SER­VICE, PLEASE

Come for the food, stay for the good times. In 2018, what is the role of ser­vice, and how has it changed?

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

The menu may draw peo­ple in, but great ser­vice makes a restau­rant tick. It sets the tone, or­gan­ises the chaos, and sends you back out into the world with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

For the best front-of-house teams, help­ing the diner feel wel­come and taken care of while mak­ing the whole show seem ef­fort­less is what they pride them­selves on. But how does it all hap­pen, what’s changed, and where is the art of ser­vice go­ing? We lined up some of the coun­try’s finest in­dus­try veter­ans, young-guns and restau­ra­teurs, and asked.

What does ser­vice look like in 2018?

Kylie Javier Ash­ton, Mo­mo­fuku Seiobo: The less you no­tice ser­vice, the bet­ter it is. The cus­tomer shouldn’t have to think about what’s next. It’s about be­ing per­cep­tive. Some peo­ple don’t want a lot of in­ter­ac­tion, some crave it. It’s about be­ing able to read peo­ple and take cues to see how you can be thought­ful.

Jeremy Cour­ma­dias, The Fink Group: Good ser­vice is in­di­vid­u­alised ser­vice. Ev­ery­one is look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent when they walk into a restau­rant. It’s im­por­tant to know your guests and build a con­nec­tion – the suc­cess of a restau­rant de­pends on its reg­u­lars. We don’t want to fill a room with first-timers ev­ery day, and build­ing a re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple is what restau­rants are all about.

Mau­rice Terzini, Ice­bergs Dining Room & Bar: For me, good ser­vice – re­gard­less of whether it’s 1958 or 2018 – is in­vis­i­ble ser­vice.

The kitchen is a trade, and front of house is a n a r t . I t ’s dif­fi­cult to break down into pieces that you can point at.

Frank Roberts, Merivale:

Peo­ple tend to fo­cus on pro­fes­sion­al­ism, or skill and speed, but the fun­da­men­tal con­cept is how much you care.

How has ser­vice changed? Nikki Friedli, Africola:

There’s a lot of in­no­va­tion and change be­cause of young blood. What’s re­ally fun is that the Aus­tralian dining scene, slowly but surely, is start­ing to lend much more of an ear to front of house. The kitchen is a trade, and front of house is an art. Some­times it takes longer to un­der­stand be­cause it’s dif­fi­cult to break down into pieces that you can point at.

Mallory Wall, Café Di Sta­sio: I find it para­dox­i­cal that just as at­ti­tudes are chang­ing to­wards ca­reers in front of house, tra­di­tional skills have faded. In­formed wait­ers take de­light in dis­cus­sions of the prove­nance of the fish, but they couldn’t fil­let it for you. They can de­scribe cho­co­late dust meth­ods and “the chef’s story” but they can’t flambé or sil­ver-serve your dessert. The theatre of the great waiter has been some­what lost.

The role of ser­vice and the waiter

Terzini: I don’t want to know any­one’s name; I just want to be served. I feel that ser­vice has be­come over­bear­ing. With old-school wait­ing, there was a sense of ef­fi­ciency and less in­va­sion. These days, you get a dish and some­one has to give you a the­sis on it.

Javier Ash­ton: If it’s just food on a plate, then what are you pay­ing for and why are you here? As much as ➤

peo­ple love good food, I don’t think that’s enough. It’s about the ex­pe­ri­ence. We want peo­ple to feel like they’ve come into some­one’s home.

Friedli: Peo­ple are in­fin­itely more cu­ri­ous now – some­times for the bet­ter, some­times for the worse. Peo­ple are ask­ing more ques­tions and want more out of their ser­vice than just a silent per­son who makes sure their cut­lery ar­rives at the right time.

Cour­ma­dias: In Aus­tralia, ser­vice staff fa­cil­i­tate and man­age the ex­pe­ri­ence. They’re not ser­vants. Whereas in Europe, there’s of­ten a very tra­di­tional style of ser­vice where you’re a ser­vant – you’re pro­vid­ing the nuts and bolts with­out in­ter­act­ing.

Paul Guiney, Em­bla: A waiter has to be much more in­formed than they’ve had to be in the past. You’re hav­ing to learn about all sorts of things: coeliac al­ler­gies, fruc­tose ab­sorp­tion, as well as where the food came from, how it was cooked and what those three herbs are on the plate.

Terzini: My Papa was a maître d’ for 25 years. He used to say to us that our only role as a waiter was to make peo­ple feel like they had made the right choice to spend money with us.

The role of the restau­rant

Terzini: Restau­rants have a so­cial role, a culi­nary role, an ed­u­ca­tional role and some­times they also have a fun role. At Ice­bergs, we let peo­ple own their space within the restau­rant in­stead of dic­tat­ing to them how they need to be­have. I don’t mind if guests get up and start spray­ing Cham­pagne over each other – I sort of like it. And that be­comes part of the ser­vice be­cause it al­lows them to feel com­fort­able enough to be­have in a cer­tain way.

Javier Ash­ton: What I love about our menu at Seiobo, and about what we do, is that there’s a pur­pose. We’re re­spect­ing the Caribbean cul­ture, one that most peo­ple have no con­nec­tion to and that has so much his­tory that’s not spo­ken about enough. Ev­ery day, in our brief­ing, a team mem­ber gives a five-minute pre­sen­ta­tion about the Caribbean. In Aus­tralia, we’re as far re­moved from there as you can pos­si­bly be – you toe the line of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. If you have no con­nec­tion to a cul­ture that you’re rep­re­sent­ing, how can you be true to that? How can you re­ally re­spect what you’re try­ing to cre­ate? Yeah, you might just be putting down a bowl of rice, beans and lardo but the in­tent be­hind that and my con­nec­tion to that dish is so lay­ered and com­plex. Food is a con­nec­tor across so­ci­eties and cul­tures. There’s a greater mis­sion and mean­ing and that gives us so much more pur­pose than just feed­ing peo­ple, and giv­ing them wine and a good time.

Roberts: There are re­ally im­por­tant op­por­tu­ni­ties to be nice to each other in so­ci­ety and hos­pi­tal­ity plays a mas­sive part.

Equal­ity in the restau­rant

Javier Ash­ton: Typ­i­cally women have been in front-of-house roles, so when you talk about gen­der in­equal­ity in restau­rants, it’s largely due to the lack of at­ten­tion that they have re­ceived. We fo­cus on the chefs, who are of­ten men, so much that we to­tally for­get about this whole chunk of the in­dus­try. Cel­e­brat­ing these roles and bring­ing at­ten­tion to all as­pects of our in­dus­try gives a more com­plete view of what it takes to give good ser­vice.

Friedli: I think pulling away from the idea of the rock-star chef that gets to bark or­ders has made a mas­sive dif­fer­ence. It’s given front of house an op­por­tu­nity to be cre­ative. I think this change is largely be­cause of open kitchens and chef’s coun­ters. Chefs are now forced to talk to peo­ple and re­alise that main­tain­ing con­ver­sa­tion while you’re ex­e­cut­ing tech­ni­cal tasks is ex­haust­ing.

Ser­vice as a ca­reer

Bev­er­ley Woods, Sean’s: I don’t know how you at­tract peo­ple to the in­dus­try – you work when other peo­ple are hav­ing fun – but it’s a great life. You have to have a lot of en­ergy and stam­ina; it’s not a desk job, but it’s very re­ward­ing.

Javier Ash­ton: It’s a well-paid job, which peo­ple don’t talk about. Peo­ple tend to think that we’re just shit-kick­ers. It’s an in­dus­try with a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing – in ar­eas from wine to man­age­ment – but also in life skills. You walk out of a restau­rant and you can do so many other things. We take it se­ri­ously in Aus­tralia. It’s a lifestyle.

Wall: Aus­tralians are just start­ing to un­der­stand that a ca­reer in hos­pi­tal­ity can be some­thing wor­thy, whereas in coun­tries like Italy and France, it has al­ways had dig­nity.

Roberts: If you’re think­ing about choos­ing ser­vice as your ca­reer, go and find out who the best peo­ple in ser­vice are in your area and work with them. Ta­lent at­tracts ta­lent. It’s an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity – peo­ple don’t re­alise how good it is.

A r e g o o d w a i t e r s b o r n o r m a d e?

Guiney: Bit of col­umn A, bit of col­umn B and a nice lit­tle slosh of al­co­hol to tie it all to­gether. A good waiter is some­one who in­ter­acts well with other peo­ple. You can teach some­one to carry three plates, and you can help them learn how to work in a busy en­vi­ron­ment, but you can’t teach peo­ple how to like other peo­ple.

Friedli: Def­i­nitely 50/50. You have to have some­thing in you that’s in­nately prone to be­ing em­pa­thetic, and know how to make peo­ple feel com­fort­able. You can be born with those core qual­i­ties, but if you want to be an ex­cep­tional waiter, it’s all about train­ing. It’s much more than just fronting up and do­ing the job.

Woods: It’s some­thing within you, and you don’t even know you have it un­til you start. You can ei­ther do it or you can’t.

Where is ser­vice go­ing?

Javier Ash­ton: I think there will be a shift and we’ll start to re­ally un­der­stand that, here in Aus­tralia, we’re set­ting a bench­mark. Stop look­ing every­where else. Let’s cel­e­brate Aus­tralian food and restau­rants. I think that’s where the shift is. It’s re­ally about un­der­stand­ing that our restau­rant in­dus­try is at the fore­front. Peo­ple are com­ing here to work and to learn. There are so many groupies, too – peo­ple who want to be friends with hos­pi­tal­ity peo­ple. You can join the band. ●

There are re­ally im­por­tant op­por­tu­ni­ties to be nice to each other in so­ci­ety and hos­pi­tal­ity plays a mas­sive part.

In ser­vice at Fleet, Brunswick Heads.

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