For many years I believed that people who operated motels had never stayed in a motel. If they had then they would have better understood what their patrons needed. Things like more than one towel, a lightbulb bigger than 40 watts in the main living area, bed linen that was more accommodating than then minimalist hospital-corners origami, a wall socket for the electric blanket, somewhere to sit to watch TV, and so on. My female travelling companion is bothered by things like no power socket near a mirror (for the purposes of drying one’s hair) and nowhere to spread one’s accoutrements in the bathroom – pedestal washbasins being a motel norm. Best not talk about beverage-making facilities, particularly anything involving coffee. Motel service standards generally are improving, slowly, as owners looking beyond providing the minimal possible standard that’s easy for them to deliver cheaply.
Restaurants are similar places of disappointment. Spurred by television cooking talent shows, many people think that a good restaurant is all about the chef, probably including chefs themselves. The reality is that it is the front-of-house service that is key, as that is where great service stops and starts. Excellent front-of-house service transforms good food into a great dining experience.
I believe that restaurateurs should ensure that all of their staff have at least sampled everything on the menu, including each day’s specials. Why? In case a diner asks for an opinion or a recommendation. A positive and interested response will impress an enquiring diner more than gormless disinterest from one’s “waitperson” who has no idea. I often ask my waiter for a recommendation, just to see what their response will be.
Getting front-of-house staff to take an active interest in what the business is marketing and its point of difference compared to its competition should be a primary focus for that business’s owners. That will impress customers more than will wetting the corner of the paper napkin to make sure it stays stuck in place when wrapped around a knife and fork. This annoying practice, which makes it near impossible to remove the napkin without destroying it, has become so consistently widespread I suspect that it is part of the official training regime for restaurant staff.
Another pet peeve of mine occurs in a restaurant’s toilets. Well not just restaurant toilets for that matter. It’s a thing called the air towel. English inventor Sir James Dyson claims to have built a better one. I think not. Toilet proprietors probably love them because they don’t have to be reloaded and have nothing to break or jam or need bins to empty. My dislike of these wooshing gizmos is because they’re slow and inconvenient compared with paper or roller towels.
I am presuming that women’s toilets are the same as men’s in that the rate-limiting step occurs in the cubicle or its equivalent. Bodily functions dealt with, hand washing and drying should be part of a seamless and stress-free departure. It used to be, until somebody installed an air towel.
Now one has to wait around for the thing to warm up to achieve its optimum performance and wait several minutes for one’s hands to dry. Where this tediousness increases anxiety levels is when there is more than one participant vying for the air towel’s attentions. People standing around with hands dripping wet waiting for their turn to delay everybody else in the queue. Paper towels ease this congestion marvellously. I don’t know what happens in the ladies but I can attest that hand washing decisions in the gents are impacted greatly by whether participants have to stand around for ages with dripping wet hands. It’s hard to strike up a conversation in such circumstances.
The air towel appeals greatly to a mind-set that understands cost rather than one that appreciates value or providing outstanding customer service. I certainly wouldn’t have given James Dyson a knighthood for building a better one.