Making a Mess Out of Service
By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 06, 2010
A man sitting in a restaurant was waiting for his soup appetizer. When it arrived, the man noticed a fly in his soup. He summoned the waiter and asked, "Waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup?" The waiter calmly replied, "Why, I believe he is doing the back stroke sir." While this joke has been told many times to amuse patrons everywhere, the unappealing prospect of scenarios like this really happening is far from amusing.
As summer kicks into full swing, hot weather strikes, the bugs come out, attitudes relax, food seems sloppier and dirt makes bold appearances. Cleanliness is next to Godliness and so it goes in service too. Making sure clean is clear and constant for guests is a critical facet of service excellence. When places, people or things are not clean, the organization hosting those "unclean" environments makes a statement that they do not care and that there are other priorities which take precedence.
I have studied this issue for many years and along the way hairs not belonging to me started appearing everywhere. I found them in salads, on hotel shower walls, around bathroom sinks, nestled on carpets and couches and submerged in soups. I think I even saw one in an episode of "Hell's Kitchen", the relatively new TV reality series. I wondered whatever happened to hair nets and began to search for them. Several restaurants, hotels and attractions later, I only found one place that still wore them, Nacho's Tacos and Seafood, a small family run restaurant in San Marcos, California. Unbelievable! And, not only do they wear hairnets; they always smile and deliver delicious CLEAN food in a CLEAN environment which makes me feel safe and well served !!! Whew! Such small efforts can be so reassuring and provide high value in the service delivery model.
Perhaps some sort of hair patrol should be set up as part of service standards. We all lose hair every day (I think my hairdresser said at least a handful each day) but these hairs should be not lost on guests, where they stay or what they eat. A wonderful head of hair can be quite attractive but not without constraint in the world of hospitality. Grooming standards should be strongly in place and "head first" should top the list. If not hair nets, then some way to hold back loose hairs, especially for those in food service and delivery. Those entrusted to cleaning may be trained to have extra radar for hair and not leave souvenir hairs of their own as they do their jobs. Grooming checks should take place throughout a shift, not just at the beginning. Supervisors should allow a few extra minutes for an employee to go through a checklist and mirror check before each shift and after each break.
Fingernails, toenails, ears, tongues and clothing should also be clean. Dirt under nails, wax or unidentified material in ears, whitewashed tongues or stained clothing will gross guests out. Anyone who has seen those TV commercials with the yellow and green animated germs may be more terrified and shaken by these service "dirties". In certain minds, unclean also means unsafe and in an increasingly bacteria minded world, that is not good. When guest confidence plummets, so does their spending. Guests are less likely to order more, stay again, or refer others if they feel sanitary service standards are not in place. They are more likely to leave with a queasy feeling in their bellies and great stories to warn other guests. Lack of sanitation can cause loss of reputation.
Washed utensils and glasses are another clean statement. I'll never forget visiting a major entertainment attraction and waiting for a bowl of pasta in a buffet line. As the server filled my bowl, she dropped the ladle on the dirty kitchen floor, looked around for it, picked it up, and continued filling my bowl. Needless to say, I lost my appetite. Wine or water glasses, in restaurants, hotel rooms or bars with lipstick leftovers can be very unromantic. Silverware with smudges, smears and smells can make smiles go away. Are servers, cooks, chefs, and housekeepers keeping up with cleaning checks and balances? Training should include cleaning "what if's" and how to handle them. Several eyes should be checking before the guest takes a look.