Poor Customer Service is Killing Perth Restaurants

I was one of the many Western Australians who immediately booked a table at the prominent East Perth restaurant, Amusé, when they announced in January they would be closing down for good.

Within days, the website bookings were exhausted and there was a waitlist option only for the chance to dine before the doors closed in early March. So, why would a prominent restaurant that has no trouble getting bums on seats close?

Family business owners who pour their heart and souls into running their business eventually have to trust their staff to deliver the standard of service they expect, when it gets too big to do themselves. But this is something that is becoming increasingly difficult to do in Australia with the hospitality industry under significant strain from the very people they need to make it work. Why does Australia’s customer service get awarded second place behind America and Asia? There are some key learnings that the industry is now faced with that might be simple to understand, but difficult to overcome.

The availability of skilled front-of-house staff -made it difficult for Amuse.,and the closure of the restaurant has sparked a debate about the skills and availability of hospitality staff with exceptional customer service in Perth. Gone are the days when working in hospitality was a way to pay the bills while studying, or saving for the all-important Contiki trip to Europe in the middle of the year. Young people working in hospitality might see it that way, but the tolerance for this is over, and exceptional customer service is no longer a nice-to-have.

In the case of Amusé, which offered a set degustation menu with wine pairing for over $200 per person, the food was exceptional. There is little doubt that their chefs are an asset to the business. Surely that’s all you need to worry about — after all, people come for the food and not the service, right? Wrong! The service from the front-of-house team is equally important, if not more important than the quality of the food. If the food doesn’t live up to the expectations it is the service staff that are still responsible for interacting with the customer.

Customer expectations are changing and it is hard enough to get it right at the best of times, let alone in a high-end fine dining business like Amusé. When I dined there, I tried to be very open minded when judging their service. I couldn’t fault much, but this was only because the owners were there driving it.

In any transactional industry staff members are expected to know their job, explain things to customers and do it with passion. When it comes to a high-end restaurant that offers a signature menu, these same core skills are needed on a whole new level. Front-of-house staff must have intimate knowledge of every ingredient and flavour to explain to the customer and show their passion for food, which becomes infectious to the customers. And they have to do it all of the time. When customers see this level of service, even in the simplest of industries, this is when service becomes a competitive advantage.

Now is the time when all businesses need to make customer service their number one priority before more great restaurants like Amusé close their doors. Competition is tough, and the only thing that is level and worth competing for amongst all restaurants is simply customer service. Therefore, organisations can benefit from some of the following:

1. Attracting staff with a customer service ethos by making it clear how important service is for your organisation;
2. Ensuring customer service training takes place, no matter how busy it may become;
3. Focusing on the front-of-house teams even if the core product is made by the back-of-house team;
4. Move from product knowledge to explaining it with passion; and
5. The end goal to be able to step back from being inside the business and have confidence with front-of-house staff.

[Originally published in the Australian Hotels Association WA, Hospitality Magazine: June 2017 issue 59.]

Chris Smoje is passionate about customer service and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Through speaking and training programs, Chris creates excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results with organisations and their teams.   www.dimecustomerservice.com

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