Any dining experience is a subtle interaction of a variety of factors; the food and setting play an enormous part, but one of the quickest ways to put a pall on any meal is poor guest interaction. Service is also very personal. I recently experienced the attentions of a very skilled waiter, who was polite, efficient and yet managed to be personable and attentive. A table next to me, however, felt it was over zealous and complained amongst themselves and to the manager about something I felt was spot-on. This got me thinking about the difficult line the front of house staff walk and though it is so tricky to get it right, there are enormous repercussions to getting it wrong.
How to get it right
Poor service can overcome great food or a fantastic ambience and one bad interaction with a server can leave the guest feeling disgruntled and vowing to never return, so how do you ensure your front of house are striking the right tone? Part of the challenge is identifying the niche that your venue falls into and educating your staff accordingly.
Another constraint to take into account is that of culture. Servers in North America have a very different approach to British waiters and this is still more forthright than the front of house in European places. Understanding your guests, their expectations and making an effort to meet them is the best way for servers to achieve their brief.
Bringing attention to the front of house
There is so much focus on the stars of the restaurant industry. Chefs and bar tenders are in the media spotlight and leading campaigns that are changing the food and restaurant industry. Recently there have been strides towards focusing on the front of house. Fred Sirieix who works at Galvin at Windows has found fame on Channel 4’s First Dates. As one of the most well-known general managers in the British restaurant industry, he is a shining example of positive role models in an area of the restaurant industry that is often under-represented.
An education in silver service may seem outdated, like a finishing school, but it is often the best way to maintain standards and enforce the best possible practices that will see servers through any situation. Establishments like Silver Service Training guarantee both practical skills as well as the knowledge necessary for anyone wishing to develop a career within the front of house. With specialised courses in wine knowledge or dining etiquette, it is perfect for those just starting their career in fine dining front of house, or for those looking to build upon their previous experience.
Accolades for alternative positions
After raising awareness of the importance of the front of house role, rewarding those who are excelling within the field is necessary to continue to appeal to those who are within those roles. Though there have been accolades for chefs since the rise of the profession, and mixologists have been rewarded more recently, we are now seeing an increase in accolades for serving staff that is not only raising interest in those roles but also the profile of people in these roles.
The Young British Foodie Awards have a category dedicated to front of house staff with previous winners working within prestigious venues. Rewarding great service with more than good reviews is a fantastic way to put these staff, who are intrinsic to any eating out experience, on par with chefs.