Is Customer Service in the Food Service Industry Dead?

Chef Ali Gonzalez

Ali Gonzalez

Sustainable Culinary Solutions

Inside a fine dining restaurant

Well OK, many analysts argue with me that state that customer empowerment is declining. But I disagree. But there used to be a time when the servers were engaged and acknowledged the customer through eye contact and smiles, and restaurants were immaculately clean.

What is taking place in the industry is a newer generation of bartenders and servers (whom we used to call waiters and waitresses, as they would wait on us). Today it seems the servers’ and bartenders’ main focus is their 25% gratuity.

I, for one, do believe the gratuity should be based on the level of service that they provide. But nowadays, it’s a given that you must pay a 20% to 25% gratuity.

I walk into restaurants all across the United States over the past 20 years and I have seen a decline in service and it seems to get a lot worse every year.

Even with covid last year, one would expect restaurants to be sanitized and wiped down every five minutes or whenever they had the opportunity. But as I sit down at a restaurant or bar, it is dirty and sticky, as if it wasn’t cleaned since they closed last night.

There is such a lack of welcomeness and customer service, even with management nowadays, and I do understand also if there is customer entitlement. It goes both ways. As I sit at a restaurant waiting for a server to acknowledge, upsell me, and offer me another drink it’s almost impossible not to feel a little entitled.

Well, what is the reason for this decline over the past 10 to 15 years?

I would have to say labor, cost of goods, and profit margin are shrinking. There is a lack of training, a lack of motivation, and a lack of employee empowerment.

Food-service lawsuits have grown tremendously in the last 20 years, and they keep growing. This has put a halt to the industry to provide better service and training. In addition, the shortage of food service employees across the US is increasing daily.

Customer service in the old days meant a chilled fork with my salad, dessert on a chilled plate, and a very hot plate with my entrée. Now the salad comes out wilted and the entrée comes out overcooked and cold.

Acknowledging customers was key. The waiters always knew when you dropped a fork on the floor, or when you needed a refill with your beverage, and were always ready to accommodate you if you had an issue with your entrée.

Now, they look at you like you’re just complaining and it seems that they only say “thank you” as they hand you the check. But the whole night, you just can’t get their attention.

The question is, will customer service come back not as we knew it?

As technology drives the food service industry, POS systems at the tables, watering systems at counters, and robots in the kitchen will make the new year generation care less about the interaction.

They are already on their smartphones while they are eating or at the bar, they never knew what it was like to be in a restaurant with outstanding service. Not to mention, food delivery programs will increase every year, as 60% of Americans order takeout at least once a week.

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