Culture and Society

How important is service in a restaurant?
Answered by Tom Colicchio, Alessandro Stratta and 7 others
  • Tom Colicchio

    Tom Colicchio

  • Alessandro Stratta

    Alessandro Stratta

  • Charlie Trotter

    Charlie Trotter

  • Eric Ripert

    Eric Ripert

  • Thomas Keller

    Thomas Keller

  • David Chang

    David Chang

  • Jose Andres

    Jose Andres

  • Alice Waters

    Alice Waters

  • Patrick O'Connell

    Patrick O'Connell

  1. Tom Colicchio Chef/Owner, Craft Restaurants and Colicchio & Sons


    Service is extremely important in a restaurant. I always say that people will come to the restaurant for food, but they'll come back for service. The number one reason someone comes back to a restaurant is recognition. I don't care who you are, there's always that moment when you walk into a restaurant, even if you have a reservation, you confirm that moment of hesitation, do they have my reservation? "Please, they have to have it. I can't go through this." And so you walk in and they say, "Hi, Mr. Smith, welcome back." It's over. You're there. You're there for life.

    And so I think that service can be broken down into two things. There's service, which is all the nuts and bolts around service, you know, clearing and serving from the right side of the guest, making sure wine's filled at the proper level, water's filled at the proper level, wine at the proper time, making sure that silver is on the table for the correct course. Those are all the mechanics of service. But then there's the other side of it, and that's the hospitality side of it. And I think most of the time when people mention service, they're talking about hospitality. I've been to restaurants where the service has been excellent and the hospitality is terrible.

    And you may look at that and go, "I didn't like the service. It was stuffy," or whatever. It's the hospitality that they're not getting. And I think that when a restaurant gets it right, they're doing all those steps correctly plus they have the hospitality down. And I think the hospitality side of it is the way that you're treated, the way that you're welcomed to a restaurant, the way you're said goodbye to at a restaurant. It is that added value. It's the reason why you're going to make a decision to come back to this restaurant and spend your money again. Because you felt good about the experience. You were happy when you left. That usually happens through great hospitality.

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  2. Alessandro Stratta Executive Chef; STRATTA at Wynn Las Vegas


    Service is everything. Service is the key to success for me. I cannot tell you enough examples of horrible food, wonderful service versus wonderful food, horrible service. I mean, very simply, you have a wonderful meal, a guy kicks you in the head on the way out the door, you're not going back. But if you had an OK meal and the guy was such a wonderful man, you're going back. You just ask, "Don't put the sauce on it this time," or whatever.

    I mean, that's as simple as I can put it. It's everything. It's everything, because that $40 for that steak is not just a $40 steak, it's what comes with it, and what comes with it is a little bit of generosity, gratitude, appreciation, and it's, "Why should I give you a 20 percent tip if I've been insulted for the past without two hours? Why should I pay you?" Well, because you're obligated to? No, you earn it. "I'll give you a 30 percent tip." It's not about, "Do your job and put the fork where it's supposed to be." Make me feel good. Give me some hospitality.

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  3. Charlie Trotter Executive Chef, Charlie Trotter’s


    Service is essential. I mean I'm a cook, first and foremost, and I don't even think food is the most important part of the thing. Service is more important than food. And maybe I bring that sensibility because I've spent years working in dining rooms in different capacities. And you can have a great restaurant by merely having very good food, but outstanding service. But you can't have a great restaurant if you've got brilliant food but indifferent or unaware service.

    So the food part is the easy part, and I relay this message to culinary team all the time. Yeah, I know we work longer hours, we're there four hours, six hours before the service team gets here, and we're here two hours after they leave. And I know it seems like they make a lot of money, but they're on the front lines.

    They are dealing with the clients. They are dealing with the guests. And it's not very easy sometimes. They're the ones coming back to the kitchen saying, "Can you re-plate this?" or, "The lady really thinks the lamb is a little too pink." And I've worked in restaurants where chefs blow up. You know, "What are you doing? Tell them to order something else!" But that's the client. And if that's what they want, that's easy enough to address.

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  4. Eric Ripert Chef/Co-Owner of Le Bernardin


    Service is key. I mean, if you have great food, and the food stays in the kitchen, and it's not delivered on time, and it's cold in front of the client, whatever you have done is ruined. If you have a full dining room, like, 80 people, and you are not able to feed people in a timely manner with the food that they have ordered that tastes good on a clean plate, you have failed. Service, also, is creating the mood. It's part of the magic of the experience. I always see service as an art. I mean, French people actually call that "l'art de la table." So, service is very, very important. It's complementary of the work that we do in a kitchen.

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  5. Thomas Keller Chef / Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bouchon & Ad Hoc


    Service is critical. Service can make or break a restaurant. I think service is probably the number one priority for us. I think we all realize that we can go to a restaurant that has really, really great food, but if you're treated poorly, you're probably not going to go back, as opposed to a restaurant that has good food but extraordinary service, where you really feel at home. You're always going to go back there.

    So service is key for us. It's making our guests feel comfortable and feel that we want them to be here, and to sense that hospitality that we're trying to give them. So that's really, really important. We talk about flavor compositions, we talk about presentation, and it's important for us. We want to stimulate a person's appetite with the way things look and the way things smell before they even taste it.

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  6. David Chang Chef/Owner of Momofuku


    I do feel that service is very important. For instance, I think it's a lost art. Nobody wants to be a career -- nobody wants to be a captain anymore, career server, maître d'. So when I go to Per Se, for instance, or the French Laundry, or Daniel, or Bernardin, you see the servers in action and you're like, "This is why I choose not to do fine dining," because there's no way I could get this choreographed. It is so difficult, and I don't think people realize when the plates are down, everyone's doing it at the same time: no spilling, no nothing. That end of it is unbelievably difficult to do.

    That's an aspect of the restaurant world that I didn't really care too much about. Part of the reason was -- a restaurant I worked at, I remember being told that food was the third most important thing. Service is No. 1, and décor was No. 2, and I was like, "Wait a second. You're holding an entire staff meeting and you're telling us we're the third most important element?" I could have taken it out in the wings, like, "Well, service is everything." Or, "I want to elevate the food and I don't really care too much about the service." So that's something that we did at our restaurants for a number of years is not really care too much about the service.

    All I want in my servers is to get the food hot to the customer that wanted it hot. Get the food cold to the customer that wanted it cold, and know what they're ordering. So, good service was good enough for me. But as we've grown, we realize what worked for us in the past doesn't necessarily work for us in the future. So we need and we've tried and constantly investing in our servers to be more knowledgeable about wines, about the food, about the restaurant in general. No matter how delicious your dish is, if it doesn't get to the customer and doesn't get to the customer in a timely fashion, and if they don't know how to explain the dish, then all of our work goes up in smoke.

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  7. Jose Andres Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup


    Service very much can make and break a restaurant -- even as much as food, if not more. People have a genuine interest in relations, and especially if you live in a close society. Coming to a restaurant is almost a moment that you have to -- in this case, to meet your server, to connect with them. And that, very much, that relationship is the bridge between the food in the kitchen and our guests. So service is very important.

    My restaurants are always very informal, I will say, in their approach. Probably it's the way I am. I don't like the old-fashioned way of service that almost -- you know you're going to be wrong, because you don't know what fork, what knife, what teaspoon to pick. Things have changed dramatically.

    When people come to a restaurant, when people come to feed themselves, I want them to feel almost like they are coming to that sacred place, but at the same time, sacred shouldn't be something like you feel like you don't belong. It should be that you feel you belong, you are part of it.

    So the right service will help you find home away from home. That's what the restaurant should be. Remember, restaurant really comes from restoration; really, it is a sacred word. Restoration of the spirit and restoration of your body through the foods you are about to be feeding yourself. Restoration is what we should be doing when we come to restaurants.

    I think today we have so many eating places that we don't see them anymore like that. A restaurant used to be a more sacred place. Today there's so many. But I wish that we will never, ever forget that the restaurant should be the place really to take the time to restore yourself. In the same way you may go to church or a synagogue or a mosque or in the middle of the mountains to look at the sky, you should come to a restaurant with that willingness to restore yourself.

    I love to go to restaurants sometimes alone for that simple reason. I love to share tables of 20. But when I go into a restaurant, especially when they are those restaurants I've been dreaming about visiting, and I go on my own, I do it on purpose, because to me it's almost I'm restoring myself. I sit and I make sure that the two or three hours I'm going to spend are a moment of knowing more about myself and knowing more about something else I don't know.

    It helps me enormously as a person, and I don't do it this often right now, but I always dream to go to those restaurants alone because those are unique moments.

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  8. Alice Waters Owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project


    There's one piece -- is the taste of the food, and the other piece is the service, is the hospitality, and I think they have to go together to make something really successful. It has to be genuine. It has to be real food and real hospitality. So the people who work at the restaurant have to be excited about what they're doing.

    I spend a lot of time trying to engage them and trying to make this place desirable to work in. One thing that we have done is we don't have chefs who work six days. We have two chefs who work three days each, and then they can have time with their families and to work on menus the other days -- and they're paid for full time. Downstairs, we have one chef who works half the year and another that works the other half. They can go out in the world and bring ideas back to the restaurant and do other jobs like writing books or teaching classes. But they're paid for the whole year, and so that brings them back with a kind of enthusiasm.

    It's not sort of wearing everybody out. It's the same thing we do with cooks. They work at lunch and they work at dinner, and waiters do the same. Young people who come from college work for three days most of the time. So you're really trying to accommodate people's other interests. I think that's very important for their happiness for working here.

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