Restaurant service: the best service is silent and invisible!

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Silver serviceA doyen of restaurant service, maître d’ Silvano Giraldin, long with 3 Michelin star La Gavroche in London, gave an amusing yet honest talk at the recent MAD4  Symposium in Copenhagen about restaurant service.

He described the transition of service, waiters initially being the chef’s representative in the restaurant, doing the carving of big meat joints, filleting the fish, and flambéeing Crepe Suzette.  In those days one never saw chefs inside the restaurant. The Maître d’ was the front of house hero, and also plated the food after doing the carving.   This led to the concept of ‘silver service‘, disjointing chicken and deboning fish in front of the customer, also referred to as ‘Les Arts de la Table‘.

As chefs became visible in the ‘Seventies, Nouvelle Cuisine was introduced, the Chef Patron taking over the cutting and plating of food in his/her kitchen, which reduced waiters to ‘plate carriers‘.  The highpoint of service today is that of the world’s number one restaurant Noma, in that chefs bring out the food, and explain to customers how each dish is made, and its ingredients.  No staff in the restaurant is better qualified than that which prepared the dishes with passion.

Service is invisible, and unlike the dishes prepared by the chefs, it cannot be photographed.  Service, or lack of,  is only visible when it is missing!  To call a waiter to a table is acceptable, as a waiter should proactively see a need of a table before being called. Waiters should make eye-contact with their tables at all times.   The bread should arrive at the table before being requested; the wine glass should be filled before requested!  A conversation between guests at a table should not be interrupted by a waiter, especially the bigger tables, which prefer service of being left alone!   Tables of two like to interact with their waiter. Restaurant writers were reprimanded for not praising good service enough, being too quick to criticise missing or bad service.

Giraldin clearly was impressed by Noma (right), and praised the welcome by the full restaurant team, including the kitchen staff, standingNoma at the door to welcome the customers, unheard of at other restaurants.  Service is the attention given to one in a restaurant, and being recognised as a regular when arriving is the best possible service a customer can receive, and is likely to make that customer return regularly.

Demands on waiters are high, being the ‘ambassadors’ of the chef, and having knowledge about the food they are serving.  Giraldin said that restaurants must look after their waiters, respecting them, feeding them well (the audience laughed when he shared that many restaurant staff have told him that staff meals are terrible!), training them, and paying them properly.  Happy staff will create happy customers, he said.  Training is vital, and it was recommended that new waiters spend a week in the kitchen, to learn how the chefs prepare the dishes.  They should taste the dishes they serve,  they should sniff and taste the wines offered, and learn more about each of the wines.

Most fine-dining restaurants offer excellent quality food and wines, but are severely let down by the service of the waitrons, pulling down the quality and reputation of the restaurant, negating the chefs’ hard work!  Sadly this is true of many local restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Tel (021) 433-2100. Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook:  click here

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