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Service - who cares?

I recently posted a thread about reverse recommendations and loved the responses. So now I'm following it up with another "complaint" about friend's recommendations. Oddly, same friends are the basis for this thread.

I know a couple of people who when I ask them about their meal, the first thing they tell me about is the service. Frankly, if the food is good, I could care less about service. Sure, it's nice when dining out to feel special, but for me it's all about the food. If I were a restaurant critic my ratings would be like this 95% - food, 4% - service, 1% - decor. I just don't understand people who hold service and quality of food equally.

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  1. Okay, I'll jump in first. Service is important to me because good service allows me to relax and enjoy my food. I can't do that if I don't have a clean fork, or if my mouth is dry because I didn't get the drink I requested, or if my food was prepared incorrectly, or if the waitstaff is hovering, etc. etc. I would not consider food and service to be of equal importance, but service is definitely worth more than 4% in my equation.

    4 Replies
    1. re: lisavf

      I'm with you, Lisa.

      First, there are service issues that directly impact the enjoyment of the food: dishes left sitting under heat lamps for way too long; dishes served cold (or warm, as the case may be); and so on.

      In addition, if I'm made to feel unwelcome, it definitely detracts from the enjoyment of the meal.

      The better the food, the more slack I'll give on the service side, but there are certain kinds of treatment I won't put up with, no matter how good the food.

      If that means "No soup for me!"; I'll survive....

      1. re: lisavf

        Ditto that, lisa. If service leaves me waiting for a glass of wine to enjoy with my dinner, or I don't have the utensils to even eat my food, that becomes a bigger problem - as I can't even try the food! As for hovering waitstaff - that's just plain annoying. If I feel unwelcome when I walk in the door from a snooty (or snotty, as the case may be!) hostess or maitré 'd, that's going to start the evening off on the wrong foot. That's PART of service, IMO.

        And as for decor - that includes noise level to me. If it's deafening in there, or overlit, that's going to detract from my enjoyment of the meal and my dining companions if I can't hear them or it's too garishly bright in the room.

        Food is probably 65-70%, service is 20-25%, decor is 10%.

        1. re: LindaWhit

          I'd really rather have overlit than underlit. I've been in places where I find myself wishing for a flashlight for reading the menu.

          1. re: Terrieltr

            I think it completely depends on the group. Is it a romantic outing, social event, business?

      2. I'll bite. There's a well-known restaurant/bar in the city where I live that we have been going to at least once a week for the past 8 or so years. We usually sit at the bar for an hour or so while my daughter finishes a lesson across the street. We eat there frequently but not every week. We almost always have the same bartender. He's a great guy and we've become good friends over the years. If his wife is there, she'll come over and talk to us. The problem is the rest of the staff. Other than the hostess, they do not acknowledge us unless our friend isn't working and one of them is serving us. Nothing, no eye contact, no hello, nothing.

        I decided a few months back that we would only go in for a beer when he was there but otherwise, not interested in their rude/non-existent service. People rave about their food, but for me, I'll spend my $ elsewhere. So yes, service does matter in some instances.

        1. If I'm telling you about my dinner at home, you will only hear about the food. You don't want to know about how we decided what to have, where we bought it, how we cooked it or how long it took to do the washing up. And I couldnt be arsed to tell you.

          On the other hand, if I'm telling you about a restaurant meal, then the occasion was more than just food. It was also about the location, the ambiance, the service, the price, the food. The whole thing.

          One of my local professional review sites marks restaurants out of 20 - 10 for food, 5 each for service and ambiance. Sounds spot on as far as I'm concerned.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            I agree completely with Harters. We get out to eat so rarely these days. When we do, of course I care about the food, but it's also a special occasion. I would hate for our rare nights out to be marred by feeling unwelcome or worse. Also, since I see eating out partly as supporting local businesses, even if I'm just grabbing a slice of pizza, I prefer to do it somewhere where the people are friendly and helpful.

            1. re: Pia

              "Friendly" is probaby a regional issue. Personally I don't want to make friends with the server. If I have to interact too much then s/he's doing it wrong. I figure the server's a professional, there to do a job, and I'm the consumer, there to pay the server. [I'm in DC and have lived mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.] But I know people who want to feel welcomed as friends when eating out.

              1. re: csdiego

                I live in Boston. My standard for "friendly" is probably what a Southerner would consider barely polite: says hello, makes eye contact, possibly smiles, doesn't snarl if we ask a question or give us an attitude if we bring our kid.

                1. re: Pia

                  LOL. Having spent lots of time in both places I know exactly what you mean. That eye contact, in Boston, is really pushing the bounds of familiarity. Friendly in Boston = shockingly, born-in-a-barn rude in the South.

                  1. re: csdiego

                    Yes, friendly in New England often means respecting boundaries and making sure one is welcome to cross them before doing so; good fences make good neighbors and all that.

                    As to the OP's question, I would say I would rank food 60%, service 30% and ambience 10%.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      Respecting boundaries is how I view politeness as well. I haven't found New Englanders to be any less polite than people in other parts of the world most of the time. Being polite here isn't the same as being friendly.

                  2. re: Pia

                    LOL! I'm in Boston as well, and while I don't have children, I do agree with you on the other points, Pia - says hello, eye contact and a smile or two, leaves us alone if we're still chatting and say we need some time, anddon't give me a big :::::SIGH!:::: if we haven't yet made our dinner decision.

            2. I disagree with your premise that good service is about "feeling special". To me it is about the meal going smoothly so that I can enjoy the food and company without being distracted by service "glitches".

              1. The most important thing in a restaurant experience for me is the food, most definitely. Otherwise I would not return to many a hole in the wall place where 'service' is only rudimentary, and sometimes even bordering on surly (tho that tends to change once you become a regular).

                That said -- if the service is beyond fantastic, it can really add to the experience. It will, however, make up for bad food.

                2 Replies
                1. re: linguafood

                  Assuming you mean "That said -- if the service is beyond fantastic, it can really add to the experience. It will, however,[....NOT......] make up for bad food"???.

                  For me neutral to great service allows me to enjoy the experience even more than the food alone. Whether or not "bad" service will take away from great food depends on the nature of the "bad". Invasive "badness" will certainly be annoying if not materially effect the meal. Small "badness" can be annoying but won't necessarily spoil a great meal. That said, the price of the meal, for me anyway, has a lot to do with my expectation as to service. If I'm paying big bucks and get lousy service, the quality of the food had better be REALLY high for the service level to not impact it materially.