New Dining: Seismic Shifts in Age-Old Expectations

From time to time I enjoy sharing my thought on topics that aren’t necessarily about the work I do, but instead about a topic I appreciate and love. During the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, I began to reflect on how the hospitality industry, an industry I was raised in and still work in, was due its time for a big change…and so I wrote this wonderful passion piece in hopes to start the shift into a better place for hospitality workers. And since the few industry-centric media outlets I sent it to for consideration did not reply or show any interest in publishing the article, I figured I’d publish myself, and I hope you enjoy and share this article too.

Photo from left to right: Damon Riley, Kevin Sandburg and Carl Foisy.

Photo from left to right: Damon Riley, Kevin Sandburg and Carl Foisy. This is the infamous Mustache Photo taken in the double zero decade while working as young Dining Liaisons at The Grill on the Alley at the Fairmont Hotel in the Capitol of Silicon Valley, Downtown San Jose. It’s in our blood

New Dining: Seismic Shifts in Age-Old Expectations

Over the last year and change, food delivery companies have filled a vital role in more ways than one. Not only did they make all restaurants suddenly equally as accessible, they also raised our expectations of what to pay (and sometimes lowered our expectations of what we got). All of that is good, because as businesses reopen their doors after more than a year of take-out meals, it’s time to rethink the act of dining out.
As the last year has shown, full service dining is a privilege and not a right. It’s an experience, and one we get to have by entering into someone else’s place. That’s why it’s time to move away from a view of dining where “the customer is always right,” to one where “the guest is always welcome.”

First off, what is “Full Service Dining?”

Full Service Dining includes both fine and casual dining, and would include a dining liaison, a properly set table, plated food service, etc. Counter Order Dining, meanwhile, is just that: typically self-serve seating, no table side staff or service. Order, sit, pick-up at the counter, eat, clean up, leave…everything but the cookin and dishes.

The idea that Full Service Dining is a necessity is crap. In the grand scheme of life, Full Service Dining is more of a humanistic ‘Want’ rather than a ’Need,’ which makes it a privilege. And it should be treated as so.

The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ does not apply in the hospitality industry, because in hospitality we do not have customers or clients, we have guests….and we treat them as such because we’re hospitable.

We’re also very reasonable. We’ve seen all types of people/characters/energies/etc because it’s in our industry’s DNA to have and keep our doors open to those who seek hospitality….which is most everyone.

This was especially the case this last year, when hospitality workers everywhere had to put up with angry, entitled customers upset about mask mandates, many of whom suddenly forgot that restaurant workers survive on tips.

So the idea of ‘whatever the guest says goes’, is not the case, with the major caveat and understanding that us in the hospitality industry strive to deliver the best experience for each guest—within reason. Like most industries, we’ll always have our ‘rights to refuse’ those who are unreasonable, but in our case, since we’ve seen it all, it typically takes something way over-the-top to enact those measures.

Thing is, those who take advantage of full service dining continue to visit restaurants with too much entitlement…like they’re royalty, And this needs to stop.

Maybe it can start with better understanding the roles we all have. For example, dining liaisons aren’t servers or waiters….they do way more than just take orders, fill water and be a personal servant during a meal’s time to get a few bucks in tips. They aim to please and guide guests during their time at the restaurant. They care, ask questions, translate menus, keep timelines, and are very procedural. And not just for one table of guests at a time, for several tables of guests at once. Juggling all different types of personalities, wants, schedules, requests and requirements, all while visiting each guest warmly with the smile, manners and hospitable charm everyone in the industry yearns to deliver….knowing it’ll produce positive results across the board.

So in this new age of dining, we must begin to understand that when a person delivers and clears your plate, it’s proof that full service dining is a privilege and not a right. Because, at the end of the day, we all know you could’ve either chosen quick counter service or to cook where you reside, and clear up your own mess after.

Experiencing hospitality is not a necessity, it’s a want, a privilege, a luxury we can experience because refined groups of well mannered, culinary inspired professionals decided to prepare delicious meals, offer a relaxing atmosphere, and offer a level of greatness through food and drink, to people who choose to be guests simply by walking in when the ‘Open’ sign is turned on. When they walk in, they are guests, and they should act as such….because full service restaurants, with dining liaisons, imbibement specialists, and gastronomically inclined artists, is a privilege.

So to the guests who dine out and frequently enjoy full service dining, be prepared to hold those who work in the hospitality industry in a higher regard, and be ready for the new age of dining.

Written by Carl Foisy
May 14, 2021