Why Does Service Suck?

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Have you ever heard people refer to the Orlando Style of Hospitality?

Neither have I.

We had more than 68 million visitors to the region last year. We'll likely have that many or more this year. And next year. They will be greeted and treated and guided and served by an army of hospitably workers. And, not incidentally, so will those of us who live here and also take advantage of what the service industry has to offer, especially our more than 4,000 restaurants.

Restaurants, of course, have been my focus for nearly 30 years, and anyone who has been reading my reviews for any part of that time will know that I'm a stickler for good service. The quality of a restaurant's food is very important -- without food, why have a restaurant?

But I've always considered the quality of the service to be even more important than the food. I'm not alone in that thinking. Numerous surveys of diners have concluded that people are willing to accept mediocre food if the service shines. It goes the other way, too. I could cite several examples of restaurants whose food was the talk of the town, so much so that reservations were hard to come by. Often, the headiness of being the popular new restaurant manifested in an arrogance among the staff. I can't name one that survived long with that attitude.

But there's another reason why I consider the serving staff to be more important than the kitchen staff. The servers are the direct interface with the customers. When something goes wrong -- and it will, even at that hot new restaurant with the must-have-or-die food -- it's the servers who can make it right. I have never dunned a restaurant in one of my reviews for something that went wrong if a server stepped up to correct the situation. In fact, I was more likely to give praise and be a bit more forgiving on other shortcomings.

On the other hand...several years ago I was invited to a media dinner for a new restaurant at an area hotel. The staff was overwhelmed, as can happen with new restaurants. The general manager stepped in to help the servers, a move I applaud. But the manager clearly did not know even the simplest service protocols. How could he train his staff if he didn't know? I brought that up in my review, which resulted in a dismissal -- of the publicity person who had invited me, not the inept manager.

And don't get me started on managers. Try searching my reviews with the phrase "there was no one in the dining room I could identify as a manager" and see how many results you get. (There will be a lot.)

But as the hapless manager above demonstrates, you can't teach what you don't know.

I find that untenable, especially for a hospitality-heavy area like ours. We should be known as the home of Orlando Style of Hospitality and should be setting the standard for good service. We aren't and we're not.

So how do we? It's a three-step process: training, training and training.

But you have to know what to train. I'll have more to say on that soon. In the meantime, tell me what you think about the importance of good service in the poll below.

Service Poll