If you were to ask me what I think the most competitive industry is, I would say that the restaurant industry must be near the top. There are so many options available and the vast majority sit in the middle of the road, offering decent food at reasonable prices.
So how do they get people to come to their restaurant instead of one of the others? Some will offer specials, others will offer something unique. A few will invest in marketing themselves and the lucky ones will rely on their location. For most restaurants, it’s hard work to get patrons to choose to come and dine there. Which makes it hard to understand why, when they get us there, they forget about us.
Wanting your customers to come back is the goal, right?
It’s common knowledge that no matter the business, it’s much cheaper to get a customer to return than it is to acquire a new customer. It follows then that when I have patrons in my restaurant, I will do everything to ensure they have a great experience and return, hopefully again and again. But often it feels like the opposite is true. Restaurateurs and staff act as if the patron is incidental, almost a bother.
Let me give you some examples...
A few months back I was dining at a restaurant in Constantia. It was lunch time and we were nearing the end of our meal. There we 2 or 3 tables occupied still and one of the waiters decided to start cleaning the empty tables, with Mr Min wood polish spray. Within seconds the whole restaurant was filled with the acrid smell of wood polish. Whatever we were eating was ruined and it was all we could do to pay the bill and get out of there before we died coughing. We’ve never returned.
ALSO READ: 5 Bad waiter habits that make us cringe
Another incident was at an upmarket restaurant in Green Point. Long before we had finished our meal the staff decided to dry the washed cutlery at the bar near our table. The sound of steel cutlery being tossed into a tray of steel cutlery every couple of seconds was excruciating. We paid our bill and left as soon as we could. We’ve never returned.
A different example but also a restaurant in Green Point. Soon after we received our main courses, the owner/chef of the restaurant sat down at the table next to us to have a meeting with his accountant. Slips everywhere and worse, heated discussion about the accounts of the restaurant. It was most distracting and unpleasant. Strangely there were a ton of other tables available, including upstairs, far from earshot. We’ve never returned.
Recently I had breakfast in Woodstock at a super trendy eatery with an open kitchen. The noise of dishes being stacked and washed was overwhelming. Even the staff had to raise their voices to hear each other. Over the noise of the dishes and the shouting staff we could not hear what we were saying at our table on the other side of the restaurant. We won’t be returning.
One more example...
This one happens quite often at different restaurants and is a pet hate of mine. When you need service but the waiters are too busy chatting to pay you any attention. After waiting 5 minutes and waving your arms about like hip-hop dancer, you have no choice but to get up from the table and walk over to the group and interrupt them. The best is when this happens twice or thrice in the same meal. Yes, I have experienced that! But I have not returned.
I could fill many pages with similar experiences, where it seems the patron, instead of being valued, is treated as if they are not there. And I’m sure every person who reads this article could recount their own similar experiences.
Waiters aren’t the only ones to blame
Sometimes patrons behave badly too. They inconsiderately stay long past closing time, the only table in the restaurant while the staff have to sit around waiting for them. They treat the wait staff badly, giving them a hard time, being disrespectful and impatient. They don’t tip decently or at all. They make unreasonable requests and throw their toys out the cot when they don’t get their way. They write nasty things on websites and social media without taking it up with the restaurant management directly. The list goes on and on. Perhaps I’ll write an article dedicated to how horrid restaurant patrons can be.
But I can assure you, in none of the examples I gave above, was I being a horrid patron. I like to think I am a very considerate patron and would not linger as the last table in a restaurant. But even if I was, surely the waiter can come and tell me they need to pack up. I can then decide if I want to stay while they pack up or leave. But to just carry on as if I am not there is not the appropriate course of action.
Are staff motivated enough?
Much of this has to do with training and staff attitude. Being in the service industry is not for everyone. It takes a special desire to ensure guests have a pleasant experience and a level of intuition with regard to things that may be negatively affecting a guest’s experience. Training will go part of the way to solving some of the issues, but staff have to be motivated. That can be difficult as service industry jobs are often not highly paid and many that work in them do so because they have no choice. For them a job is a job and when it comes to the end of the night, they just want to get home to their family and some rest after what has probably been a long, hard shift.
All of these things are understandable, but the reality is that patrons that don’t feel valued will go and dine elsewhere. So how do we solve the problem? There are things that can be done by both the restaurants and the patrons. Restaurants need to ensure they are constantly training and giving feedback to their service staff. It can be tempting, when a restaurant has been operating for some time, to think that new staff will just learn on the job. But it doesn’t work like that. Proactive training, reinforcing fundamentals of good service is needed. Patrons need to give feedback to the restaurant when incidents happen. If management are not aware of issues, they can’t make changes. Rather than going and plastering it all over social media, give them feedback directly. Most restaurants will be very appreciative of the opportunity to fix the problem.
I don’t believe that restaurants don’t care about their patrons, it just sometimes feels like they do. But constructive feedback, directly to management, can often resolve the issue.
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What dining experiences have you had where you felt unappreciated as a patron? Share them in the comments below. I’m sure restaurant owners and managers will be taking notes!