Cover Photo: Valentin B. Kremer / Unsplash

Respected food and beverage industry insiders shed light on the impact a well-orchestrated table service makes in delivering the ultimate dining experience

In the cutthroat world of food and beverage, where people are so focused on delivering something bigger and better— customer service, at times, may have been pushed to the sidelines. It is a pity when diners are given masterful plates of food, only to encounter oblivious, unkept— or worse— ill-mannered servers.

Still, we ask: How important is front-of-house (FOH) training?

Naturally, food will always take centre stage. Food lovers will pursue inspired dishes prepared by dedicated cooks even in the most inconvenient circumstances and remote locations. In the food and drink business, what goes on the table will always be the number one priority, and business owners who are truly passionate about their product go to great lengths to maintain quality and consistency.

Restauranteur Ryan Cruz (Ramen Yushoken, Mendokoro Ramenba, Ramen Muarudori, Kazunori) is infamous for that reason, known to be bullish about the no-takeout rule for his ramen and the strict adherence to the recipes of their Japan-based chefs and partners who are undoubtedly some of the best. “We are, after all, in the business of delivering experiences that revolve around food. Some people may be able to forgive substandard service, but not food.”

See also: Where to Order Ramen in Metro Manila

However, he adds: “Having said that, data and research shows that 9 out of 10 people are willing to pay more for better customer service, plus in an industry where it is so cutthroat and with numerous ‘me too’ products, that can mean the difference in consumer choice and habit.” In his casual ramen joints that are known to have people standing in line for hours any day of the week, they have a dozen turnovers on a regular basis. The commitment to service must be deeply embedded into the company’s culture for it to be automatic.

Cruz explains how the two most important things that drive a business are, first, money, and, second, the engagement of its people. “Perhaps the biggest myth in this industry is that owners and management must focus on putting customers first. We have to disabuse ourselves from that. The reality is that you should always put your employees first, and that will follow.” Motivated and empowered employees translate to a mindset that demonstrates a natural empathy toward the customer. Cruz explains: “What we instil in our staff is that they have to ‘reset’ their experience every time. Realize that to them, it might be the 500th bowl for that day, but to the customers who have been waiting in line, it is their whole world.” 

See also: Restaurateur Malu Gamboa’s Guide to Baguio

All this effort and attention for a fast-casual concept, what more when diners are paying good money accompanied with a very precise set of expectations. Operations manager of M Dining + Bar, Tippi Tambunting, describes the kind of service expected from a fine dining establishment like theirs: “A lot of our clients have been coming to M since we started, and through the years, we are able to determine the needs and wants of each and every client. We know which are their preferred tables, the servers know how they want their food done and if they have a specific sequence of service.” She adds:  “A lot of our clients send their wines ahead of time so we can chill it or decant it at a time specified. In M Dining, we want our clients to come back feeling like they are just at home.”

Tambunting is very particular about service and attention to detail, which cascades down to her managers and servers. Like Cruz, she invests heavily in the training and relationship-building with her team. “Our team members have been with us for a very long time. We create a work environment that makes them feel at home and a family. From that positive relationship with one another, we are able to make sure the hospitality is transferred to our guests.” As part of their training, their staff are made to dine-in, so they will experience first-hand what guests expect of them.

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The best ones, those who truly make a career in FOH, have always had good, almost nurturing, relationships with their superiors. Metronome manager Dawn Alibudbud credits her experience working at CDP in Rockwell, Makati wherein owners Katrina Alcantara and Malou & Oye Fores trained her to function "as extensions of themselves in terms of how they prefer our guests to be taken care of and how every aspect of day-to-day operations are executed efficiently and sustainably."

With this strong feeling of belonging, in any industry it seems, team members have a clearer idea of the role they play and its significance. "I believe that the level of standard that chefs observe when they execute dishes or menus should be fully supported by a team that makes sure every other aspect of service would be up to par with such standards," Alibudbud points out. "One of the main differences between dining out and eating at home is service. It's way more than just about having someone take your order, pour your wine, and bring food to your table. A beautiful restaurant with a talented chef can only go so far without the right people taking control of what happens on the floor."

See also: What Does it Take to Make a 4-Hands Dinner Successful? We Talk to Metronome's Miko Calo

Therefore, to answer the question, “why is front-of-house training important?” The Food Agency managing director Cyrus Cruz has a romantic yet accurate metaphor. “FOH service is an orchestra. It’s a dance. It’s a theatrical play. Everyone has a role and responsibility. FOH training allows them to move in sync and in cadence.” I agree with him when he says that “excellent FOH service can save a mediocre meal”, as many times I have returned to an establishment with passable dishes but where I was otherwise made to feel pampered and welcome.

Ryan Cruz says, “ultimately, what people remember above anything else is not what was said to them, how long their food took or how brief their visit was, but rather how they were made to feel.” As in any relationship, at the end of the day, it is how we treat each other that matters.

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