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Waiter! Excuse me!

Service is becoming a real problem for many restaurants.

Last century, during the Sixties, I would occasionally dine in English restaurants while visiting distant relatives in London. To avoid linguistic embarrassment, I would prepare an array of common phrases to deploy in public venues, having learnt them by rote from the phrase books then available. However, I eventually realised that this was unnecessary, since nearly all waiters were Italian. A rare exception was represented by that legendary temple of roast beef, Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. My relatives explained that Englishmen no longer worked as waiters. In today’s London, Italians likewise no longer work as waiters, but are instead the owners of excellent restaurants, yielding their erstwhile positions to other nationalities.
The same phenomenon has also been occurring in Italy in recent years. Service workers frequently come from other countries, and, however well-intentioned, are not always well-versed in the nuances of our language or even intimately familiar with the ingredients and the dishes that they are tasked with serving. The problem, though, is broader and more serious. It may be comprehensible that by now such figures as the maître d’hôtel, the chef de rang and the commis, each with precisely delineated responsibilities, have somewhat fallen out of fashion; but the haphazard service found in most restaurants today is unconscionable.
Today’s restaurant mainstays are waiters who invariably ask “who ordered the spaghetti?” even while serving a table for two; waiters fixedly staring at the floor or into space to avoid being ambushed with some irritating request; tables abandoned for aeons with diners facing empty plates; interminable minutes of anxiously awaiting some water, salt or pepper, which arrives when the food is already finished; nobody monitoring the room; each dish served by a different waiter; and piecemeal service, often leaving one diner foodless at a group table. The basic rules of good service, taught in all professional restaurant schools, are seraphically ignored. One wonders what has become of all the ‘front-of-house’ graduates churned out by hotel schools - even though common sense and a modicum of experience should often be sufficient. Evidently, restaurateurs do not consider service important, viewing it as an area for maximum cost-cutting. But this is ill-advised. Restaurant guides only report on the dishes prepared by the cooks; yet we should all be more concerned with how these dishes are served. The kitchen and the front of house are inseparable, but all too often, in Italy, the dining hall is left forlorn.

Paolo Petroni
President of the Accademia

April 2019