First Impressions

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?

  • damian

    The difference between a cleaner and a waitress is that a waitress can double her salary with tips, don’t you think TW@?

  • The Fine Diner

    I agree with what Jean’s comment, however as they say there is never a bad student, only a bad teacher. If the business owner’s attention to detail is poor, then so will be the service. If you read the Michelin guide’s success stories, many restaurateurs state that improving service is an ongoing process – it takes time and a lot of effort.
    Front of house are the link between the kitchen and the customer, as so are crucial part of the customer dining experience. You can get away with poor service as long as the food is worth waiting for, however poor food with great service just doesn’t fly for me.
    Ladywag is right as well – people do like to look down their noses at waiting on staff, but really they are (or at least should be) consultants and ambassadors for the kitchen.

  • Bob

    umm, the tiny bit of experience I have had, waiting staff aren’t treated with great respect from bosses, pay is poor, few posts with better rates of pay, I could be wrong though!!!

  • Jean Skinner

    I have often been so disgusted at the waiting “service” I have received at restaurants and have always thought that these waiters/waitresses should themselves be sent to a really good quality restaurant to see what it is all about . Many serving staff are just hired for the job and have no clue as to the standards which are to be expected because they have never experienced it themselves.

  • Ladywag

    I disagree Tw@
    Waiting on – (as with barmaiding and cleaning) are not easy jobs! They are hard work – on your feet for shifts of longer hours than anyone in an office would ever work, usually getting paid a pittance and often having to deal with supercilious idiots who think they know are “better than you” ‘cos they aren’t a waitress and always trying to get something knocked off their bill so they can brag to their mates about the “bargain” they got . That of course is not all customers but it is a HUGE percentage. Not recognising that service is a valid job begins with employers paying minimum wage (or less) and working (usually very young) staff like slaves.
    Every single part of the experience that a customer has in a cafe or restaurant is as imortant as the next. I can’t understand people who say – well the service was great but my meal wasn’t so I am not tipping – so what Chef (who made your bad meal) will still get paid (and probably quite reasonably!) The person who served you however will go home with their minimum pay!
    For the record I am not a waitress – but I have owned a restaurant and kept the same staff for 3 years because I treated them well.

  • Christopher Sweet De Montfort Country Dining Nr Evesham

    This is great to see, a prime time programme fronted by one of the country’s leading chef’s and restauranteurs.

    Our industry (UK) has always been considered 2nd division. I hope that the series promotes the trade to the premier division. Every emotion and personality can be seen in an individual during any one session good or bad. We are at the foot of the ladder compared to La Gavroche but strive to make sure our customer experience is no lesser quality. Here’s to promotion to premier league

  • Roger Yeomans

    We took part in programme 3 – it was a privilege to be asked but then excellent service is our middle name here at The Great Hall at Mains in Poulton le Fylde ;-) but Michel is right in as much as good service is very much down to training, having the right attitude and the ability to go that extra mile for your clients / customers. Good pogramme though !

  • Dayne Watkins

    I started out as a waiter when I was 15. I am now assistant manager at a local restaurant and I’m only 21. It is such a rewarding career, I see different people everyday and can always have a conversation about something different. I did a breif stint working in a call centre… Everything is “scripted” and you talk to people about the same thing day in day out.

    I have learned so many different skills working in the industry which could help me with many other careers.

  • Peter

    Not sure if it is relevant but one of the best steaks I ever had was at a small self service type cafe just of Times Square New York.You just picked up a tray and shouted your order while in the queue.

  • Tw@

    Being a waiter(ess) is an easy job; it’s like being a barmaid or a cleaner. Virtually anyone can do it. But it’s a hard job to do well.

    But at the end of the day the most important part of the meal is the food. And even the best waiter can’t turn a bad meal good.

    But a waiter can turn a good meal bad. Or even make a good meal extra special

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