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The language of service

The language of service
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First Published: Sat, Jun 25 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Table trouble: Are you being served? Madhu Kapparath/Mint
Table trouble: Are you being served? Madhu Kapparath/Mint
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 01 59 PM IST
The husband doesn’t enjoy taking me out to dinner. And no it’s not because I’m a vegetarian or because I don’t believe in eating my way through life. He’s convinced I morph into the spouse-he-would-rather-not-know every time I step into an eating establishment.
What can I say? My father’s side of the family is in the hospitality industry. It has often been forecast (mostly correctly) that any family member who strays from this profession, will eventually return to it. The family tree is littered with examples of chartered accountants who came back to the hotel business. But I know I will never make the switch from journalist to restaurant owner. The hospitality business is seriously hard work. If only New India’s mushrooming breed of restaurant owners understood that before they thought to themselves: “Hey, I like food. I have money. I should start my own restaurant.” They certainly have no clue that managing a restaurant entails managing cranky consumers like me.
Table trouble: Are you being served? Madhu Kapparath/Mint
“What’s that smell?” I wonder when I enter a restaurant. Hmm, spotted tablecloths. Who knows what the hygiene standards are in the kitchen. Or what crawls in that dark corner. How is that dish prepared? No idea? Excellent. Keep your fingers off my food please. And, you’re supposed to be serving me, not invading my private space. How’s the food, did you say? I would try it if you gave me a chance. Yes, two of your colleagues have already asked me whether I’m enjoying the food. PS: I’m still waiting for my cold water. Despite the fact that there are 63 waiters hovering around my table.
When we lived in Delhi, Italian restaurant Bacci in Sunder Nagar used to be my favourite neighbourhood restaurant—even when they suddenly replaced the pine nuts with cashew nuts in their flagship Famous Felix salad. It was because of the excellent service (of course, news of this excellent service reached the competition and eventually resulted in a staff exodus).
New restaurateurs spend so much money importing ingredients and furniture that there’s nothing left over to train their staff.
Restaurant consultant Manu Mohindra says the blame for poor service should rest entirely on restaurant management. And on our colonial hangover. “We pay servers Rs5,000 to Rs9,000 and expect them to speak fluent English,” he says. “The day we get over this hangover, we’ll find that the service is good,” he says. Mohindra recently helped a client set up an American diner in Chandigarh. But the stewards don’t speak English, the owner said. How does it matter when your clients are Punjabi, Mohindra asked. “Management needs to get over their language barrier,” he says.
Sudha Kukreja, who runs a handful of trendy restaurants in Delhi, misses the old culture of eating out where the server greeted you with your name and organized your favourite drink just as you sat at the table. “Nobody’s really faithful to any restaurant any more,” she says.
Kukreja organizes English classes for smart servers who have not been able to move up the hierarchy despite years of experience because they don’t speak the language of trendy restaurant-going India. “Every now and then the server may make a mistake but if he uses the right language, the customer may not get as upset,” she says.
Are poor service and the language of communication really that closely linked? The next time I visit a restaurant I’ll be sure to list my complaints in the local language.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Jun 25 2011. 01 15 AM IST