A few weeks ago, I was heading out for breakfast one morning at what is known as a very popular place in London and ended up at a completely different cafe than that one I had originally booked! Why was that? Well… while booking, confirming and arriving at the restaurant the customer service I experienced was so poor I couldn’t face giving them my business.
Going off to find somewhere else it made me wonder. Had anyone in the queue outside had the same bad experience as I did? If so, were they willing to overlook it to try this ‘great place’? It’s at that point I started to think, to debate, to question: What IS more important when it comes to eating out, the food or the service?
What if you go somewhere where the food is fantastic but the service is (for want of a better word) shit? On the other hand, what if you arrive somewhere to a warm and friendly welcome but your meal is kind of average? Do you forgive average food for fantastic service? Equally, do you forgive bad service for good food?
Okay, there are two sides to this story because there’s bad service and then there’s unfortunate service. Things will go wrong, it can’t be helped and we’re okay with that. It’s usually how a restaurant rectifies it that says a lot about them. In another breathe you can even say there is a third type that I like to call the ‘so bad its good’. Restaurants who are known for their notoriously blunt approach to customers. Where feeling like an inconvenience is almost PART of the service! Almost comedic! Yet people go back time and time again…
Thankfully, we are pretty lucky in London that there’s plenty of places where this question doesn’t apply and they’ve got it down to a T. However, with the rise of trendy restaurants with a queue down the road, I can’t help feel there has been an increase in some places thinking they can get by on hype alone. A ‘get them in, get them out’ mentality, a complacency, a silent attitude that suggests they don’t need to work hard to keep you as you’re a tiny cog in a big machine. Of course, these places are businesses and yes, their main focus is turning over as much custom as possible, but surely making people feel valued enough to return is the key to long-term success?
What also inspired me to write this article was an experience totally opposite to the first one I mentioned. A small local place I’d gone for dinner where the food was nice but nothing out of the ordinary. Somewhere I wouldn’t go out of my way to return to unless I was in the area. However, this time I would, and I’ll tell you why. The service and atmosphere were so bloody brilliant it made my entire evening. Dinner, dessert and lots of drinks later, the group stayed much longer than we had originally thought when we first sat down. Not because the food was going to break any records but because of the energy and atmosphere. Controversially (and what was the case on my evening out), you could even say your experience, good or bad, even changes the taste of your entire meal! Is that even possible? Yes, I truly believe that a meal made with passion will taste better! Maybe there’s some science behind this idea? That’s one for another article, maybe!
Now, because I didn’t try the food at the first place I can’t say for sure that it’s great but rest assured I’m going on opinions from a whole load of very well fed friends. No matter how amazing breakfast could have been, for me, good food never forgives bad service and I would choose our lovely waiter in the second restaurant over fantastic food any day! (Given the food isn’t inedible of course!!) A bit of slowness we can all live with and a waiter who isn’t smiling ear to ear, yes, totally okay but we should never be made to feel undervalued. Especially when we’ve been thinking about our Sunday brunch since Monday morning (You know that’s true!)
A quick Google after I’d written this piece lead me to this from Bon Appetite magazine who have debated the exact same question. They raise another valid point that we don’t just go to restaurants for the food but we go for our friends, to vent, to celebrate, to have an evening out, and that’s absolutely true. Is sometimes food secondary to our evening out? Yes, I think on some occasions it is.
In an ideal world, it’s the balance of attentive service with an equal measure of efficiency that is key to a good eatery – the same balance that requires eating a big fat slice of chocolate cake one day then maybe a salad the next. I’m not a restaurant owner, nor do I have any kind of business brain but I am a serial eater and it’s us ‘tiny cogs’ (that are not so tiny at all) that hold everything together and make it work in the end. Hype dies down, the next ‘big thing’ comes along, and food can have off days … but good service never fails!
So… what’re your thoughts?