We Need to Talk About The Customer

Georgina Campbell  of Georgina Campbell  Ireland Guides recently noted “Many a good kitchen is let down by front of house, and poor serviceis an issue in too many establishments of all types, so proprietors urgently need to understand the value of investing in staff training.”

So, we need to talk about the customer. Visting London some months ago and  Dublin city centre very recently, I was struck by the overwhelming number of cafes, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, food shops, bistros, delis and every type of food service outlet it is possible to imagine. Department stores have cafes, garages have cafes, garden centres have cafes, it is possible that our local post office will be next in line to have  coffee corner while we are waiting for our stamps. I walked into a local department store on Tuesday and a café had sprung up inside the door since the last time I visited.

But seriously, we need to talk about the customer. The Hospitality industry is just that. It emcompasses all forms of business dedicated to being hospitable to those who come through the doors. The Collins dictionary defines it as ‘kindess in welcoming strangers or guests’.

Why then, do you think no one, but no one talks about the customer. It’s about the latest super star chef. It is about this new trend in serving food on spades, in tins, buckets, bottles or my pet hate; slates; ( see blog)! it is about the latest food trend. It was kale with everything but your cereal last year, this year it looks like cauliflower is trying ( and failing) to make a comeback. It is about Scandanavian design and cool, sophisticated lines and such. This might have an up side in that the use of old doors, oil drums, pallets, car tyres and the contents of rummaged skips will stop turning up as a chique new café. My nerves are in tatters at the thought of what is coming down the line. The conversation oscillates between the hottest ‘up and coming’ area of town to the latest superfood.

The Maitre D’ has been consigned to history, while chefs are the new celebrities. When I have had a delicious meal, of course I would like to thank the chef and make sure that the kitchen team know that I appreciate their efforts on my behalf as I work with many of these awesome people every day. I don’t know about you but when the chef comes into the restaurant and starts to approach tables to see what we thought of his/her cooking, I feel my knees beginning to knock together and my hands start shaking .. and I work in this industry! Having had one of the most delicious meals in some time in Viewmount House in Longford very recently, Gary O Hanlon rightly was chatting to guests in the restaurant. For some reason, which my analyst is still trying to unravel, I became very edgy.  He passed by us to someone he knew and the relief was terrific.  It is a bit like being stopped by a guard when you haven’t had a drink for two weeks. You open the window as he peers in accusingly and immediately start slurring your words.

Anyway, where was I? The customer, yes. To come back to Viewmount for a minute. Customer service there was terrific and Una our waitress was wonderful. That aside, there is a humongous vaacum in the conversation at the moment around the customer. When was the last time the customer was mentioned anywhere by anyone, other than Georgina? Marketing executives ( it seems most are under 30) focus on taking the perfect photograph of a sunset, a car racing across the Mojave Desert ( don’t ask me!) and messages which are so encrypted by their own brillance that this customer has devised an amusing ‘what do you think this advert is for?’ guessing game.

Hotels seem to be better at it than restaurants. It is bred into the marrow of hoteliers that the customer is king but the new wave of restaurants have a different focus it seems to me. It is about the new barista, which single estate coffee and recently, tea is featuring this week; how much upcycled stuff has been retrieved, what new ingredient is hip, how cool the location is, what chef you have managed to secure. Excuse me for a moment but the customer still determines it all as stated by someone who should know.

It’s time to get back to basics. The customer is still king. It is not about you, it is about me and all the other customers who, like children will return your loving attention a thousand fold and keep your business profitable if you will just do the following

  • Look like you are happy to see us when we come through the door. I mean really happy.
  • Take an interest in us and remember our names, our favourite seat, that last week was a bad one and that I am teary today because I waved the last of our children off at Dublin Airport.
  • Remember that this is my time in your company. It is your time to show kindness to strangers.
  • Read my body language so that you will know what I need before I know it myself.
  • Remember that you may be the first person today who smiled and took and interest in me.
  • Remember that this experience that you are creating for me is a wonderful, important, kind interlude in a world  which is increasingly cruel, unkind and unstable.

For this we, us customers of the restaurant/ café industry thank you most sincerely. It matters.