“Good Service” is a relative concept. Relative to how much you are willing to pay for it, and relative to your prior experiences. To me, good service is not complicated. It is: (1) Making your guests feel comfortable; (2) Getting the job done. I don’t have Burj Khalifa expectations. I don’t need all the servers to “know my name” (in fact I’d rather not, given the wake of destruction we have been leaving in restaurants lately), I don’t need to hear polysyllabic fish names rattled off in 4 languages weaved in with the latest news on molecular gastronomy, and I would much rather not be forced to pay a 20% commission on every glass of wine I order for these privileges.
On the other hand, I don’t want to shiver in fear of my bouillabaisse arriving in spittle marinade, or be treated like transparent plexiglass.
Service in the Netherlands is a social study in itself. The most interesting justification for the appalling service here is that the Dutch wish to be treated equal, and therefore do not see it fit to act in a fashion that could be deemed “lesser”. As equals, all must have the right to speak and act freely.
Recently, some friends and I embarked on an outing at Crazy Pianos, a live music joint on the Scheveningen Beach. Our first encounter with a staff member did not bode well for the rest of the evening as she nastily told a friend that her cardigan and coat were to be charged as two separate items. It was hardly the substance, but rather the delivery that was incredibly off-putting. Then, the ample chested waitresses (in you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it camisoles) proceeded to make a fuss about our seating, despite having our reservation, and the place still being quite empty. Later, our waiter managed to mess up 3 orders (turning sea bass into chicken satay) and even addressed us as “chickas”. When we asked this very same waiter to remove one plate that was crowding the table, he said “We don’t do that in Holland. We wait till everyone is finished”. Upon us insisting, he quickly gathered up all the dishes, even the side dishes that some were still working on. Mighty revenge.
Anyway, the bright side – the music was great and the conversation awesome. Bad service also acts a bit like bonding glue. You gel together in the face of hostility so that the group can emerge victorious. (Plus you save yourself 400 calories on unnecessary fries and mayonnaise.) On the other hand, it can be the solvent of friendships as everyone has their distinct ideas of dining and tipping etiquette. I recall being told by a friend once not to say anything about appalling incidents because it was “embarrassing”. Despite her own complaints that the forks were dirty and we had been ignored throughout, she corralled us into tipping 15%.
So how important is service? Unlike so many things in life, it is truly just the effort that matters.