enough life experience, wrongly stepping away from what we are all about: serving guests, meeting our clientele and looking after people”. So what criteria is required in successful hospitality staff? Alan Hill, Director of Food and Beveragesalan2_250x375 at the Gleneagles hotel, told us what he looks for. “You need a strong platform of trained, skilled team players with the business who are not transient and are able to showcase and share their skills,” he said. Will added: “The ability to anticipate, read, predict, smile, and speak intelligently is everything.” Another statistic from People’s 1st suggests training is lacking, with 66% having trained staff in the past 12 months, but 41% finding that performance had not improved. Perhaps it’s time to rethink training. Alan Hill argues for a change. He said: “I would like to suggest customer service is redefined to ‘customer experiences’. At Gleneagles it is not about selling customers a service.” Will agrees and said: “I feel the term ‘customer service skills’ is rather a supermarket expression and doesn’t reflect the tone we want to set. Customer service is something you get in a department store, a shopping centre, a bank. Hospitality is what you get in a restaurant.” The second thing all three managers we spoke to suggest is that training shouldn’t simply be a few months at the beginning of the year. Stephanie Little, manager of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, says that ‘training is always ongoing and that they share all the customer feedback with the whole team’. Steph littleShe added: "We try to create an unpretentious and happy environment where people can forget anything happening outside and create their own little bubble while they’re at the restaurant. It’s all about being relaxed and having an amazing experience, taking the stuffiness away but keeping the professionalism. For me, this is almost a step up from the traditional way it used to be in Michelin star restaurants." Alan Hill takes this a step further by having his staff experience being a guest and comment on how they felt. Will Smith says he gets constant feedback from guests, both verbally and from online review websites and blogs. Martin-Christian Kent, Executive Director of People’s 1st, describes employers investing money in training and not getting the returns they like as a ‘worrying trend’, but all three managers we spoke to clearly indicate that the answer to improving skills is not to send staff on a course, but integrate training into day-to-day business practice. Furthermore, Will’s response shows the role of technology in delivering customer service in a modern restaurant. The internet is revolutionising the way customers make decisions, such as which restaurant to go to, and how they share feedback on their experiences. customer service final Martin said: “I think there’s an increasing recognition that customer service extends beyond the traditional ‘front of house’ area.” He continued: “Almost everyone in hospitality has probably seen at least one case of someone either complimenting or – more commonly – complaining about customer service on social media like Facebook or Twitter by now.” Will recognises this and said: “We have to embrace the technology - it isn't going to go away”. However, he added: “If we are truly attentive to our guests we should know when we have a problem before the guest has departed and be able to deal with this in a confident manner to avoid negative feedback”. By Stuart Armstrong  
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th October 2014

Why service with a smile just isn’t enough