Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What a wait(er)!

Everyone these days is a food ‘expert’ (or critic). They photograph their food, they express their opinions freely, publicly and vocally and have no qualms about castigating somewhere that didn’t measure up to their expectations. Conversely, they rave about great gastronomic experiences, service and venues.

However it renders sites like my restaurant review blog, Hobart Food for Thought, which I have been penning for 8 years, superfluous.

So, with my passion for hospitality, food and dining out, I thought I would write a series of articles on a food-related subject: some different personalities currently working in the hospitality industry in Hobart, and try to paint for you a slightly different picture of this unique world of hospitality.

I decided to capture an average cross section of staff, so picked a waiter, a couple who own a pub, and a chef. None of them were/are my personal friends so no conflict of interest was involved.

I wanted to basically gauge the current temperature, as it were, of today’s world of hospitality and see what various participants are thinking. Get into their heads. Examine their day-to-day highs and lows.

All were asked roughly the same questions, and permitted to wander off on a tangent if that’s where the conversation took us!

My first ‘victim’ is a waiter who prefers to remain anonymous, and so he shall. I’ll name him Sam.

Sam is 28 years old, and a uni student. He is doing what so many students do – work their way through uni. His degree is in journalism and sociology, and he will finish uni next year. Despite the waiting work being a means to an end, he wouldn’t mind staying on in the industry following his degree, but not in the service side.

In his observations of the industry, he believes that some business owners shoot themselves in the foot whilst trying to shave costs and make money. Raising the menu prices means cutting out many of the younger diners who simply won’t put their money to a meal with hugely inflated prices (and possibly not offering that much more value). They compare places, and they know exactly what they like, and realise there are plenty more venues in Hobart to choose to spend their money in.

I asked about pet peeves, and funnily enough got the same response from 3 of my personalities! This hugely annoying issue is people who arrive at a venue, with over 4 people in the group, and with no booking, and who then get very angry that the restaurant can’t accommodate them. This is particularly annoying on a Friday night when it’s frantically busy in both front of house and back of house.

He also hates people who call into the restaurant at any time of the day or night to drop off their resume. FYI - these resumes get binned immediately! I asked what the best scenario for someone wanting work in his workplace would be. He suggests coming in with their resume at around 5.30 to drop it off. The restaurant opens at 6.00 so this is a reasonable time to come in, and shows an acknowledgement of the fact that they are serious about their jobseeking but also respectful of the fact that the business is a busy place of work and not concerned at that time of day with hiring anyone.

If you’re doing a shift on trial, he suggests using your initiative, and not just standing there awaiting instructions from busy staff. Watch and do, is his advice. There is always some cleaning, or clearing back a table, to do.

He derives immense satisfaction from having completed a good night at work, where all the customers leave happy.

Working in such a tightly knit team means your workmates become your second family, with staff developing an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality in regard to the customers.

He pointed out that generally the staff just want to make their customers happy. You can never please everyone, and there will always be some customers who are unhappy with aspects of their experience no matter what you do.

When you post a bad review online on a site like Eating Out in Tassie, you can really damage a business. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about complaining. If you have a problem with something, raise it immediately with staff.

He related a story to me of a man who complained that his $32 spatchcock was too juicy and had run into his polenta. He was in a party of three people, and demanded all three meals be provided free of charge. He was also angry because his name had been mispronounced! Needless to say, no money was refunded and no meals were provided free! A juicy spatchcock is most definitely not grounds for complaint for any reasonable human being!

I enquired where his favourite places to eat were, when he had a night or day off. He named Ginger Brown, Pligrim, Café Kara, Solo and Berta. He considers the guys at Pilgrim to be Hobart’s biggest movers and shakers, as they cover lots of bases with their food and drinks. He also predicts food trucks as the next big thing for Hobart, and can’t understand Hobart City Council’s hard line policies which make it nearly impossible to get a venture like this up and running. “You’d think they’d encourage food trucks round the city to attract people” into the central area.

To sum up my chat with Sam, he mostly loves his work which admittedly is a stepping stone in his life. His observations on eating out in Hobart at the moment are that the $10 bar meals, cheap parmys and burgers are really meals for those on a budget, and hence not really deserving of the huge amount of online reviews they get.

I came away with a sense of hope and happiness that the world of waiting was still in very safe hands in this young generation of waitstaff. I loved Sam’s passion for, and interest in, his workplace and current career.

Thank you Sam for sharing.
Posted on by Rita
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