At Your Service: April 7, 2010

Dining out is a treat for most people these days. It certainly is for me. So, I was particularly appreciative when I was recently treated to a mid-week restaurant meal. Unfortunately, our experience lacked one critical aspect of good service that would have made it a pleasure to be there.
The restaurant was empty of customers when we arrived. After waiting several minutes for someone to come out of the kitchen, we seated ourselves. Our waitress soon brought us menus and then left us alone to ponder. She took our orders and summarily brought our choices. Other customers arrived, were seated and served. What I found amazing was that from the time she first appeared until the time my associates and I left (a period of over two hours) the waitress never smiled to us or anyone else.
It is not that she was unfriendly or rude in any way. She performed the necessary tasks in a timely manner, took care to do a few little things to make the service personal (multiple spoons with dessert) and checked to make sure that everything was “OK.” At the same time, I cannot say that she was friendly – and perhaps that is what made the big difference.
I tend to believe that the value of a smile is often over-rated. All too often people smile with their mouth without moving it into their eyes. These insincere gestures rarely make the customer feel welcome. They are often also an attempt to divert attention from service that is lacking in other ways. Friendliness, in and of itself, does not replace the many things one can do that lead to good service.
Our waitress did those things that would otherwise equate to good service. Yet, while she was efficient, her demeanor made us uncomfortable. It seemed that she wanted to be somewhere else or was just plain sad. There was never a point at which she looked directly at any of us. As a result, we felt like we also wanted to be somewhere else and it made us sad.
Good service is always a blend of many factors. There are all the tasks that must be performed to simply get the job, whatever job it is, done. The relationship between the server and the served is equally important. The extent to which a service provider connects to their customer and makes them comfortable determines the balance of the experience.
It is not simply about smiling; but instead about the connection. When we don’t feel well, or wish we were someone else, we can still connect to our customer. Focusing on the customer’s need and letting them know that we are with them goes a very long way. When two people connect – even when one, or both of them, is sad – a smile is the natural result. It is an inherently sincere exchange and it makes it a pleasure to be in any setting.