The Smooth Flow of Customer Service

Tina Haapala |

Written by Gary Silverman, CFP®

On a recent business trip, I had the opportunity to dine at a fine restaurant. The one I was in was named for the chef, Michael Mina, who founded it.  I was happy to sit at a table near the “open” kitchen, as I wanted to get a feel for how this place operated, up close and personal.

Normally when I dine alone I either read a book or make notes about a current project. But I had another distraction—entertainment even, that evening.  I was watching an amazing display of choreography in that kitchen. I’m not sure the New York City Ballet has as smooth a flow as the dance that involved the servers, hostess, sommelier, maitre d’, chefs, and various attendants.

Everyone walked quickly in a cramped space and yet never ran into each other or even needed to pause while another passed. I take that back. One thing did cause the line of workers to halt and seemingly shrink into the woodwork: when a customer needed to get by. As soon as they were clear, the dance started again.

In the kitchen at least seven cooks were preparing plate after plate of some very complicated dishes. Standing between them and the waiters was the executive chef. Nothing left the kitchen without his eye scanning the results. Three plates with a bit of sauce dripping on their edges were rejected. As the chef pushed the plates back he called out, “make sure it is pretty.”

There was no arguing, visible hurt feelings, or obvious disagreements. The captain of this ship had an expectation and everyone around him knew their job was to exceed that expectation. Not only did the executive chef monitor the food until it was transferred to the wait staff, he observed tables in the dining area to anticipate when the table’s next dish would need to be ready to be sent out.

In fact, while many of these “dancers” were immersed in the particular tasks they were assigned, several spent a considerable amount of effort watching the diners. The chef, as I mentioned, watched to ensure the food was at peak flavor when being served. The hostess watched so that she would know the approximate time more tables would be available. The assistant maitre d’ watched the diners in order to detect the slightest need almost the moment it arose.

The steps were precise:  from the service assistant who saw I used an entire pad of butter on my roll, so brought two pads for the next, to the assistant maitre d’ who asked if I had any questions when he noticed me intently studying the workflow, to the executive chef who took a moment to wish me a good evening as I was leaving. The performance they put on was truly a dance with one goal, to give the customer maximum pleasure in their dining.

Want to learn a few steps about how to treat (or at many places, how not to treat) your customers? Go get a bite to eat.

This article was published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on December 20, 2015.