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The Caterer

Service means something a little different

03 December 2007
Service means something a little different

A trip to California highlighted to Coal chief executive John Gater just how much better customer service is in the USA than here

The west coast of the USA has always been at the cutting edge on customer service, and after a recent visit there I continue to be convinced that they still possess that magic ingredient X.

I recently had the pleasure of staying at Shutters in Santa Monica, where even the beach bums somehow manage to look cool. One evening, as I sipped my cocktail, I noticed the head chef had called the front-of-house team around the hotplate. He asked for their attention for this nightly ritual and carefully explained the cooking methods of that evening's "specials".

The chef had two specials and two plates of each, as he wanted the team to taste, understand and comment. He noticed that there was a new face among the youngsters and held out his hand, introduced himself to the new recruit and asked his name. The team was asked questions and had to give the right answers about cooking methods before the chef was comfortable they understood the dishes. The chef let them finish off the plates and told them he wanted all the portions sold that evening.

What a great way to communicate effectively: total involvement and commitment to the need to understand the product you're selling - fundamental to getting customer satisfaction while retaining staff enthusiasm.

It's a bit frustrating on returning to the UK to find that the word "service" in the hospitality business here doesn't seem to have the same meaning.

In the USA they have, as far back as I can remember, taken the idea of service very seriously and enjoyed giving precisely that. While my own and many other groups focus attention on staff training and development, taking time to teach what "good service" means and how much value it carries, alas, it doesn't always produce the return we would like.

Perhaps the answer is to ship loyal crews to the USA to give them first-hand experience in the art of meaningful service. If it weren't for the cost, we'd probably start tomorrow.

On second thoughts, maybe the cost would be justified after all. I'll see you at the airport.

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