Saturday, April 24, 2010

Testing Patience for Food

China is trying to build up its tertiary industry, mostly related to the service sector. And from what I can see in the hospitality industry here, much needs to be done.

Restaurants that don't have any foreign management or direction have no concept of what good service is.

And when I look at service, it's not just the wait staff, but the entire dining experience from the moment you walk through the door to the time you leave.

In general many restaurants have decent wait staff who greet patrons when they come in, seat them as quickly as possible and give them menus. Sometimes as you start to read the menus they are standing right by you waiting to take your order which is a bit too eager, but the right idea.

However, the next step is the kitchen. There is no coordination in the kitchen in terms of getting dishes out on time or in sequence. Sometimes a main course will arrive before the appetizers or cold dishes do. Most of the time if there is more than one person eating, one person gets their dish first and almost finishes eating it before the second or third person gets their order. How can that be? Isn't there any concept that if people are eating together at a table they should be receiving their orders at around the same time?

There's a restaurant just across from my office called "Relax" in green letters. However, despite the cavernous setting with high ceilings, exposed brick and pipes, and trendy background music, this place is hardly stress-free.

They have a number of dishes on the menu, and for those wanting a set lunch on a budget, there is a selection of about four or five dishes for 28RMB ($4.09) and for 2RMB more, you can have coffee, tea or a soft drink.

Over a week ago I went there and ordered the barbecue pork dish with a few vegetables, rice, a bowl of soup and a small vegetable appetizer. I did get the soup (lukewarm) and the appetizer but then waited and waited... over 20 minutes for the barbecue pork. I asked the waitress to check up on my order and it wasn't until then did she tell me that they were still roasting the pork so would I like to eat something else instead?

Why is there no communication between the kitchen and the waitstaff? And why isn't the barbecue pork already prepared before the lunch time rush?

So I changed my order to chicken instead and that took another 10 minutes... even though the chicken was served cold. Why does it have to take so long?

I gave the restaurant another shot today and tried to order the barbecue pork again. I told the waitress that last time it wasn't available, but she told me it was.

After having my soup (this time hot) and appetizer, I waited, and waited... another 20 minutes went by and I asked her to check my order. She decided to complete other tasks before telling me the kitchen was almost finished roasting the pork and it would take another five to six minutes.

I checked my watch. Ten minutes later I hounded her again and she said one minute more.

She was lucky it arrived 30 seconds later or I would have walked out.

The wait staff and kitchen need to be trained to understand that people want their food quickly, especially during lunchtime. That's mostly because of time, but also because people's blood sugar levels are low and they easily get irritable.

It's all fine and great for restaurants to have the staff all stand in front of the restaurant in the mornings or before dinner service and chant slogans or do exercises, but what about giving them training on what makes good service? Good food is only part of it, the other is service.

Perhaps when China starts instituting tips in restaurants will we start seeing good service. Until then, it's "服务员!!! Fuwuyuan!!!"

1 comment:

gg said...

not just a little restaurant, china is very poor in management/planning type of thing. it stems from the traditional feudal system for thousands of years. the superior from the emperor to district officials are the father figures. the people are subordinates an just follow the leader there is very little individual thinking and planning necessary to live and straight forward life. it will change, pretty soon too. the chinese are quite smart.