Back on my hobby-horse – poor hospitality service and what Electrolux Appetite for Excellence is trying to do about it!

by Amanda McInerney on 23/03/2012

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.

Source – Wikimedia Commons – Deutsche Fotothek

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.

2011 Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Young Waiter winner James Sexton – manning the barbecue in Prue & Stephen Henschke’s back yard!

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?

 

 

 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali March 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm

The difference is amazing. 99% of the time we got great, if not excellent, customer service everywhere we ate in Canada and USA. Once you’ve had good customer service like that, it is very hard to get used to the service back home.

Amanda March 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Ali – the rubbish service here is even harder to justify when you consider the wage differences, too. Service staff here make much more than the efficient, polite and helpful staff in the US.

InTolerant Chef March 24, 2012 at 8:37 am

Its so true! This week I was waiting for someone at a fancy-pants cafe when the waiter slouched up to Me and asked if I would be ordering or if I had just decided to park myself in his seats. I said I would like a coffee, he wandered off, then I had to wait 20 mins before he took my order, then he came back because he forgot my single coffee order on the way to the kitchen!
Sounds like Electrolux is doing a great job promoting better service, yay!

Barbara March 24, 2012 at 8:58 am

What a terrible experience Amanda. I haven’t. Eaten out a lot recently but when I have we have had excellent service from our waiters. Perhaps Brisbane restaurants are investing in staff training.

Kate March 24, 2012 at 8:59 am

Sounds like a shocker of a birthday dinner – I hope you wrote a letter of complaint otherwise the powers that be will never know and then never be able to address the issues – that is if they can be bothered !!

Barbara | Creative Culinary March 24, 2012 at 9:39 am

You are going to think me totally nuts (if you don’t already) Amanda, but this post almost made me teary.

I’m an American citizen and though most of the people in my life are hard working, polite and respectful people, we ‘Americans’ are so often portrayed as rude, ungrateful snobs who are hated by other countries, including those we visit. To hear any words that acknowledge something positive about this country I love really touched me.

Now…the next time you get near…if you don’t parachute over Denver I will have to come hunt you down!

Steve March 24, 2012 at 9:52 am

Ive been reading you blog for a while and i gotta say honey its a joke! Are you ever going to give a good review of your experiances in Australia? (isnt the internet wonderful for complusive complainers like you) Or are you going to keep going on about how wonderful the americans are. Perhaps you should move there! (please!!!) Ive been to america many times and i can assure you that some of the worst dining experiances i have ever recieved have been there. All the yanks are chasing are tips and the more you tip the better service you get. (maybe you have a fat wallet and like to pay for the level of service you get?) The most genuine, honest and freindly service i have ever recieved has been in australia, without question.

Amanda March 24, 2012 at 10:57 am

Steve – perhaps you have been looking at some other blog by mistake. If you have a wander through these pages you will find them full of praise for our local food talent – both producers and chefs. This is only the second time I have portrayed any local food business negatively and both times it has been the poor service I’ve complained about. I’m just wondering if perhaps you might be in some way connected with the un-named hotel I mentioned. Just a thought.

Ann March 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I am definitely in your camp Amanda. Steve is obviously happy with the service at Macca’s.
You are an absolute champion for local producers and growers. He can NOT have read your blog before.
He is a very creative speller though eg. experiances? freindly? recieved?
Steve have you ever heard “i before e except after c”?

Hotly Spiced March 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

That is such a shame about your poor dining experience but yes, in Australia experiences like that are far too common. I try to avoid restaurants that are geared towards tourists because they seem to have by far the worst food and service with over-inflated prices.

marcellina March 25, 2012 at 10:08 am

I thought it was just because we are a small town in North Queensland but it appears this problem is everywhere. I find the in our small town mature wait staff to be great but the young staff often haven’t learnt basic skills. This is perhaps a problem more wide spread than one would think and perhaps not confined to the food industry.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella March 25, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Yes sadly the service you get in the USA and Canada is quite different from what we get here which varies wildly from city to city and state to state.

tania@mykitchenstories March 26, 2012 at 8:57 am

The story that you tell is certainly not new. There have been many a professional ( in Tafe and Hatted restaurants) desperately trying to improve our service personnel and provide opportunities for training , so we are not totally embarrassed when visitors come to our shores. Electrolux should be congratulated for providing this experience (and saving our faces). There is no excuse for attitude and lack of knowledge in the service industry. If Steve believes that it is a tips only affair ( to get good service) then perhaps we should be dangling that carrot in front of our service staff, more often.

Amanda March 26, 2012 at 9:02 am

Tania – US service staff get paid the flat rate of $10 per hour, regardless of whether they are a 20 year old student or a 40 year old with a family to support . They deserve & need tips to survive. Ours get in excess of $20 per hour.

Detective Chow March 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

$20 per hour? Man, times have changed since I was a student/waiter. Then again, once was you could go to the movies for $10 on a Tuesday. Progress?

I wouldn’t go as far as grouping all Australian hospitality service into the same bucket. Some places/people are amazing, some are terrible. And tourist traps are called just that for a reason. (I had a terrible service experience at a touristy place in Belgium last year.)

But hooray for celebrating the good people and experiences.

Celia March 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Oh for goodness sake! She asked who was paying for the wine? I know the turnover is high in those places, but surely someone took the time to train the staff!

tania@mykitchenstories March 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Hi Amanda

Yes, I know that they only receive a retainer . I worked as a waitress in the US, I didn’t mean to sound so stupid. While I am not for one minute advocating we pay in this manner it does seem to encourage great service. What I did meant is that if the staff were better trained they would have the opportunity to earn more tips, and maybe with this knowledge they could be encouraged to do a better job.

Lizzy (Good Things) March 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Amanda, one of my pet peeves is being treated like a piece of crap by some trendy young whippersnapper who thinks they are doing the establishment a favour by being haughty towards customers. I cannot stand this behaviour and have, on more than one occasion, walked out, but not before complaining loudly to management… of course, never returning to said eatery. This sounds a a wonderful initiative.

Johanna March 27, 2012 at 9:35 am

I totally agree, I have experienced a lot of bad service and ignorance in our country I’m sorry to say. Though do we blame the employees or the employers her should be in their training them? Many times, common sense is lacking. Just one of many examples I can think of is you go out for breakfast (and being a little hungry) will order a cereal and fruit and then a scrambled eggs to follow say. Now they can see that only one person has ordered this. Many times I have had a wait person bring out both at the same time, and you are hurrying to eat the cereal so that the scrambled eggs doesn’t go cold!! By the way, I love Henshke wines, they are very talented!

Jennifer (Delicieux) March 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Here here Amanda! While we were in North America last year, just like you, we were blown away by the absolutely amazing service we encountered. Nothing was too much trouble, you didn’t struggle to try and get the attention of wait staff who pretended not to see you, and food was served quickly and promptly. Once we came back home the difference in service became so much more apparent, and honestly, it makes me not want to spend money dining out when you are on the receiving end of such poor service. Like you, I wonder what overseas visitors must think of the appalling service standard we have here. Even little things like having to pay for bread in Australian restaurants, which is simply brought to the table in North American restaurants.

Hopefully these awards will inspire a pride and appreciation for this valuable service industry.

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