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Eleven Restaurant Industry Folk Describe Their Ideas of ‘Good Service’

The milk crate is an iconic symbol of the working class hospitality stiff. These durable, utilitarian boxes are used as walk-in cooler shelving as often as they are transformed into make-shift chairs, stools or tables. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — front of house or back — has found themselves sitting on one for a moment of respite. They are ‘the great back-alley equalizer’, and because of this, they are a venue for some of the most authentic conversations and honest human connections happening in the industry.

The Question

What does ‘good service’ mean in a restaurant? Where have you recently experienced excellent service? As a diner, can you describe how excellent service makes you feel?

The Answers

Winnie Sun | Owner, Zarak

Our model for good service at Zarak is sincerity to the core, and ensuring that our guests know that we are here to make their experience as perfect as can be. Every guest should feel welcome and appreciated. That comes from my personal dining experiences, and receiving genuine service. It’s never about asking for guests’ plans for the rest of the day, but on focusing on the current moment — which is their plan to visit our restaurant. Little things that can be overlooked when it gets busy can go a long way, such as holding the door open, and renewing napkins and plates. But above all, it’s building a team with the mentality that guests chose to spend time with us, so we should spend time with them in curating a meal experience that is positively memorable.

Miguel Arrais | GM + and Amelie Nguyen | Creative Director + Co-Founder, Anh and Chi

The Vietnamese have a phrase: lòng hiếu khách. While hard to describe with words, its true experience is transcendent. On one hand, lòng hiếu khách (or hospitality) is a mindful awareness of expectations; and on the other, it is anticipating and fulfilling a need before the recipient has even thought about what might complement any particular moment. Lòng hiếu khách is the genuine warmth and passion that fills a space; knowledge and insight about ones offerings. Dachi is a local example of excellent service – lòng hiếu khách permeates the entire experience – it relaxes you, surprises you and, best of all, leaves you feeling rejuvenated.

Bardia Ilbeiggi | Owner + Chef, Delara

When I was developing the concept that became Delara, I kept thinking: is it possible to get inspired by how Persian moms treat their guests, and make them feel loved and, of course, well-fed? Can I translate that into how we do hospitality at a professional restaurant? I believe it should be all about providing attention to the customers so they feel taken care of. It’s not so much about the pleasantries and over-explaining of dishes or drinks. It’s about creating a genuine connection with the people who’ve decided to come to our restaurant to hang out for a couple of hours.

Yianni Kerasiotis |  Loula’s Taverna

‘Good service’ is reading the room: knowing who wants careful attention to detail, who wants to joke around with you, and who just wants to be left alone. When you experience this at a restaurant, it feels effortless. I recently felt this way at Suyo restaurant — the bartender had so much knowledge and seemed to know how best to share it with each of his customers.

Ignacio Arrieta | Co-Owner, La Mezcaleria

[Good service is] hosting and happily welcoming a guest into your place with a humble, efficient and friendly attitude. I recently received very good service at Como Taperia. Ashwan, the manager, welcomed us with a big smile on his face. He was very attentive, genuine and fun. I left there feeling like I made a new friend. At Caffé La Tana, Chef Vish welcomed us with an amazing special meal. He made sure we had a great time, as well as anyone else in the room. When I last went to Chupito, Co-Owner, Tara Davis, welcomed us with a big hug and charming service. We had a great night with friendly and attentive service.

Shira Blustein | Owner, Acorn + The Arbor

[Good service is] making someone feel unconditionally welcome and like they’re the most important person in your world while you’re with them. A guest should never feel the burden of your “server list”. They should feel the warmth and enthusiasm you share with them as you guide them through their meal. True hospitality is an innate trait not easily learned. When you experience it, it’s magical.

Jeff Savage | Head Bartender, Botanist

I don’t believe that there is an overarching idea of what good service looks like. Rather, it’s more like something akin to art – you know it when you see it. The feeling of being welcomed, appreciated, and treated with kindness and exuberance is something that we as humans universally appreciate. I believe these are important elements to good service, but how these are integrated into someone’s service is really subjective. One place that I always feel the service is phenomenal is at the original Guu location on Thurlow. My partner and I moved to Vancouver about five years ago, and we quickly became regulars there. The staff always makes us feel incredibly welcomed, cheering for us when we come in and offering us small bites. That restaurant has such a fun atmosphere, and it’s only amplified by their kindness and exuberance. Good service and hospitality feels just like that – the warmth of inclusion.

Megan Buckley |  Chief Operating Officer, Hy’s of Canada

Good service is eminently subjective. That’s the modern dilemma. Assuming the timely delivery of quality food & beverage is not in question, is it “pull up a chair” personal, or is it discreetly reserved? The guest’s view on what makes a good quality check says it all – “My server annoyed me by interrupting and checking in after every course”, versus, “My server never asked how the first few bites were tasting”. In the end, good service is selfless, and curious. It’s not robotically gushing about personal taste and opinion, but about observing, asking, listening, and proudly delivering to the best of one’s ability. I recently experienced excellent service in Whistler from a very professional, seasoned server. He was knowledgeable, graceful, and engaged – three qualities which are hard to teach, but together create such harmony. As a diner, excellent service makes me feel relaxed, and hopeful for the resilience and future of the industry.

Robbie Kane | Owner, Medina Cafe

From the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave, good service incorporates all aspects and leaves a diner feeling that they have been taken care of, not only by their server or bartender, but by everyone in the entire restaurant. Even the hard-working folks in the dish pit play a role in providing great service. [It’s] leaving feeling that you were seen, heard, and tended to accordingly…My wife, Medina, and I celebrated our anniversary at Published. We left feeling very spoiled. Service in Vancouver, at least at the places I frequent, is excellent. I don’t take it for granted at all. I have travelled to many places, specifically to eat, and we have it very good here! Excellent service makes you feel like you have been taken care of. Even if the food or a dish or some other aspect is ‘off’, if the service experience is on point, it will make the entire event.

Jackie Avery | Co-Owner, The Burrow

As a person who has worked in service for most of my working life, and who has trained many people in the industry, I have found that what matters the most is that you care about the customer. If you care about the people you are serving, you will give good service (even on your ‘off’ days). Besides ‘caring’ as the central ingredient, I think people should let their personalities shine. I adore all the different personalities in the industry. I love the loud extroverts who dance on shift, the chatty servers that make friends with every table, and the quiet introverts who give you impeccable service without you even realizing it. My favourite Vancouver server of all time is a woman named Daniella. She worked at The Templeton, then at The Arbor, and now works at a hip Italian restaurant. Her ability to serve a busy room single-handedly (including making old-school milkshakes) is legendary. Daniella has a no-nonsense serving style, and yet in every interaction you feel her warmth, humour and competence, and you know that you will be taken care of.

Maria Huynh | Co-Owner, CHAUVeggie

Good service is acknowledgement, recognition, and attention to detail. People’s pockets are tighter than ever and they can, frankly, go anywhere, but if the restaurant feels genuine and like home, then guests will more often return to feel the same way. Suyo Modern Peruvian was excellent when I was last there. Sophie was our server (Robbie from Medina’s daughter) and she made us feel so special to be dining there. The attention to detail, knowledge of the menu, and excitement from the servers themselves about particular dishes and drinks…plus the ease of flow was deeply appreciated.

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