The Jillian Bolger Column


BAD SERVICE - Food & Travel Writer JILLIAN BOLGER has got the bit between her teeth on this one, and she’s not letting go. And she’s dead right.

In last month’s ezine I wrote about the especially bad service I experienced in a celebrated Irish restaurant. In my column, which you can read here I noted how a lack of training of the floor staff had ruined what had been a night of outstanding cooking.

Several readers contacted the Guide afterwards to ask why I hadn’t named the restaurant in question. One went so far as to say that ‘by not naming the restaurant your review is meaningless’. Another suggested I should have named the place as they ‘deserve to know how bad the service was.’

On the night in question, as we were leaving, I commented to the staff about how disappointing the service had been and how we’d felt very neglected at our table throughout the night (a table that was in the centre of the dining room, no less, and close to the chef’s pass – not one that was hidden away in the corner of a room.) The staff who had served us apologised profusely, agreeing that service hadn’t been up to scratch and explaining that the manager was away on holidays.

Of course anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant will know that the manager’s presence should not be the linchpin that holds the service together. The best manager in the world can’t save a restaurant where the floor staff haven’t had proper training.

Clearing plates in a timely fashion strikes me as a fundamental of front-of-house training, ahead of wine etiquette and menu knowledge. Ditto, topping up water glasses and noting when bottles have run out. If a waiter doesn’t have the instinct to get these basics right then they’re probably not cut out for a job in a café, never mind a fine dining restaurant.

One reader asked if I was, “afraid to make (my) review visible to the owners?” and the answer is no. I addressed the poor service on the night with front-of-house, but have no idea if my comments were ever passed on to the chef-proprietor. I can’t help thinking they weren’t (after all, who wants to land themselves in trouble with the boss?) but I also believe the owner has to accept responsibility for the fiasco out-front.

It was clear the floor staff hadn’t had proper training and no manager, present or otherwise, was going to be able to change that. However, I had a genuine reason for omitting the restaurant’s name. Had I called them out in print, my story would just have become a comment on one establishment’s failings. The focus would simply have stopped at their door and become all about them.

By not naming the restaurant I hoped to generate discussion around the wider problem of poor service in the industry. How many restaurateurs read the piece and could say with absolute confidence that this scenario would never happen under their roof? How many chefs read the piece and wondered if their hard work is being undermined in the dining room by careless service and undertrained staff?

While Ireland has more good restaurants than ever before, many with impressive standards, it’s safe to say that, in The Guide’s experience, the quality of cooking in Ireland is not matched by the quality of service. Good food undermined by poor front-of-house behaviour is a frequent theme in our assessors’ reports from around the country and the reason many restaurants fail.

The bottom line is that great cooking isn’t enough to make a diner come back for more. Floor staff are the face of a restaurant, and the connection between the customer and the kitchen. Get it wrong and you may not get a second chance to impress.

Just like any industry, investing in staff training is an investment in a business’s success. The public is no longer happy these days just to have good food – we want thoughtful service too – and it’s time more restaurateurs took their heads out of the sand and looked at the bigger picture.


Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003,) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s since 2008 years and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger

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