Grub Scout: Service suggestions for restaurateurs

I’m taking a break from my usual reviews this week to address one of the cornerstone components of any restaurant business — service. This was prompted by a recent visit to a Farragut-based sports bar that I had intended to write about. However, my service experience was so horrible that I walked out before my food even arrived.

In fairness to this particular establishment, I’m not mentioning its name, but here’s a thumbnail sketch of what I encountered.

n Food service being handled solely by the bartender, whose attention was usually too focused on her drink-slinging duties to tend to patrons seated at tables.

n Kitchen having my order for more than 45 minutes without food being delivered. At one point, I had to go up to the bar to inquire about my order, only to be told, “It’s coming right out. They had a special order in front of yours.” FYI, my food did not come right out. In fact, it did not come out before I made the decision to bail.

n Watching a patron allow a stray dog off the street to enter the sports bar and meander around. It was upon watching the bartender come out from behind the bar, squat down and pet the dog with both hands that I began to imagine those same doggy-smelling hands bringing my food out (assuming, of course, that my order ever came up). It was then I made a beeline for the door.

I usually don’t visit sports bars, but my doing so is not unprecedented. And when this particular joint ran a discount coupon promoting its fare, I felt that made their food-service component fair game for investigating. Too bad the evening never got that far.

It often astounds me how poorly trained some restaurant employees are, particularly when it comes to interacting with the public. Fortunately, the vast majority does at least a competent if not excellent job of taking care of customers. But if you are the owner/manager of a restaurant where good service isn’t cultivated among your employees, I’d like to make a few suggestions, whether this applies to a host, a server or even a behind-the-counter worker.

n Don’t allow employees to act like they’re doing customers a big favor by serving them. Just recently, I faced a counter employee who was full of sighs and eye rolling instead of smiles and eye contact. Chik-fil-A does it right, and if a fast-food business can, any restaurant can. It starts with management, hiring and training.

n Don’t allow employees to take smoke breaks near the main entrance or to take food breaks within eyesight of customers. Whenever I see either, I want to flee.

n Don’t allow employees to sit at a table when taking the party’s order. I’m all for servers being chummy and amiable, but don’t break that particular wall, please. Get outta my bubble.

n If a party isn’t ready to order at first crack, your servers should not occupy themselves with another task for the next 30 minutes before checking again. This is something I encounter on almost a weekly basis.

n Basics: Your servers should make a quick follow-up visit after food is served, make at least one follow-up drink check, and clear plates before asking about dessert or leaving the bill. Just doing those things alone will get you three stars in my book.

n And finally ... please don’t allow your staff to pet stray animals that wander in off the street. Duh.

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