Boiling Point - investment in restaurant staff needed
Irish restauranteurs need to invest as mush in their staff as they do in their decor, says Georgina Campbell
Poor training has been rife in restaurants for years. You can't expect staff to perform well if they haven't been given the tools or training. Likewise, you can't simply blame managers. Good practice seeps down from the top and there's always a higher chain of command.
The guest experience begins before you arrive anywhere, from how your booking is dealt with to what it's like when you get there. First impressions are key but there's a huge oversight in that area. When you arrive, how you're received is so important. Is there someone to greet you? Even a gesture to let you know someone will be with you shortly can make a massive difference.
If a place starts off on the right foot then everything builds on a positive. If things go wrong at the beginning, you don't feel you're in confident hands.
People who are running restaurants should look at the whole guest experience as being made up of a series of small things. Maybe you can't tackle everything at once, but you can start by recognising where there's a problem. If you can fix one thing you can gradually build up improvements. People will forgive an awful lot if the service is right.
We have, quite rightly, a reputation for being friendly in Ireland, but there's a tendency to mix up friendliness and good service. They're not the same thing. Friendliness is a very necessary part of hospitality but it's not, in any way, a substitute for training and professionalism. All of these elements are key contributors to a good experience.
This all sounds very simple, but the reality is that training is a day-in-day-out business and something people overlook in restaurants. You need the staff to come together each day, to know the menu, understand the food and eat the dishes. When a staff member is selling the menu it's great to hear them say, "Oh, that's one of my favourites." You really feel like they're engaging and know what they're talking about.
Many new restaurateurs have an idea of how they want their new place to look. They put all their money into the décor, which, essentially, will go out of date and get worn. I suggest they might invest in a restaurant business-training course instead. They cost a sizeable chunk of money but this knowledge will form the foundation of the business and should stand to them forever.
The Restaurant Association of Ireland is calling on CERT (the disbanded state agency responsible for training staff for the hotel, catering and tourism industry) to be reinstated, and I agree wholeheartedly. I'd like to see the Hotel Federation backing this call too. Irish hospitality is really missing out on that sound base of training.
You get the feeling there isn't as much loyalty or commitment amongst staff in some places as there should be. Investment in staff training would help with that. It's lovely to have Irish people front of house but many of the better business owners have said that having a mix of nationalities on their staff is great.
In other countries, service jobs are regarded much more highly than here with other nationalities bringing a different ethos to service. Here service often seems to be something we do while studying or in limbo. Many people coming from other countries have a genuine culture of pride in service jobs and tend to have a good effect on others.
Recognising the significance of staff training would be a start. In many cases restaurateurs and hoteliers don't even realise there is a problem. If I were involved in a business I'd start by looking at areas that could be improved upon. I'm just not sure all managers and owners are doing that.
Georgina Campbell is editor of 'Georgina Campbell's Ireland' (ireland-guide.com) and president of The Irish Food Writers' Guild