Drop the gratuitous questions, stop acting like a robot and communicate what's going on. This was the message to an audience of young service professionals from restaurateur Jeremy King last night.
Speaking at the launch of the 2020 Gold Service Scholarship at the Corinthia hotel in London, the Corbin & King founder spoke of the importance of putting "heart and soul" at the centre of great service.
"We can get machines to say ‘good afternoon, do you have a reservation?'," he said. "But artificial intelligence can't love or show empathy, sympathy, corncern or understanding. Customers want you to care and communicate."
King said it was fine to make a mistake or leave a customer waiting, as long as they're told why.
"Tell them what's going on and make them feel secure. Give a running commentary: ‘I'm so sorry, I've spilt your coffee and am going to get a new one.' It won't take you any longer."
The Wolseley, Delaunay and Soutine founder had short shrift for the fashion for overfamiliarity: "There's a perception that hospitality is about asking questions, but there are too many gratuitous questions. Don't ask me if everything is alright. The last time everything felt alright was the summer of 1962.
"We need to do better than that and it's not what the customer wants."
King said he had banned upselling in any of his restaurants as customers are seen primarily as a source of income.
"See it as an opportunity to give someone a good time and you'll make money," he said.
Other speakers at the event to launch the 2020 service competition included Castore sportswear brand founder Tom Beahon, Corinthia managing director Thomas Kochs and Hotel Football founder Gary Neville.
The 2020 Gold Service Scholarship, won this year by Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons assistant restaurant manager Karen Gruet, opens for entries in September 2019.