WELCOME BACK TO SOUPFLY!!
Now that September is upon us-we are beginning to enter that wonderful time of year known in the restaurant business as patio season. Sure, many restaurants have had their patios and outdoor dining areas open for the entire summer but there is a special feeling in the air now with Autumn at our doorstep. Unlike summer days and summer nights that can be overly hot, bug-ridden and humid, this time of year tends to cause people to be more motivated to enjoy their dining outdoors. So, with that in mind, I would like to focus today’s serving of Soupfly on the WOWS and WOES of outdoor or patio dining.
As I reflect upon the many places that Michelle, my wife and I have dined- it comes to mind that some of our better experiences have happened while enjoying a meal at a restaurant outdoors. I think of when, just over 2 years ago I proposed to Michelle-we ate on the beautiful patio at Vintner Grill, here in Las Vegas. It was a wonderful experience. On our cross country trip last year one of our best dining experiences was on the patio at our favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara-Bouchon of Santa Barbara. That, too was a remarkable experience.
But then there have also been numerous times when dining outdoors at a restaurant was less than enjoyable and certainly not memorable in the good way. We happen to live right down the street from two restaurants that have the most beautiful patios and views of the lake-Isabela’s and Marche Bacchus. If you visit Las Vegas-you definitely should check out these two gems 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.
My experience has been that oftentimes the service on the patio or outdoor dining at a restaurant is sub-par to what one would receive if they dined inside at the same establishment. Why oh why is that so often the case? Why is service markedly different on the patio or rooftop deck of many restaurants than when dining inside?
Now I do understand if it is a casual atmosphere or less expensive priced menu- but if you are dining on the patio of an upscale restaurant and the prices are the same, then why, please tell me, is the level of service discounted?
It seems to me that at many restaurants the level of the service is unconsciously lowered for patio diners. The service is less than excellent, the promptness of food delivery is often slow and lackadaisical. Attention to detail is gone with the wind. The same care and importance placed on proper service inside the dining room walls of the exact same restaurant somehow gets left behind or is forgotten once someone is seated on the rooftop deck or patio.
One example that baffles me and I see it everywhere-is regarding the cutlery used. Oftentimes they use a cheaper form than the ones used inside the restaurant. Yes to a degree that makes sense. They prefer to use plastic glasses instead of glass. Okay I get that. And the b & b plates are a cheaper version of what is used inside. Perhaps that is not that big of a deal. It’s just a decision by management. It’s a cost saving thing. They can’t afford to have fine china and nice glasses for the entire outside patio. What I don’t understand and my big bone of contention is that if I order a 3 or 4 course dinner apparently I’m expected to use the same knife and fork for the entire meal. Why? What is the philosophy behind this? Is it laziness? Is is that the guest doesn’t deserve it? There really seems to be a different mentality of service on the patio at many restaurants.
Are you telling me that if I want to enjoy the beautiful weather, take in the relaxing melodies of the jazz trio that are playing on the patio, that I should lower my expectations of service just because I’m dining outside? That is not the way it should be. It has gotten to the point that the dining public seems to expect a lower level of service if dining outside. That is very unfortunate.
You are still expecting a 20% tip on my dinner are you not? You are still charging me the same price for my cocktails, wine and entrée-are you not? So why the “they’re just on the patio” mentality? I see and experience this so many places and it blows my mind!
Why the disregard for replacing the dirty cutlery with new ones for each new course. I am still paying 35 dollars for my sea bass. Why should I not be allowed a fresh, clean set of cutlery? Of course, I am allowed it but why should I have to ask for it each time? Why are patio guests-sometimes, treated less important than their counterparts who dine inside the restaurant?
Pre-bussing of tables you can pretty much forget about if you are dining on the patio at many places. Also, refills of iced tea or soda or even water are at a premium. I think they are actually rationed. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve dined outside at a very nice restaurant- as in 30-40 dollar entrée and 15 dollar martini-nice, and once my food is served, I can’t for the life of me, find a server to ask for another glass of wine, serving spoon for the appetizers, or anything else I might need. Here, I sit on the patio, the food is great but I sure would love a bit more bread to go with this wonderful spicy tomato sauce with my pasta. So I wait 3 minutes, 5 minutes. No service staff of any sort is to be found on the patio. I wait 8 minutes. Meanwhile my pasta is getting cold. Finally after about 10 minutes, I flag down a busser and kindly ask him for more bread. He’ll tell my server he says. My server eventually does return-when I’m done with my food. Ugh!
“How was everything?”, he asks.
“The food was great,” I say.
He hears ‘everything was great’. I say , “But I sure would’ve liked some more bread with my dinner though.”
He says “Oh, sorry,” “Are you ready for some dessert?”
“No, just the check, please.”
There are some Servers who, unfortunately, are very adept at the disappearing act when serving outside. And often, they misunderstand the fact that the person is in a good mood because of enjoying the beautiful weather and music. Their seeming happy attitude may be due more to the beautiful environment than due to anything that you’ve done to create a great dining experience.
So you are surprised that they were so cheap with their tip. They seemed so happy, you say. They were. They enjoyed the beautiful, autumn day, the relaxing, mellow sounds of the band and the food. But what my, friend did you do to enhance their experience?
Just the mere fact that the outside environment does tend to put people in a better mood, should motivate you to want to provide better service. I would even say that your tips on the patio should be better than when you are working inside, provided that you are equally busy. You are actually set up for success. The slightly cool weather, the beautiful ambience-perhaps there is live music playing. Most restaurant patios or rooftop dining areas have some kind of exceptional view to behold-a beautiful tranquil lake with boaters and ducks; the waves rolling up on the beach, a view of the lush greenery of a local park, the city skyline, water fountains, a vineyard, the mountains in the distance or rolling hills, or just the neighboring restaurants and shops. Any of these views with the weather play together to create a wonderful ambient environment. If the food is good, the stage is set for you to make this an amazing experience for your dining guests. Also, the beautiful weather ought to put you in a positive mood as well.
Yes there are some logistical matters that may provide some challenges. The bar and kitchen are farther to walk to. You can’t just glance at a table from the bar or service station. You definitely do a lot more walking. Sometimes it’s a bit windy. The iced tea pitchers have to be taken inside and refilled. Ditto for ice and water. But my friend, your guests are sitting here outside with the conscious thought that they are going to enjoy a great lunch, brunch or dinner.. Your job should be made easier. Yes people are generally more forgiving when dining outside but that doesn’t mean that they deserve less care and attention merely because they are on the patio.
Please take the time to properly set up your section before your guests arrive. A guest should not have to inform you that the table is wobbly. That’s your responsibility to take care of before they are seated. Tables should be cleaned just the same as they are inside the dining room. Same goes for the tidiness of the booths, benches and chairs. Brush the crumbs off, wipe the seats down. Remember to check on your guests in a timely manner. Please don’t wait until they are finished eating to ask if they enjoyed everything. These are basics but such attention to detail will go a long way to helping create a wonderful, memorable experience for your guests. And people seem to start going out more often now that school is back in swing and this amazing weather is upon us. Heck, even here in Las Vegas we’ve seen a cool down to the mid to low 90s during the day and that’s mild weather for here!
Be aware of your guests’ comfort. Is the setting sun glaring right in their eyes? Perhaps you could help adjust the umbrella slant for them. Do they seem a bit chilled? Maybe you have heat lamps you could light up for them or a fire pit that they would enjoy sitting by. Most people really enjoy this time of year and they will be coming to your establishment to have some brunch or dinner or some dessert and a bottle of wine on your patio. I encourage you to treat each of them as if they were VIPS seated at the most premium table inside your restaurant. You should treat them this way because everyone who dines at your establishment deserves that kind of WOW! service. Attention to detail, focused, friendly and attentive service will enhance their experience, you will feel good and all will be well. Happy Patio Season to us all!
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God Bless and Cheers!!
Christoff J. Weihman
Las Vegas, NV
725 777 9900