Great Service Is As Gold as Great Food..or At Least It Should Be

I love great food and Italian food is one of my favorites because I have a weakness for pasta and bread – too much sometimes. Growing up on Maui, I hadn’t realize the importance of how service to clients is just as important as the food.

But I learned a lot of this listening to stories my Dad would share with me during his career as an executive chef many years ago at what is now known as the Travaasa Hana Resort. One of the things he would always say is “No matter the trouble, Babe, even if you think you are right and they are wrong, the customer is always right.”

And of course, I always had that in the back of my mind for all these years in the various types of activities I did at fund-raisers, charities, church meetings and of course, work. In over twenty-five years, my occupations ranged in various customer-service related duties in both private and public sectors.

Now I have heard and read of horror stories on social media, television, movies and even in real-life experiences about poor customer service to downright racist-related events that led to tragic events. However, it truly is unacceptable when a new restaurant’s reputation starts going downhill because of staff lacking in professional training and courtesy.

It clearly was something that happened to me a couple times when I was living on Oahu (ironically, an Italian restaurant and a Chinese restaurant) . I experienced obvious racial discrimination while attending a business dinner at a well-known chain restaurant in California. Most recently, it was in the town I currently reside in and I was most disappointed, angered and frustrated that this kind of unacceptable behavior still continues today – doesn’t matter what race, gender or background.

Customer service reigns supreme in all businesses – but especially in a restaurant because people LOVE dining out (at least most I know) on occasion and some of the tastiest food is Italian cuisine. I like most food because my Dad had hotel privileges that extended to sampling some of the best hotel food growing up in Hana. However, he didn’t want me to forget my heritage and Hawaiian food was often frequent in my household. My Mom wanted me to appreciate the “normal stuff” like American cuisine and of course, local food from the farm. Nothing can beat eating food from one’s own vegetable garden, but a meal while dining out should always be a pleasure for all senses.

Regardless of what your family background and origins are from – whether you are U.S. born or from another country, any business that is service-related to the public, especially restaurants should really pay close attention to the importance of how they run their business when it comes to drawing in patrons and ongoing clientele.

Reputation is everything in a business – but especially in a restaurant.

My Dad once had joined a couple of his brothers to start a local Hawaiian eatery on Maui; initially, it was popular. However, lack of financial management and other poor decision-making eventually forced them to close down the business. Whatever took place, I was never privy to the details except that “things didn’t work out because of poor financial planning.”

A restaurant just isn’t about the food because there are so many other variables to running a successful restaurant: type of food, location, leasing the space, conforming to department of health rules and regulations, inspections, contracts, staff training, menu planning, whether or have a bar or not and of course, the investment or capital into starting a venture and so forth.

Having a new restaurant in a small town is vital to the community because it can provide jobs, but no matter how good the food, if there is poor customer service, in my opinion, it is a sure sign that success is already entering a boiling pot of rice about to be burnt!

While it pays to know how to successfully run a food business (not necessarily a restaurant), the clientele or customers are the ones paying for the service and product. It is so key to make sure that getting positive feedback will help not hinder the business. The right kind of staff is key in drawing these clienteles or customers repeatedly back over and over – why?

Word of mouth can glorify or diminish a restaurant’s reputation.

See, there is this thing called “social media” out there that offer these sites where people can write reviews about places like restaurants and whether the experiences these people offer will be a good or bad review. It is very common these days for people who want to try different restaurants to check out places like Yelp or TripAdvisor or even sections on the restaurant’s own website (if they offer it) to provide good or bad reviews.

I always check out reviews whenever I travel or whenever I am in the mood to try a different eatery. I am also a very picky eater and while I enjoy a good meal dining out, I notice the quality of service, how long it takes for the server to bring the food, how pleasant the host or hostess is, whether my drink was done correctly and if the price matches the quality of the food. I even look at the design of the menu. I also like to look at the ambiance or atmosphere – is it noisy, crowded with tiny chairs and shaky tables? Are the surfaces wiped down regularly or are there plates and glasses still sitting at the table from a group of clients who left 30 minutes ago?

Now usually foodies will mention that if there’s a long line outside a restaurant, it must be worth the wait. Well, if I am hungry and grouchy and want certain food cravings, I will not wait. I will go elsewhere to similar restaurant or decide to try something familiar that I have not eaten in a long time.

I have noticed the older i get, the more persnickety I can be at times – so I really try to plan in advance the timing and logistics of where I want to eat to ensure a positive outcome. The last thing in the world I do not like experiencing is being stressed out just to find parking to reach a new restaurant. If my appetite is squashed because I am ill-tempered, it is difficult to enjoy the dining out experience. It is even worse if the service at the restaurant is like waking up to a pot of burnt boiled eggs (but that’s another story for another blog).

I am an aging woman, so humor me and read on.

If it isn’t clean (doesn’t have to be like “ocd” clean) or tidy in my opinion, I already feel uncomfortable. It makes me wonder when was the last time the table surface was wiped down?

If the server doesn’t come by within 5-10 minutes of being seated, I notice how crowded it is and if it isn’t, it makes me wonder if the staff care enough to want to service their clientele efficiently and courteously.

Are they even keeping in mind that customers bring in the revenue and in turn, the revenue is what pays their wages, not to forget tips (if applicable based on the quality of service). If the answer cannot be adamantly, “yes” – well, it definitely tells me I won’t be returning ever again.

As I get older I admit, I get more finicky about the quality of service. In the last 3 decades and even now, I have been in various occupations where customer service was so key to providing quality and satisfaction to the consumer.

Granted, I have never worked in a restaurant (I probably would get fired for sneak-tasting all the food), but given that my Dad had a food career that spanned an exclusive resort on Maui, to preparing food for cruise ships to even working at local, popular hang-outs on Oahu, his stories and experiences helped me define the type of places I enjoy dining out and writing reviews on.

It also helped me figure out what kind of places I would be willing to pay top dollar on or if I simply heard (by word of mouth) what cheap eats served great food, pleasant service and prices to match like the numerous bento box lunches I used to procure at Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center, or Nuuanu Okazuya or Fukuya’s Delicatessen…ah, my next trip back to Hawaii to visit my folks will definitely remind me to stop and get me a bento box lunch with chicken katsu, rice, daikon, shoyu chicken and maybe even a spam musubi.

So the next time you decide to venture to a new place or perhaps go the same restaurant you have been going to for the last 20 years and decide to order something totally different from your “usual” order, keep an eye on the service that is provided to you. Great service is indeed gold to a customer, and the restaurant being represented surely will reap profits in loyalty and a reputation that can be treasured for many years to come.