According to some little-known but tacitly-agreed law, the British don’t see service (ie waiting on) as a career in itself. It’s long been acknowledged – and we’ve said it here too – that practically every other country in the world serves better than we do because it is seen as a valued job, rather than a drop-out pastime for disaffected youth.
So it is incredibly heartening to hear that thousands applied to take part in Michel Roux Jr’s new BBC2 series Service. He’s chosen eight 17-24 year-olds from diverse backgrounds to be trained in the arts of front of house in establishments ranging from high-street chains to Le Gavroche, the two winners going on to be trained as professional maitre d’ and sommelier. And these young people, ranging from graduates to teen single mothers, all see the value and longevity in a career in front of house. It makes you proud – and even optimistic – that these young people, many of whom have never even set foot in a restaurant and frankly didn’t know the difference between a starter and a main course, chose this profession to turn their life around.
It’s the old saw that it actually doesn’t matter how good the food is; it’s how it’s delivered to your table that you remember. In an ideal world, should you be able to remember your waiter? Isn’t the perfect waiter attentive without being matey (or flirty), knowledgeable without being patronising, unobtrusive without being invisible? Oh – and be able to subtly up-sell without being caught out. All of them – with the exception of the obnoxious and ?ber-camp Jarel who has already been unceremoniously kicked off – show great potential; not necessarily in organisational skills, but certainly their all-important people skills are pretty good. But can they reach the dizzy heights expected by mentor and maitre d’-extraordinaire Fred Sirieux?
Is service actually that difficult a job? You’ll always remember bad service, but is this the norm? Have you forgiven bad food/a bad table/a long wait because the waiter smoothed it over? Or can service never erase the memory of a bad experience? And do you think this programme represents a turn-around in our attitude towards restaurant staff or will the memory of Fawlty Towers linger too long and too persuasively to change things?