What do you suppose you’d discover if you dined at 100 L.A.-area sit-down restaurants and secretly judged them for their hospitality? I mean, if you graded them on the warmth of the host’s welcome when you entered, kept track of the time it took for the waitress to ask if your food was all right and recorded the times the waiter interrupted your conversation? What score do you think you’d see?
As it turns out, you don’t have to wonder. A local organization has done exactly that and came up with this answer: 1.11 on a scale of zero to 5. Put in percentage terms, it means the 100 local restaurants on average were acceptably gracious 22 percent of the time. Since 60 percent is considered passing in most schools, they fail big time. “Restaurants have a long way to go to excel at making their guests feel they are being treated exceptionally well,” the report said.
The survey was done by GetDining Research, Development and Marketing, a Westlake Village startup that’s being funded by a Bay Area angel. The group hopes eventually to come up with a brand, like a Michelin rating, for restaurant hospitality.
We can’t compare this result among cities because this is the first time GetDining has done this survey, and it was only done in restaurants stretching west from Pasadena through the San Fernando Valley and Malibu and out into Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.
But if we could compare, I’m sure Los Angeles would be at or near the bottom of the hospitality scale. Oh, sure, restaurant workers everywhere are rushed and rude, but L.A.’s wait staffs are in their own class. They must have patented the process for treating customers the way Lisa Vanderpump treats her jacket lint.
I wrote a column in July 2006 in which I figured I’d been to 80-some restaurants in my then seven-month stint in Los Angeles, and I said that I’d been interrupted by a waiter or waitress during each and every one of those dining experiences. Sadly, nine years later, I must report that my personal interruptions-in-L.A.-restaurants percentage remains a perfect 100.
Think of how rude that is. When a waiter interrupts you, he’s really saying something like this: “Hey, you! My time is valuable and you must stop talking now. So get up off your knee, bub, and stop with that marriage proposal. I want to tell you about today’s specials.”
The GetDining report said of the diners they surveyed, close to 87 percent reported that their conversations were interrupted the last time they ate out and I’m shocked by that number. Seems way too low to me.
It’s astounding to me that a restaurant owner can spend millions luring the big-name chef, hiring a designer to create the perfect ambience, bringing in an efficiency expert to obsess over the POS interface and then not bother to tell the waiters and waitresses that interrupting their guests is a no-no.
Sean McGillivray, managing partner of GetDining, told me that most restaurants spend far more time and money cleaning bathrooms than training staff to be hospitable.
But, he said, the graciousness issue appears to be coming to the forefront, finally. “Diners seem to be more fed up,” he said.
Indeed, the most interesting question GetDining asked of diners was this: “Does Hospitality Trump Food?”
Now, if you asked that of a chef, I’d bet he or she would predict that 5 percent or 10 percent of restaurant customers would say yes. McGillivray thought it’d be more like 50 percent. However, 66 percent of the survey’s respondents said yes.
In other words, nearly two of three diners said a restaurant’s hospitality is more important than its food.
Once again, I’m shocked. Sixty-six percent seems way too low to me.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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