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The Devil’s in the Details

Posted on July 10, 2007

By Kelly Rush

From Dictionary.com Unabridged (v1.1)
The performance of duties or the duties performed as or by a waiter or servant; occupation or employment as a waiter or servant

From American Heritage Dictionary
The serving of food or the manner in which it is served.

As I reread my last post, I realized that, perhaps, it may be unclear as to why I’d like to focus on service this week.  Primarily, it’s because in a variety of industry publications—Successful Meetings, MeetingNews, M&C, etc.—over the last two years I’ve seen many surveys about why planners choose the properties that they do; many of the responses place service at the property as one of the top three deciding factors.  Yet the concept of “good service” versus “bad service” seems to be entirely subjective.  Think about restaurant reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and you’ll see that, in most cases, the reviews vary widely.  Now, I’m sure part of this is circumstance—differences in servers, whether the restaurant was fully staffed or not, as well as the expectations of the guests themselves about what constitutes good service.

Patty Shock and John Stefanelli write in their text Hotel Catering: A Handbook for Sales and Operations that with a site visit the catering manager “can control the presentation [of the property] and eliminate the interruptions.  While there [the client] can be treated to lunch….” (68)  I encourage each of you to take back control.  If service is so important it is one of the top three factors determining your choice of facility, make your feelings known: express your need to eat banquet fare, not restaurant, and experience banquet service.

That being said, it becomes very difficult to separate “service” in the technical sense from the cumulative experience that we tend to generally call “service.”  Today is about explaining service from a technical point of view and how we, as operations professionals, evaluate the skills and performance of our staff.  In order to do so, I’ve compiled a short, composite list of banquet server duties from banquet position descriptions for the Taj Hotel in Boston to The Red Lion Hotel Yakima Center, Washington; DoubleTree Coconut Grove, Miami; and the Atlanta Marriott Northwest in Atlanta.  In the interests of creating a checklist for evaluation, let’s take these one by one and list hard, concrete questions to ask during your next site visit:

• Must at all times present a favorable image of the hotel to the public.
o Is there a staff member meeting guests at the door?
o Does staff make eye contact and smile within 10 feet of the guest?
o Does staff offer a warm “Welcome” when the guest is within 5 feet?
o Is the staff member neatly groomed?
o Are staff uniforms crisp and clean, with a visible nametag?
o Is wait staff posture straight?

• Maintain the cleanliness of function areas
o Is the reception area filled with empty glasses, cocktail napkins and old hors d’oeuvres plates?
o Are bathrooms clean and free of odor?
o Are back hallways clean?
o Are kitchen surfaces clean?
o If using tray stands, are dishes neatly stacked? 
o Is there an unsightly pile of food on clearing trays, or have the staff covered trash with a napkin to obscure?

• Knowledge of appropriate table settings and service ware
o Are linens crisp and flat, or wrinkled?
o Do bottom linens reach to the floor?
o Do top linens have their primary crease facing the main entrance?
o Are linens clean and free of stains, ragged edges, or stray threads?
o Are chairs mirrored (for tables with even number of guests) with the chairs across or evenly spaced {for tables with an odd number of guests)?
o Are table settings appropriate for menu?
o Is flatware mirrored with the place setting across the table?
o Is flatware placed 1” from the edge of the place setting (for round tables) or from the edge of the table {for square or rectangular tables}?
o Are napkins clean and crisp?

• Serve meals to patrons according to established ruled of etiquette
o Are guests being served courses from the left, with the left hand?
o Are guest being served clockwise around the table?
o Are females being served first, according to age, then the men?
o When carrying food items, is the staff carrying three entrees at a time, on level with no fingers in the dish?
o Are beverages being served from the right, with the right hand?
o Are dishes being cleared from the right with the right hand?
o Are water glasses empty?  (They should never get below half-full.)
o Does the server use a cocktail tray to clear beverages from the right?
o Is appropriate flatware removed prior to serving the next course?
o When (re)placing flatware, does the server use a “marking plate” to bring silver to the table, or do they carry by hand? (The latter is incorrect.)
o When opening a bottle of wine table-side, is the label facing the guest at all times? 
o Is salt & pepper replaced with sweetener and cream prior to coffee service?

• Observe Guests to fulfill any additional requests
o In down time during the function, are wait staff at post along the wall observing tables?
o In down time during the function, are wait staff chatting with each other, paying no attention to the event floor?
o Are servers knowledgeable about group’s meeting schedule and locations for activities?
o Is the server knowledgeable about other departments, locations of restrooms, etc?
o Do servers escort guests when directions are asked?

• Must be knowledgeable of event menu items and their contents, and the correct preparation and garnishing methods
o Does the server have a firm, concise grasp of the menu, or do they answer menu questions with “beef or chicken entrees tonight”?
o Is the first course hold or cold?  How beef roasted, grilled, braised?
o What temperature is it served at?
o When offering wine, does the server ask by varietal or color (e.g., “Fume Blanc” vs. “White”)?
o Can the server cite vintage?

Dedication to proper, technical service shows professional dedication, and the answers to these questions can help you evaluate that dedication.  In my experience, if these technical questions are answered in the affirmative, you can be assured that the experience of service will be outstanding…think of it as the serving equivalent of the CMP or CSEP!


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Dave Lutz

Kelly, great post! It reminded me of my old banquet manager days...many moons ago.

One of things that I like to observe in a banquet setting is whether or not the service is in sync throughout the room. All too often, a fast or slow server, poor supervision or a problem in the kitchen, can result in sections of the room falling behind.

Watch what servers are carrying in and out of the service entrance. (If you see one with dessert and one with entrees, be very concerned.) Occasionally walk around the room (especially in the back corners) to make sure the room is being served in sync.

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