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April 13, 2021

The trick to service is having some

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Matthew Michaelis

I was going through some old photos the other week and came across a photo of myself dressed up to the nines. I was young and competing with another five thousand wide-eyed kids. We were all trying to nab a job on an airline as flight attendants.

Going back a few years they still had service on domestic airlines (go figure!) and the international carriers had the sort of hospitality that attracted Hollywood cattle calls.

Hopeful candidates were submitted to disparaging call-backs and multi-tiered interviews.

Today, I thank my lucky stars I didn’t succeed as a trolley dolly. The ‘ritzy’ life I was hotly pursuing involved serving numerous sloshed strangers to the tune of dozens of screaming toddlers, all while being locked inside an irradiated alloy phallus (commiserations to all flight attendants).

These days it’s all changed. The only service you’d be expecting on a domestic flight (apart from the knee-capping that I narrowly avoid from the drinks trolley every time), would be the sort that comes through your smart phone.

Back to the future now, or should I say the present day: is service going backwards?

I know that the reason I laugh hilariously when I see or hear a skit based on the automated telephone answering services is that it’s painfully true. Press 1 for… 2 for… 3 for… The promises of after-sales service are more like the promises of a conman lying low; service seems to be making itself scarce, avoiding those marks who were earlier stung and now want what they paid for.

Are you rich enough?

Enough protesting already (or is it?).

The marauding of a meaningful customer service has been happening downtown too. Some small business operators are apparently taking advantage of the sleepy folk in the hospitality industry.

Even the ‘thank you and have a nice day’ appears to have been scrubbed from McDonald’s training handbook and now it looks like a Y-generation refit may be driving the customer courtesy into the annals of history.

Recently, I took some folk into a salubrious Byron Bay restaurant (this is the review you have when you’re not having a review).

I’ll begin at the end of our meal – and when it comes to good service it doesn’t matter which end, right?

It’s the paying end of the evening that denotes whether you are satisfied with the deal you got or not. It’s the part when you’re either rich enough to feel good regardless of the quality and service, or you hope you’re pissed enough to worry about the bill tomorrow.

In a trendy restaurant, a table of six adults, including wine, food and some shared courses, can get up there. Our meal this evening was at the very steep end of town. Let’s just say that I could have flown down to Beppi’s in Sydney for the same value.

Beppi Polese is the patriarch of Australian restaurants – he started his eatery in East Sydney in the 1950s and it’s still going strong. He worked his own restaurant for many years and, whether you were a film star or a couple on a wedding anniversary, he and his staff would treat your table with a consistent careful service and hospitality. (Trivia alert! Polese also popularised squid when it was being tossed out by fishermen in the 1950s – it could be said that Beppi manifested your order of calamari here in Australia.)

Call the fire brigade

Working the front of house like Beppi and keeping the hospitality part real is just plain smart. Leaving your business to chance and fashion – well, it’s lazy and not a business plan that gets the thumbs up from me at least.

The restaurant in Byron Bay we’d just eaten in was trading on the fact that they were a place to be seen in. Certainly they had all the trimmings: competent chefs, modern furnishings, expensive cellar fit-out with a good stock of quality wines on hand, and noisy crap acoustics (an essential part of nouvelle eateries it seems).

So, what’s the problem, I hear you ask? The props were in place, right? Shame about the diners though. We were left to languish with indifferent and lightweight service. We weren’t at the pointy end of the food chain; I looked around the room and spied the wait staff all gathered at the bar like a cabbie convention and we were paying while the meter was running.

You’re not going to know the name of this place – simply put, if a story I’m writing turns out to be bad on the day, normally I’d return to eat again.

This is in case the problems rearing their ugly heads were as a result of a planetary alignment, astrological, or perhaps the work of some curse or voodoo.

Expectations are usually high when the cost is high. I don’t need the owner waiting on the table, just a commitment from them that I’ll be getting some attention in exchange for my hard-earned.

Price wouldn’t be a problem where those expectations are met. Here, the service was a disappearing act. A try-hard eatery, trying hard to avoid the diners and, short of calling the fire brigade, no-one is coming.

It’s a ‘you’re on fire and the waiter walks past you with a glass of water for the chef’ sort of affair.

Great expectations

I’m not one to write really harsh reviews – I just don’t write those. An average diner doesn’t book a restaurant ahead of time because they know they’ll be starving on Friday week. No, people walk into an eatery with anticipation.

The experience, the whole of it, comes with our own tick-list of rights and wrongs. Your experience is then a case of expectations.

Personally, it’s the service that will make or break an eatery for me. Like the first breath of a newborn baby, it’s crucial; bad service from the get-go will mar an entire meal.

For me it’s not about the type of service; it’s about the attention given me as a customer, the acknowledgment that I exist.

It’s not rocket science, it’s perfectly simple really; the trick to service is having some.

 


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