Food vs Service

  1.   I decided to write this post because of a conversation I had with my sous chef.  He and I were discussing the merits of a restaurant that had great food, but not so great service.  While he and I both agreed that the food was the important part of the equation and that it can make up for bad service, we had some coworkers who did not agree.  This got my curiosity going so I decided to find out what people thought on the matter.  I did a little research asking professionals in the culinary field, friends, and various other people.

       In all, eighty-three people responded to my inquest on this matter. My survey consisted of one simple question with four different answers.  I asked "What is more important in bringing you back to a restaurant?", with the possible answers being the food, the service, both, or neither.  Based on the numbers alone my theory was sound.  38.5% of the people who answered said that food was the most important.  Granted, that answer was the second highest picked.  People who answered that both were important led the charge at 56.6%.  What was kind of surprising was that the people who thought service was the most important only came in at 3.6%.  While I was not expecting that service would get the same numbers as everything else,  I did not think it would be as low as it was. 

       My personal thoughts on the matter are that in an ideal world any given restaurant will have both good service and food.  However, in the real world this is not always the case.  For me, food goes a long way towards making my dining experience a good or bad one.  Service, while important, is always going to be secondary to the food.  I have been to some places where the food was fantastic, but the service was always slow or otherwise less than excellent.  The food at these places was so good in fact, that I did not mind putting up with the service.  Since I have been going back, I also know what to expect so it is no longer a shock.

       On the other hand, I have also been to a place where the service was down right terrible. In fact, they even forgot to bring out my wife's order.  So this restaurant was already at a disadvantage.  Once we got our food it was mediocre at best.  Needless to say, my wife and I have not been back.  I contend that if this particular restaurant had served us amazing food, we would at least have been back once more to give it a second chance. 

       The thing about the world we live in is that it is never as cut and dry as percentages from survey would indicate.  Some of those who completed my survey also left comments.  It is in these comments that I learned the most about what people really thought when eating out.

       One thing that everyone seemed to agree on and that I had not even considered was the price point of a restaurant.  The way of thinking was that the higher priced a place would be, the less margin or error it had with either food or service.  If you are paying enough, both damn well better be good.  On the opposite side of the spectrum is where most people were a bit more forgiving, especially if the food was good. 

       Another aspect I had not counted on was availability of options.  In a place where good food is plentiful and one has a plethora of options, then both the food and the service are paramount.  If either is lacking, there are more than enough competitors to fill that void.  However, in places where the opposite is true, you tend to put up with more simply because you don't have that many place to go.  

       One person pointed out that the service generally hints at how the restaurant is being run/managed.  If a place has good to great service but the food was a little sub-par, chances are it was an off night for the kitchen.  A well run front-of-the-house will indicate that problems will be resolved and that management will also take any and all complaints and concerns seriously.  One of the culinary professionals also pointed out that a lot of chain restaurants make their money off of their service rather than having great food. 

       After reading the comments I was able to discern that while everyone agreed that both food and service were important for a restaurant's success, most were willing to forgive bad service if the food was good enough and the price (the lower the better) was right.  Most were also in agreement that service could not make up for terrible food.

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  1. chefross
    I find it curious the theme that restaurant employees that get paid a lower wage work "sub par" to those that make more. 
  2. kaizskie
    both actually...good food and good service always goes together :)
  3. chef chele
    I must have both being in the service business for over 20yrs I value greet service as well as great food.
  4. passionforfood
    i thought there was a minimum tip percentage in america,
    if they include the tip,is it around the minimum?
    or do they charge you much more then the average?
  5. jersey lane
    If I am dining or snacking on my own I really don't mind bad service and I have had some service that goes beyond bad. I also don't frequent chain store type eateries where inexperienced staff at all levels appear to be the rule. If I go to an out of the way place to try an item such as a homemade pie or have heard that the food is served fresh then anything goes. Its the food that I am particular about. Of course I don't sacrifice sanitation for taste. I can hardly expect a 14 yr old to serve me with style but some can. The unusual kitchen can provide excellent surprises and present ideas. So I guess that for me the quality of the well prepared sanitary food is the overall factor. The exception is when my wife or friends go out for the celebratory meal then food comes first with adequate service becoming important. I never rush eating when I eat out so bad service just becomes an interesting talking point as long as the food is served properly cooked and with eye appeal I am generally pleased. What I really become displeased about is the eatery where tips become an expectation regardless. I get rather upset when a tip percentage is included on the bill and I will generally challenge this presumptuous practice.
  6. subchef
    I think that there are many factors to take into account including quality, quantity, service, price and cleanliness. I also look at ambiance which at some establishments, plays a huge roll in the service and pricing. Service is always first up on my guage as I walk in the door. Plate presentation always intrigues me and I will take my time to, as we used to say, "..eat it with my eyes" and see if what I orderd is what was presented to me. Then comes the aroma and taste. My wife used to hate when we went out as I would conduct a critique through out the meal. Over the years, she has learned why I'm so critical on the finer points of 'fine dining' as well as what makes for a great experience at the local dive. They too can have some seriously great food, atmosphere and service. Having to wear suit and tie does not guarantee a good meal and service.
    I've also gone to places where the food was good, service was great but the level of cleanliness was questionable. One time I wrote comments starting on the front of the check, throughout the backside and never went back to that establishment!
    On your availability of options, I like to have options, but too many can compare to reading a novel. Three to four pages of options can give the impression that a menu item has had one ingredient substituted and the name changed along with the price.
    If I had to pick one area though, it would have to be the food. You may or may not get the same waiter / waitress all the time, but the food should always be of the highest quality, every time or there isn't a reason to come back.
    Overall, if the front and back of the house are operating as a well oiled machine, there shouldn't be any problems and returning will always be an option.
  7. passionforfood
    good article!!

    in my opinion both food and service has to be great, that's wat makes a dining experience complete for me

    i'd rather go eat one time every 3 months in a michelin star restaurant then every week in a normal one.

    that doesn't mean you need a star to give good food/service. but you know nine out of ten times its gonna be perfect( in my opinion)