Social graces have been redefined across generations, but there is no denying that some essential attributes of fine service have been lost along the way, and the rise of social media has had some detrimental effects on students’ concepts of etiquette and service. Certainly, social media has given the hospitality industry a valuable boost in marketing and reaching guests, but communications via social media have contributed to a lack of social skills.
We used to be able to ask new servers to think about how they would like to be served if they were guests. But a vast majority of our young adults have never eaten at a fine-dining restaurant, and only a portion have experienced good service.
This problem of not having any idea of guests’ expectations is compounded by the fact that most of our servers’ interpersonal communication has been performed with their thumbs, albeit good exercise for handling plates.
The first day that new students come to The Culinary Institute of America, they are treated to a four-course banquet meal in my dining room, and for a lot of the students, it’s the most time they have spent at the dinner table and the grandest meal they’ve yet had.
For this reason, we must create training in our own house. When I teach table service to students, we practice skills: tray holding, plate holding, and carrying two plates in the left hand. But basic manners also need attention.
Prior to my introductory table service class, the CIA students have been in kitchens for about 50 weeks, so working in the dining room requires them to break some habits. We teach them to focus on behaving professionally any time they are on the premises, because you never know when your guests are around.
They are reminded that proper sanitation, as well as hygiene, must always be practiced. Clean undergarments and deodorant are a must, but servers must remember that colognes and perfumes interfere with the aromas of the food and wine.
Taking care of the customer is about working with the kitchen and trying to do whatever possible to please the guest. The students learn that it’s not about the cook or the chef, and it’s not about the server, maitre d’, or manager.
Servers also have to think more nowadays about special dieatary needs and allergies, meaning they need to know all of the ingredients in the dishes.
With my students I often go through a behavioral list that includes yielding to the guest at all times when walking through the dining room; leaving cell phones in bags or personal lockers; using “you’re welcome” as a proper response to “thank you,” not “no problem”; addressing guests as sir, ma’am, miss, ladies, or gentlemen; serving women first; and conversing with guests, not about them.
As a general rule, it should also be a policy that service staff speaks with one another in English, with appropriate language. They should also talk about the restaurant, not their personal lives, during service hours.
This generation hasn’t had the social training past generations have, but, on the other hand, it is much better at technology, adapting quickly to a new point-of-sale system. We need to adapt our training methods to reach this new generation of servers. I had one student who was having trouble with our point-of-sale system, and he was just so frustrated. I’d heard him earlier talking about getting a new video game in the mail, though, and I told him, “You’re a gamer! This is just a computer game.” The light bulb went on, and he was able to fly right through it then.