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The Absence of Restaurateurs and Chefs from Their Own Tables - The Alarming Truth

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As a consultant over the last decade I’ve had the privilege of working with over a hundred restaurant owners, chefs and managers. One of the first questions I ask is, when they last dined at their own restaurant? (and I don’t mean at 3.30pm after lunch on a Monday)….The amount of blank stares I receive is quite extraordinary.

We know its almost impossible to understand something fully unless you experience it yourself. You can’t conclude what’s really going on unless you have the big picture view. And you can’t solve complex problems unless you create space and time for reflection so as to look at things through fresh eyes, from different perspectives and in new ways. But all too often I see restaurateurs, managers and chefs ‘too busy’ to experience what it’s like to be a guest in their own establishment. I believe this to be one of the hidden truths about why restaurants fail.

So in the spirit of encouragement, to sit down, relax, think differently and openly, and to repeatedly enjoy the thing they have created, I’ve put together a list of reasons why this practice could be the missing piece in finding out where the problems and opportunities are to make your restaurant the best it can be...

  • To look at the faces of guests throughout the dining experience. Notice what they notice and the emotionality they bring.

  • See the arrival, holding, seating and departure experience especially when busy.

  • See how the customer facing staff move around the room, what they are looking at, missing, the time spent on each activity.

  • The interaction with guests. Where servers are positioned in relation to the tables, how much authority and confidence they have. How they engage and show themselves behaviourally. How guests respond.

  • The teams knowledge of the offer. How and when that is conveyed.

  • The speed and efficiency of table relays, offering menus and payments, as well as all other key steps in the sequence of service

  • The temperature, plating, consistency, accuracy and speed of dish and drinks delivery. Not to mention the obvious inclusion of tasting them.

  • The way dishes and plateware served in the dining room appear visibly on the table in consideration of the lighting mood settings.

  • The comfort, ease, space and relational aspects of dishes and drinks served as well as the space afforded the guests.

  • How the restaurants story telling comes across in relation to menu design, interiors or other such touch points

  • The lighting, mood, sound and ambiance of the room and the way this affects how guests look, feel and respond.

  • Individual staff members and their level of effort, their mannerisms, communications and the energy they exude

  • Whether there are missed commercial opportunities

All of these things amount to the experience of the restaurant and provide valuable insights. After all it’s experience that is the most important factor to understand. It is not about the food or the service or the room or the commerciality in isolation. Its all of these things and if you think you can see that from the boardroom or the kitchen pass or the booking sheet, then you may just have missed the point.

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