I’ve been thinking a lot about service lately – shop and hospitality service in general and waiters specifically. This contemplation was initially prompted by how terrifically impressed I was at the level of service we enjoyed in absolutely every restaurant, diner and store in which we set foot in North America and was subsequently concentrated by the utterly appalling service we were subjected to just this week back home. Because most Adelaide Hills restaurants seem to be closed early in the week, we chose to celebrate The Husband’s recent birthday in one of the largely tourist-orientated hotels in Hahndorf – itself a significant tourist destination in the Adelaide Hills.
Despite their spacious dining area being almost empty, our party of seven was placed directly in front of the toilets. When I asked to be moved I was told that this was the only table that would seat our number – apparently the thought of pushing two tables together was beyond the young staff – but the absolute howler came when we ordered the wine.
The very cheerful and pleasant waitress bounced up to the table, bottle in hand, and asked who would be actually paying for the wine. While we were picking our jaws up off the floor she politely explained that she needed to know this so that she could ask them to taste it before she poured, then proceeded to pour the glass full, leaving one centimetre of clear space to spare. I could ramble on about the ghastly food, dreadful wine list and our apparent invisibility to the wait-staff for the rest of the evening, but I’ll just leave that up to your imagination. Neither ourselves nor our guests will ever be going back there, and I despair of what international tourists must think of Australia when faced with such astonishingly poor service. If my experience in the US and Europe is anything to go by, their hospitality standards are conspicuously higher and their training far more rigourous than our own.
I’ve written before about my frustrations with the level of service which we continue to tolerate here in Australia, but there is a light at the end of that particular tunnel and I’ve seen it. The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence is a national awards program whose mission is to inspire and educate young Australian chefs, waiters and restaurateurs – the very people who will be responsible for maintaining and improving upon Australia’s reputation as one of the world’s leading food and wine destinations.
A couple of weeks ago, while enjoying the generous hospitality of Stephen and Prue Henschke of internationally acclaimed Henschke Wines once again, I was able to spend some time chatting with two of last years program entrants, Anthony Moore, 2011 Young Waiter runner-up and James Sexton 2011 Young Waiter winner. They had travelled to the Barossa Valley as part of their participation in the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program and were here to spend two days getting a first-hand view of of the premium end of Australia’s wine industry with Stephen and Prue, significant sponsors of the program. As was the case last year, I was impressed by their commitment, enthusiasm and sense of responsibility for their role in contributing to the dining experience of hospitality guests. Unlike so many wait-staff, they see this as a career and not just something to bring in some cash whilst they are studying. In fact one of these young men has finished his university degree but has no desire to pursue a future in any other area.
Wait-staff positions in the hospitality industry are taken much more seriously in the northern hemisphere than they are here in Australia, where they are sometimes seen as menial and simply a means for cash for otherwise-aspiring tertiary students. One of the principle aims of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence program is to recognise and support young talent in Australian hospitality, giving them opportunities and experiences that money just can’t buy (like the two days enjoyed by Anthony & James), but which will open their eyes to the possibilities and potential in their chosen field. This program has a further role to play in the way we, as consumers of hospitality, view those who attend to our needs and wishes when dining out. As time moves on and more graduates of this program take up positions in the hospitality industry around the country we will gradually see a more polished, educated and professional style of service in restaurants and hotels and, hopefully come to generally expect a higher standard from waiting staff.
There is a distinct lack of satisfactory wait-staff training programs nationally and if we are at all serious about projecting an image of Australian hospitality as efficient, professional and a desirable tourism experience we need to encourage the development of this and similar programs. If you are part of the hospitality industry – either as an employer or employee – I’d urge you to consider putting yourself or your staff forward for this admirable initiative. All the details of the program can be found here and the applications close on April 15th.
I’m fed up with sloppy, inefficient and poorly trained hospitality service – aren’t you?