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The Caterer

The service conundrum in British restaurants

03 April 2007
The service conundrum in British restaurants

Management must take responsibility for restaurant service quality in British restaurants and up their standards, says Brian Sill, president of consultancy firm, Deterministics.

As Britain is one of the key players on the world stage of economics and tourism, the dining experience in this country, by association, falls increasingly under the spotlight.

Restaurant service in Britain is now experienced by a progressively discerning society with an evolving make up: more disposable cash but limited time in which to spend it; more frequent diners with greater experience but consequently, higher expectations.

In order to meet these expectations, service quality must evolve and improve, just as the USA experienced a "service enlightenment" in restaurants in the 1990s.

The responsibility for raising the bar on standards, developing awareness and keeping the momentum alive, lies with the owners and managers of restaurants in Britain.

But for this effort to succeed, it will equally require heightened awareness by the restaurant-going public of what good restaurant service should be, and how to reward it.

From our experience, restaurant service in Britain suffers, not from an under-skilled front-line staff or immigrant labour, but more from a fundamental lack of management knowledge.

Problem areas include poorly designed service systems, where upper-end restaurants are often burdened with an unnecessary hierarchy that consists of many divisions of labour. The result is over-complicated and under-focused service. Inferior language skills also have a detrimental effect and where they are minimal the service cycle can be prone to misunderstanding and break down.

A common lack of forethought and logical planning also blights British service, with many restaurants failing to understand that by proactively managing reservations, table allocation and staff deployment they can control the pace and efficiency of every shift, and hence, service quality. Where there is a service charge in lieu of guest gratuities, the incentive to offer service above and beyond the simply competent does not exist and there is no driver in place for high customer service standards.

With the Olympics heading to London in 2012 and more attention then ever to be placed on the nation's restaurants as a result, the opportunity to improve service standards is there to be taken and for the general public to demand better service by being more vocal when expectations are not met.

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