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|All About Table Service|
|Terça, 21 Julho 2009 16:18|
Much has been written and discussed concerning the new cuisine trends and their influence on restaurant management. However, little has been mentioned about the need for table service to keep up with that evolution. Very little has been discussed about the changes and updating of table service, as a component of the restaurant management business.
The art of good table service is much more than an efficient or impeccable service. Table service is very often the trade mark of a restaurant. In this sense we can say that the very best cuisine is not enough to bring back a client who was unhappy or dissatisfied with the table service. The opposite case is also possible: the desaire of the cuisine can be compensated, or downplayed, by the efficiency of table service.
The quality of table service should always create an atmosphere where the client feels comfortable.
It is easy to see that times have changed. From cooking experiences to client expectations there have been changes. Having meals out has become compulsory for all, but these meals have become an opportunity to relax, sometimes a relief from daily pressure. Meals stop being analysed in a price/pleasure perspective. The client no longer wants to merely be fed. He expects more from a meal.
The meal is also associated with a new concept of quick meals served with efficiency.
We also have clients who expect a show from the meal. That show involves several pleasures, visual and sensory with the balance of permanence in the establishment.
Meals are an instrument of the business that they have to be treated down to the last detail.
Let us see what is expected by the analysis of the evolution, which is necessary, of table service.
Table service has to evolve because the clients demand that it be so. The food has changed, the types of restaurants have changed, and above all, the customers have changed. Even the concepts of luxury have changed. Luxury nowadays is not only associated to the space, decor and etiquette service. Many times luxury means efficiency and quick service with comfort. The customers today are not concerned with, and are even ignorant of, the rule of placing the plate on the right or the left hand. They want a quick service, with elegance, with comfort and no constraints. The luxury customer is not satisfied if only the décor contains golden things, crystals and velvets. Luxury can also be found in minimalist atmospheres. However, the customer always expects good manners and efficiency in the service.
There is nothing worse for business customers, or even boyfriend and girlfriend, if they are interrupted just so that the right plate is placed before them according to the rules. The waiter has to know the rules so that if it means more comfort for the customer, or to refrain from interrupting, he can break the rules. Service should not be imposed. It should be unnoticeable and in the end the customer should be aware only in a positive way.
Gone are the days when Grimod de la Reynière wrote his famous “Manuel des Amphitryons”. It is possibly the first great book on food for the new concept of catering. It is composed of three chapters: Meat Cuts, which teaches how to cut and carve various meats and amazingly enough, five fish. A Menu Book where there is a composition of various menus organized according to the seasons of the year. There is also a chapter on the Elements of Delicacy “Gourmande”. This last chapter deals with protocol issues at the table and for the first time it mentions the organization of table service and wine tasting. This manual, edited in 1808, laid the basis for the first rules on modern catering or restaurant management. We must bear in mind that these rules were applicable to big banquet places or luxurious restaurants at the time. These places were attended by customers who knew all the etiquette and service rules at the time!
Before going any further, I assume that the waiter is, above all, a salesman. He is the real commercial agent of the restaurant. He is a permanent public relations of the place. He is a communicator. He is a cultural agent who knows all about food and wines. It is wrong to consider that waiters have been transformed into food transporters. They also carry food, and more and more this food looks very elegant on the dish.
Nowadays there should not be any of the traditional wars between the kitchen team and the table service one. There has to be team spirit and even some complicity.
One should not expect the waiter to set a complete mise en place. Let us forget about the presentation/showing of all the cutlery and glasses. This avoids loss of time in setting and removing the unnecessary items, washing up of articles removed, embarrassment caused to customers who are unsure of which cutlery or glass to use, and finally because the table looks more elegant this way.
One should not demand that the waiter know how to fold the napkin in ten different ways. Simplicity has become more and more dominant as this also avoids time consuming unnecessary handling of table articles.
The so called “cozinha de sala” is performed less and less, and if that happens, one of the kitchen elements comes to do it. It is probably done in a wiser and efficient manner and the goods are treated in a better way. The cozinha de sala is always a complement. The waiter has to know what the basic cooking concepts are so as to better explain and sell them. He also has to explain in a clever way what the suggestions of the day are.
Concerning wines, with sometimes long lists today, the waiter has to know how to suggest the best suited wine to go with each dish. He has to study the different Portuguese grapes and castes and has to become sensitive to the primary faults of wine when tasting it. This should be common practice...! Concerning wines, the waiter should also be an advisor, a salesman, an actor and basically a manager. The waiter should be aware of the etiquette of serving wine, without having to be a specialist.
After all, what should be, or what are, the great changes of table service demands? In brief: to improve business, make the most of tasks and to create more customer satisfaction.
Each restaurant becomes more and more a differentiated case. It is up to the restaurant owner to choose the best solution. The only certain thing is that it is the table service team that guarantees the customer loyalty.
It is also up to the restaurant owners to let the hotel management schools know that there are new demands. This will enable them to change the teaching methods and better prepare the students for the new realities of the profession.
The restaurant owners are challenged to realize how the table service brigade can, and should, contribute to improvement in the results. Many times customers are lost due to an apathetic table service, a cold rapport, childish behaviour, robotic service, lack of rules and the regretful ping-pong (pushing blame back and forth). Customers are also lost because no time is taken to ponder over and deal with the subject.
The waiter is above all, an enchanting salesman, with a positive attitude, a smile and the ability to surprise the customer.
© Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes