You could eat the meal of your life at one of the world’s most famous restaurants – but if the service isn’t up to scratch, you won’t be back.
Dining out isn’t only about the food. It’s also about delivering the restaurant’s ethos, the right atmosphere, the beverage offerings and the service. And that’s why front of house staff are so important to a hospitality business.
My roles at FINO Seppeltsfield are many: I am an owner-operator, the front of house manager, maître d', wine director and a co-owner in the business with executive chef David Swain. So I regularly see and understand the need for exceptional restaurant service.
Front of house staff are the storytellers of a venue. They’re the public face, the personality and the entertainers for guests who are dining in the restaurant. It’s up to us to ensure the customer is comfortable with what is offered. Looking after guests’ needs and reading the situation are essential.
Front of house and the kitchen work symbiotically to ensure both have each other’s backs. Though chefs are often the name people recognise when they hear or read about a restaurant, it is the wait staff who must deliver the goods.
This can mean anything from informing the guest of the provenance of ingredients or translating an unfamiliar menu, to explaining the inspiration behind a particular dish or recommending a matched wine.
I am fortunate to have worked closely with David for more than 13 years now, and I love assisting in sourcing local producers, planning menus and building the brand of the restaurant.
Despite that, I – like all our staff – attend a full briefing before every service. It is a very informative 15 minutes where we all get on the same page before we get to work and return to the “front line”. We discuss guests’ special requests, dietary requirements, and any menu and wine list changes so that all front of house staff are up to date.
Guiding customers through a meal is a process that takes confidence, knowledge, experience and intuition. This is perhaps where my background in psychology comes in handy.
Every customer, every group and every service is different. For many people, sharing a meal is an intimate and emotional journey and for some it is difficult to comprehend. It is up to front of house to make it easy for guests to understand. Sharing food has been our ethos since the beginning of Fino (in Willunga) in 2006.
In the case of a regional restaurant, it has often been a literal journey for people to arrive on our doorstep. That’s when we have to really switch it on, make the customer feel welcome and recognise their needs.
Front of house staff are ambassadors for the region they work in. Relationships are built within the community and recommendations of cellar doors, restaurants and accommodation are offered daily.
Then there are the families, friends or couples who come through the door wanting something delicious and satisfying, but above all, seamless.
That’s when wait staff must be the timekeepers. They are the eyes and ears between the customer and the kitchen, so must always pay attention to what is happening and be one step ahead, liaising with the kitchen.
But this is all part of the fun and provides the opportunity to enjoy the best part of the job: meeting people.
And for every thousand great customers there is one who makes life a little more interesting. But all anyone really wants is to be heard – so we must listen. People are more informed before they even visit a restaurant nowadays and expectations are set early.
But we’re here with a smile, ready to break an awkward silence and be your guide. We’re here to take care of you.