Sam Harrison, owner of Sam's Brasserie in Chiswick and Harrison's in Balham, believes the importance of good front-of-house service is finally being recognised.
Before opening my own restaurants, my background had always been front of house. Since my first junior waiting jobs, I have been passionate about providing great customer service.
I spent four years in Cornwall working for Rick Stein (who is now one of my fellow owners) and although Rick is famous for being a chef, what I learnt most from him and his then wife Jill was how to build a business based around looking after your guests.
For neighbourhood restaurants like ours, food is only one part of the whole package. The ambience, atmosphere and hospitality are just as important. Great service can make up for a problem with the food, but great food cannot make up for poor service.
People are either natural hospitality people or they are not. It is possible to train almost anyone to carry plates and open wine, but you can't train people to smile and genuinely enjoy looking after people: you are born with that.
My restaurant manager at Sam's, Shelley Windell, has been with us since our opening. Having never worked in a restaurant before, Shelley is one of the most natural hospitality people I have ever come across and has developed with us from being a junior waitress to running the front of house.
In these difficult economic times, we have to give people a reason to return to our restaurants. Of course people will return for good food and a value for money, but a big part of the decision is down to how they feel they have been treated and looked after. Being made to feel special as a customer is not something you forget in a hurry, and by making our customers feel valued we are hopefully building long-term relationships.
There has been a tendency in this country to put chefs and food first, and perhaps put the importance of customer service further down the list. In these difficult trading times that may be about to change, and delivering great hospitality may get the recognition it deserves.