What is "good service"?
Any great restaurant is about more than the food – it has to have great front-of-house too. In my experience, a customer is more forgiving towards mediocre food than they are to slack service. One of the things that shocked me most in making Michel Roux’s Service was that good manners are becoming a thing of the past. Even a simple “please” or “thank you” seemed alien to some of our young candidates, and if you don’t have simple courtesy, it’s difficult to provide any level of service at all.
I’m sure it’s about respect, both for the people you are serving, but ultimately for yourself. If you have a stronger sense of self-worth, you’ll provide service, not servitude, and that’s something that we’ve had to work on with our trainees. If they learn to take pride and pleasure in serving, and are passionate about their career, they’ll go far. It’s a tough industry, and without passion it will be very hard to reach the top. With it you can do almost anything.
It takes a very special kind of person to work in front-of-house. A good waiter has to be so many things all at once; efficient and speedy, but also precise; attentive, but not overbearing; presentable, with excellent personal hygiene and posture; and, of greatest importance, you have to be able to communicate well. Being able to listen properly is a key communication skill. There’s nothing more frustrating for a diner than having to repeat their requests.
And it’s not good enough for a waiter simply to take an order and bring the food to the table. They should be knowledgeable about what they’re serving, know their menu inside out, and work as a team player with the kitchen. They need to be able to sell - with confidence - the full dining experience the restaurant has to offer.
In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter whether a customer is paying five pounds or five hundred - good service should be everywhere. The customer’s expectations remain the same and they should never be disappointed. You have to know what the customer wants before he even realises it himself. That takes time to learn, but of course a lot of it is instinctive, and the truly great waiters and maître d's have strong emotional intelligence as well as impeccable manners.
What is your experience of good or bad service? Is it good to refill a wine glass or is it just plain annoying? Why do you think Britain does so badly when it comes to service?
Michel Roux is chef at Le Gavroche restaurant and is the presenter of BBC Two's Michel Roux’s Service.