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Service- What makes it excellent? Merely good? Or bad?

My husband and I had dinner last night at one of our favorite restaurants. The service there has always been excellent, friendly, efficient, and competent. But last night, oh dear, bad bad bad clouds floated in our midst, and the place seemed to have gone southbound. I used to be a server, so I am more tolerant than most when I know the server is slammed or "in the weeds," but when the service is just plain lazy, stupid, and moronic, my feathers get ruffled.

The hostess sat us outdoors (without asking if that was okay). I was cold, and the patio was uneven, thus making the table and chairs wobbly. We POLITELY asked to be moved indoors because I was cold. So Dolly Dingle moved us to a table NEXT TO THE DOOR. The silverware was in a napkin "roll-up," which was a new presentation for this establishment. I find this extremely tacky and cheap. The server asked me to keep my fork when she cleared the appetizer plate. We asked her to bring appropriate wine choices for our entrees, which turned out to be a colossal mistake, as her choice was two glasses of (the same) very flat red wine.

I was so frustrated at the lack of finesse, simple refinement, and creativity throughout this whole meal, that I started thinking, well, what MAKES the dining experience? We love all levels of dining, from the hole in the wall local joint to white tablecloth. We savor them.

The most basic elements of Service:

The greeting. So simple, yet so often botched. A solid, confident, "Good Evening," is simple, easy to teach, and sets the tone for the guest.

The seating arrangement. There are good tables and crappy tables. If there is a good table available, the guest should be seated at that table. A cold, rickety, metal, uneven table with an uneven chair, on an uneven surface is annoying. The guest has the right to expect the dining experience will be enjoyable, not an annoyance. (Last night, I noticed several open tables in a warmer, more intimate section of the restaurant, they remained open for the duration of our meal).

The service. This silverware should be laid out in a proper fashion. The server should replace the silverware. If the guest requests the server make a choice, that server might want to ask them about their likes and dislikes.

I realize this is a bit of a rant.

What do the Chowhounds require for service to be considered excellent? What makes service bad?

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  1. Edit: "Hole" in the wall.

    1. WOW! did this favorite restaurant changed management? It wasn't just the server but also the hostess, the silverware, the flat wine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PBSF

        Good question, it's possible.

      2. Sometimes, in restaurants, "when it rains it pours." Your experience was horrendous. Now, perhaps the place thinks that their tottering tables on the patio are "charming" -- but tottering tables aren't professional.

        And that's the operative word: "professional." Your server used not one bit of common sense when you were seated near a door -- after informing them you're cold! Common sense is absent in restaurant personnel who're just doing it for a job.

        The best service happens when you're served by a professional who enjoys his/her career in the hospitality industry -- and who's backed-up by a staff that's equally as committed to their craft. Common sense has a lot to do with it.

        I tell my servers over and over to put themselves in the diners' place. I am still astounded when my people bring food to a table -- and the silverware's been cleared *and not replaced!* Also, in a perfect world, I'd make them all go without beverages for an entire shift - so they'd never again forget to fill that water glass.

        Ain't it nice when your experience at a restaurant is improved by a server who seems genuinely committed to making that experience perfect? Servers aren't paid much so these peak experiences are few and far between.

        Finally, in defense of the restaurant: a lot of local Health Departments, especially when there's outdoor dining and open doors/windows, require that restaurants do the silverware "wrap" thing. It's tacky, but it's sanitary.

        1. Kind of like good sex. A multitude of factors at play that only work if people don't seem to by trying too hard; and you know when its good without being able to pin down exactly why.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Ha! Your response just nailed it on the head......I mean.....oh wait, it's a food website.

            Seriously though, many moons ago, the first waiter who trained me said, "The best service is the service that is neither seen nor heard." Not to say the staff should behave like cowering minions, but rather "create" the dining experience for the guest, and recognize their movements; ie, the regulars who know their favorite server's daughter's birthday, or the single diner who sinks into a book, a great meal, and a glass of wine.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Great analogy. There's a spectrum with both, with the vast majority of experiences falling somewhere between awful and transcendental. Competent but boring, enthusiastic but clueless, or interesting but distracted seem to be the order of the day.

              It would be great if every encounter was memorable (in a good way). But given at least some interest in the proceedings, it's easy to overlook myriad subjective or objective transgressions. What's intolerable is when somebody clearly just doesn't care about what's going on.

            2. "Excellent" is when it all just happens without you really noticing that it has. Someone takes your order. Food arrives at a reasonable pace and is put in front of the correct person. Drinks are left where you can get hold of them. Crockery is cleared. More food comes and goes. Eventually someone puts a bill in front of you. You pay and say "goodbye". Perfect.

              "Bad" is pretty much the opposite. There are constant inordinate delays (not just down to the kitchen). Drinks are held by the servers so you have to ask for a top-up of the wine. Server has to ask "who is having the halibut". Server comes back to ask "is everything OK". You wait for ages for the bill after you've had coffee - even though you've asked three people for it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                You consider it bad service if the waiter checks that you're enjoying your dinner?

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  I think it is bad service if the waiter checks time and again if everything is ok. If it is obviously a business meeting, romantic dinner etc I do NOT want to be bugged every 5 minutes. I also can't stand 'are you still working on that' when it is obvious that we are still eating apart from that I can't stand that question.

                  1. re: smartie

                    There's a big difference between a discreet query of enjoyment and virtual harassment.