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Service standards remain the ‘weak link’ for London restaurants

By Luke Nicholls , 11-Sep-2012
Last updated on 11-Sep-2012 at 12:22 GMT2012-09-11T12:22:44Z

Service standards in London’s restaurants have been labelled as a ‘weak link’ by Tim Zagat, with his eponymous restaurant guide revealing that 73 per cent of all customer complaints relate to the front-of-house. 

Speaking at yesterday’s launch of the 2013 Zagat London Restaurant Survey Zagat stated that more restaurants should be focusing on levels of service to compliment the already high quality of food and good value.

“The weak link in the UK restaurant industry, as always, is the front-of-house,” he said. “Chefs have become highly respected professionals and even celebrities in some cases. When was the last time you saw a maître d’ on television? If there is a weak link in the industry, that’s it.

“Seventy-three per cent of all complaints relate to the front-of-house, not the back-of-house. Cumulatively, all other complaints only amount to 27 per cent. It’s not an easy thing to tell you that the service has to improve but it’s something that everybody should be paying extra attention to.

“If you look at the business model that turns chefs into highly respected professionals and even celebrities, that’s a good model to start with for your front-of-house.”

Zagat had initially pointed this out a year ago in a phone interview after the release of the 2012 Survey. In that, he stated that Britain’s front-of-house staff lack the professionalism and respect found in the kitchen because ‘there are little to no service training schools’.

VIDEO: Heston Blumenthal’s view

His views are supported by Heston Blumenthal, who spoke to BigHospitality in the below video and stated his belief that service is just as important than the food quality. Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck, has scooped numerous awards for front-of-house.

Speaking in BigHospitality's video ahead of the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards, Blumenthal said: “Ultimately, it’s for the pleasure of the customer. It doesn’t matter what the technique is or what the ingredients are, it’s all for the pleasure of the customer.

“Cooking is the same as anything that takes a product, human beings do something to that product and then they sell it and serve it. So it’s about the quality of the product, the quality of the work that’s done to the product and the quality of the way that the product is then served. Successful restaurants are the ones that can tick all of these boxes.

“And so service is as important as the food. In fact, when you talk about 50 Best, I would like to see a bit more mentioned about service. I’ve always said as a chef that the service is more important than the cooking. The kitchen performs exactly the way that they should and everything goes out as planned.

“One member of staff does a wrong move or says something out of place or does something wrong, the customer won’t come back. So I would like to say that 50 Best should do an award for service because I think you can’t have great food and a great restaurant experience without that.”

A recent survey of UK consumers by Market Force Europe backs up the view of Blumenthal that service levels are paramount. The survey found that restaurant service is a more important factor than food pricing to drive whether diners make recommendations to friends and family or leave a restaurant early.