Dining out in Ireland is a joy for the most part – it’s just unfortunate that the service in some of our cafés, restaurants and hotels often falls short leaving us feeling a bit unloved and unappreciated.
The quality and selection of food available in Irish restaurants and cafés has come a very long way from the limited menus and dull over-cooked fare that was dished up back in the 80’s and before. We have finally woken up to the idea that we have fantastic quality ingredients in this country that just needed a bit of imagination and proper preparation to rival foods from anywhere in the culinary globe.
Here in Ireland, we have access to some of the world’s finest fish in the seas off our coast and our fertile soils yield wonderful seasonal fruit and vegetables, not to mention the quality of our grass-reared beef and the uniqueness of our mountain lamb.
All good, all tasty and being dished up to us in a variety new, not-so-new, and fancy ways in our cafes, hotels, high-end and mid-range restaurants and hip gastropubs. I am all for it, wonderful Irish food cooked with a twist or cooked traditionally, it is all about great ingredients, skilled cooking and imaginative presentation.
While the standard of food available is on the way up across the board, especially where there is competition, there are still some eateries that get away with serving below average food at above average prices, we all know that (so vote with your feet people).
Now, while that bothers me, and it does, especially when you have forked out for substandard fare, it certainly sparks no joy, au contraire… But, my real bugbear with some Irish eateries is the hit and miss nature of that very important aspect of the dining experience, the (bloody) service, the front of house.
Restaurateurs, hoteliers and café owners spend a lot of time, money, stress and effort to produce great food in lovely settings but the easiest thing to get right, the service, seems to be an after-thought in many cases or given no real thought at all in others.
Some proprietors seem to be blissfully unaware that it is not all about the food, important though it. The service too, plays a huge part of one’s dining experience.
The untrained, vaguely rude, disinterested, inattentive waiter or waitress is what the diner will remember about your establishment long after the bill is paid, not the fact that your homemade chowder was top-drawer or that your poached eggs were perfection itself.
Where do I start…? This malaise is particularly evident during peak season where students and school-goers are often hired during the summer holidays. Don’t get me wrong I am all in favour of summer jobs – it is a great life experience for young people and many of us did it. It is not just the seasonal staff either. I have experienced this attitude to customer service all year round and in all sorts of places even with full-time staff.
It beggars belief that an owner or manager would not sit their waiting staff down before letting them loose on their customers and go through the basics of what the role entails.
In many cases, it seems to me that these young people were simply given the job over the phone, or are related to the owner, and were asked to just show up whereupon they were handed an apron and told to ‘go wait on tables’, and that was probably the sum total of their training, i.e. none, nada, zero…
Summertime is also when most of our valued overseas tourists come to Ireland and poor dining experiences leave a lasting negative impression. Eating out is a very important part of any tourism offering anywhere but it seems that our national motto of ‘céad mile fáilte’ sometimes fails to get pass ‘the pass’.
The number of times I that have sat in cafés and restaurants trying to get the attention of some bored vague-faced young waiter or waitress to come and take my order. They never look around them to see if they are needed and walk around with their heads down almost to avoid the attention of customers, it seems.
Then there is the disappearing trick where your waiter just vanishes from the floor for ages, it does my head in, where are they? Are they inside nattering to the chef, out the back having a fag or probably on their phones somewhere?
I have been in many places where you are not made aware of the fact that the restaurant has a ‘Specials Board’, you often have to ask, and I do every time. As for asking any questions about the menu, forget it. Fish of the day? Answer: Err… I will ask the kitchen. What sauce does that come with? Answer: Eh, I will get back to you on that. Are your desserts homemade? Answer: ‘I don’t know, I think so, I will ask ok…’
It beggars belief that an owner or manager would not sit their waiting staff down before letting them loose on their customers and go through the basics of what the role entails. Even before each service day owners and managers should go through the menu and other changes with their waiting staff before the door opens. My eyes are rolling even writing this #commonsense.
Last year I heard food writer and restaurant critic Georgina Campbell on the radio praising the continued improvement in Irish dining standards while bemoaning the level of service…
The list goes on – tables not cleared in time leaving dishes and glasses pile up between courses. The old restaurant maxim ‘don’t come back to the kitchen empty handed’ is not part of the mindset in many establishments. This would not be tolerated in an American eatery. There is often no comparison to the level of service and customer care that is a given stateside.
Now, I am not looking for the whole ‘How are you doing today or have a nice day’ treatment, all I want is a level of service that makes my dining experience a pleasant and stress-free one. Waiting staff should be courteous, attentive, and friendly and know basic information about the food that they are serving.
Am I asking too much? I think not. A good waiter or waitress is akin to a good match referee they make it all flow smoothly yet you hardly know that they there, but they greatly enhances the overall experience.
I know we don’t have the tipping culture that they have stateside but people do tip here, especially if the ‘good service with a smile’ is that, good service. People are inclined to be more generous with their loose change when happy with the service. The opposite, of course, is also true, it is human nature.
Last year I heard food writer and restaurant critic Georgina Campbell on the radio praising the continued improvement in Irish dining standards while bemoaning the level of service, so it is not only me, it is a real issue here.
Now, I do not blame these invariably young and not-so-young inexperienced staff. It is the managers and owners who are at fault here for a) not introducing standards of service that need to be adhered to at all times and b) for God sake give your staff some basic service training before letting them lose on your valuable customers.
Restaurant owners need to remember that your front-of-house staff are your business ambassadors, as far as customers are concerned and ergo very important people. After all, we don’t get to meet the chef, and rarely the manager or owner.
I have had the privilege of eating in some fine London and Dublin restaurants and while the food was good, it was the service and attention to detail that I remembered most. It made the dining experience for me because you were made to feel special, and we are all suckers for that. You are after all paying for the overall dining experience every time that you choose to eat out no matter where or what kind of food, that is why we enjoy eating out. Restaurants and café owners need to apply some of this service ethos to their own businesses, just get the basic service right, the rest is a bonus.
Maybe I am a little too harsh and I have been served by wonderful staff all over Ireland in all manner of eateries but I have experienced a lot poor service too, there’s no excuse for it really. So buck up your service game Irish restaurateurs, café owners and hoteliers, it is in your own interest, and ours, your paying customers.
Now, where’s she’s gone with that dessert that I ordered half an hour minutes ago (lol).