Service standards: Why is British service so poor?

By Becky Paskin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Service, Customer service, Customer, Britain

Diners are more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one
Diners are more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one
Britain may be the second most popular country in the world, according to the recent BBC World Service Country Rating Poll, but when it comes to delivering a warm, hospitable welcome, we rank just 14th.

In 2008 a survey conducted by sector skills council People 1st found that 65 per cent of hospitality businesses felt customer service standards needed improving, highlighting an apparent skills gap in the industry.

Now with inbound and domestic tourism set to boom over the next couple of years, thanks in part to the Royal Wedding and 2012 Olympic Games, the need to improve service standards has never been more urgent.

“We’re very concerned about this as there are lots of events coming up and lots of reasons why we need to be improving,” says Linda Roberts, master trainer for People 1st’s WorldHost programme.

“We could do a lot better compared to other countries and we need to do something about that to make all visitors, both domestic and international, feel welcome.”

Service culture

The reason Britain is perceived to deliver bad service, claims Fred Sirieix, general manager of Galvin at Windows, is that there is no culture of hospitality in food service in the UK.

“People don’t think of hospitality service as a career and as a result Britain hasn’t established it as an art,” he says. “Westminster Kingsway College, one of the best in the country, has only five or six people learning front of house. A lot of colleges don’t even have front of house courses because young people just want to be chefs.

“We need government to step in and help out, and the education system needs to change. We need to make sure the perception of the industry alters so young people know that they can get into hospitality and have a very nice career.

“Saying that, I’m not sure British service is all bad; it’s more of a general thing and not specific to Britain. Good service is people wanting to give a piece of themselves, to be nice to others, to engage in eye contact and smile. It’s very simple yet very few people do it.”


It’s a given that delivering excellent service will have a positive impact on your business, but how much does a negative experience damage your reputation?

A survey of UK consumers undertaken by the Mystery Dining Company (TMDC) found that 53 per cent of diners almost always choose where to eat based on a past customer service experience.

“It’s all too easy to tell people about a bad experience than a good one,” adds Roberts. “Dissatisfied customers tell nine to ten people on average about their experience, who go on to tell another lot of people. But if they have a good experience they only tell five.”

According to TMDC, 100 per cent of operators acknowledge that word of mouth recommendations make a “genuine difference” to their business.

Speed, intuitiveness and interaction

So what is it about service that generates a bad experience for a customer, and how can Britain improve its standard?

“Things our mystery diners tend to mark down on are poor service in terms of attention given, the way that staff interact with diners, speed of service and the intuitiveness of staff,” says Sally Whelan, director of TMDC.

“If you go in on a busy lunchtime with just an hour lunch break, you need a waiter who can adapt their service style to suit the time of day and customer needs. You’d expect an experienced staff member to be able to judge those situations, and it can be annoying for a diner if they’re not honing in on that.”

The TMDC survey placed food and service as the most common cause for complaints, despite operators believing speed was the biggest issue. This highlights a gap in perception between what the diner is experiencing and what the operator is interpreting.

“The key to improving service is to speak to your customers about their experience,” continues Whelan. “It helps build loyalty as people like to think their opinions and thoughts are listened to. If you’re running a business you can become too close to it and you need to make sure you’re speaking to your customer to understand your operation from their perspective.”

Every Monday this month BigHospitality will be unveiling advice and tips from the UK’s leading operators to help you improve your service standards.

Next week Stefan Chomka, features editor of Restaurant magazine, spends a day front of house at Galvin at Windows, to discover how Sirieix and his team deliver great service.

For a full list of all available front of housejobs and service jobs, click here.

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We need government to step in...?

Posted by No,

The words "we need government to step in" sums up everything wrong with the UK today. That and apologizing for being British.

The government IS NOT THE ANSWER. Business minded entrepreneurs who know how to fill a gap in the market and who aren't being taxed and penalized for it are the answer. Government isn't your mummy or daddy. You don't go running to government when things get tough. You get creative, innovative, imaginative -- and none of those adjectives fit government.

Really, I weep for the country.

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Posted by Robert L Furmage,

Why is the British service so pour? Well I have been in the hospitality industry for 20 years, people go on about the smoking ban and the price of food and drink. Well employers should start by looking at there own input first. How many times have we gone out for a drink or something to eat only to be greeted by someone who obviously doesn't want to be there. I have worked all over the UK and the hardest part is trying to get people to understand that the hospitality trade is about "Hospitality".
Believe it or not all these happen and on a regular bases.
Most of these points stop customers from visiting, if I go into an outlet and I don`t get welcomed and some sort of interest shown I don`t go back, yes regular customers are important and can be the bread and butter when your quiet but how do you get more regulars if your not showing them that you want them to start with, how much does it cost to smile? Nothing. I once asked a team member if everything was OK because she never smiled, she accused me of picking on her. I was concerned for her welfare and the impact on the business, I`m a big believer in team training and retention and coach my team all the time, there is always something new we can learn but you have to have the right people, I've been in the trade 20 years and still learn new things,you have to change to survive, I've heard people say "I've done it this way for 10 years, does that make it right?. no of course not, you have to change to progress, if someone is just coming in to clock in clock out and get paid then they don`t want to be there and it doesn't matter how much you coach them it will be detrimental to the business. I have had team members in the past who were never involved in anything, I think the more you train and involve your team the more they are interested and from that the more they will do and want to do, they will stay longer and be loyal and the after effect will show that you get more customers who also want to be there. If you go to buy something you normally do it because you like it,your not going to give someone your money if you don`t get the full package, IE THE SEVICE AND THE END PRODUCT.
We all play a part in service and the puzzles is broken if you have 1 missing piece, it has to start at the top and work down, every person in the business is important it doesn't matter who they are or what they do, 1 missing piece and it will be detrimental to your business. I lead from the front will work 24/7 to achieve my goals and won`t step back until I`m happy and that everyone else is as well.

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Why is British service so poor?

Posted by,

One huge issue regarding poor customer service in this country is that most places employ poorly trained weekend staff to work during the busiest time of the week. In some respects I am lucky to be managing pubs and restaurants because I have to work at the weekend. This prevents me from suffering the poor service in shops from a part time member of staff.

I recently visited a high street computer shop (on a Saturday) to buy a new computer and software. The total price would have been just over £1,000. I quizzed the member of staff but they didn’t have a clue about any of the products I was asking about. It doesn’t make sense for these staff members to walk up to a customer and ask them if they need help when they are not in a position to offer it poor management and poor training). In this example, the staff member asked me to wait whilst they found another member of staff; I don’t think so!

The only time I take weekends off (from my pub) is when I am 100% sure that the staff members I am responsible for are fully trained in all areas of the business. Fortunately now I have staff members training other staff members, assistant managers operating the front of house and team leaders controlling the bar. This did take time, however two weekends out of four I’m found in the peak district with my family.

We do have a lot of events being held in this country this year and will attract a lot of visitors. Being involved in the service industry I am embarrassed about the levels of service. There is no excuse, in fact we and other organisations offer staff training at weekends at no extra cost.

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