A good waiter can save a meal
At the Food-on-the-Edge conference held in October in Galway, Ireland, Didier Fertilati, in talking about front of house staff, said that “a good waiter can save a bad meal, but a good meal will not save a bad waiter” this is true and in the age of chasing good Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews this is important from the restaurants’ perspective but front of house staff also have a vital role in informing and educating the consumer. The wait staff are the conduit between kitchen and mouth, they can provide information about food ingredients, presence of allergens, portion size etc. While chefs rule the culinary creations, the front of house staff make sure that the right food goes to the right person. Is it time to rethink these roles and how front of house could improve the way with which we interact our food?
Consistency between brand message and delivery
Recently I ate at a ‘Jamie Oliver’ restaurant in Brisbane. My expectation (based on the energetic ramblings of the English chef) would be healthy food, reasonable portion sizes and knowledgeable staff. Sadly, this was not the case. Two courses were ordered – a roasted tomato bruschetta and a ‘healthy salad’; what had not been explained to me by the disinterested waitstaff was that the portion sizes were based on the average nutritional requirements of an American fullback who had not eaten for 24 hours. The consequence was that a great deal of my meal was wasted. Would I have appreciated the waitstaff pointing out that the portion sizes were large? Yes, most definitely and I would have left the restaurant feeling positive rather than feeling guilty for contributing to the giddying amount of food that is wasted. Now, this is not to point the finger at Jamie Oliver, his energy for improving nutrition and calling out poor food practices is extraordinary but it is to suggest that there is a need for consistency between brand message and delivery.
Greater food education required
Back to the front of house. Front of house staff are generally less qualified than those in the kitchen and Fertilati was calling for recognition of training and education to ensure that customers had the best possible experience. It is equally important that the gatekeeper between kitchen and stomach can provide the customer with information required to make wise food choices. Research in New Zealand shows that 70% of those working in “food trades” have either no qualification or level 1-4 certification. And this all ties into the argument for greater food education in schools: if the base level of food literacy increases then so too does the base level of conversation about food. Fundamentally though, the risk of upselling to increase tips for waitstaff is counterintuitive to all of this and in countries where tipping is both a cultural norm and necessary for survival it may be that honesty about aspects of food, such as portion size, are a long way off.