The food and beverages service within the catering industry accounts for a significant proportion of the wide range of businesses undertaken within the hospitality industry. This report seeks to assess the clientele and their needs from the restaurants, services rendered, and service experience from restaurants. This is achieved by using a restaurant as a case in point and evaluating the above factors specific to this restaurant, and drawing suitable conclusions and making recommendations for its improvement.
The establishment which has been reviewed for this purpose is ‘Mei Jiang’ restaurant, which is located on the ground floor of a five-star hotel called Penninsula Hotel. It specialises in Chinese food and is owned by the Penninsula Hotel. It has won ‘The Best Chinese Restaurant’ award for the last five years. The clientele consists of mostly local people who frequent the restaurant for both business or for family outings. Typically, a weekday dinner would have more of business people and weekend lunch and holidays would have more of families. The restaurant can seat up to 113 customers at a time, with an option of separate dining area for groups of more than 6 people. The menu is changed every three months, keeping the basic dishes the same. There is a set menu as well as a la carte menu. The average check spends for lunch is around £10.70 and for dinner is £20.70. The set menus have two options – one for £11.00 and another for £27.00. The dress code is smart casual and the style of serving is usually French style or the manager enquires about any other serving preferences.
Customer needs and expectations
Quality has been defined by the British Standards (BS4778, 1987) as ‘the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy a stated or implied need’ (Davis et al, 1998). These stated or implied needs are the primary focus of an organisation, as they form the basis of any expectations a customer builds. It is only when these expectations are fulfilled that the customer senses a feeling of satisfaction and perceives he has received a quality service. It is important to understand that the food and service operations cater to these needs of the customers rather than the type of people. For example, a customer might visit the restaurant for a business meeting, where his needs are privacy to conduct his business discussions with minimum interruptions and efficient service. The same customer at some other point might come to the restaurant with his family, where his needs are different from before. Mei Jiang caters to primarily the upper class and the customers are willing to pay the extra cost for the quality service. It is a specialised restaurant and customers frequent the restaurant for both business and personal requirements.
Training and customer care
Due to the dynamic nature of the food and beverage industry, it is imperative that the staff at any establishment should have a comprehensive understanding of the product or service being sold and recognise the importance of a high, consistent level of service. Hence, training plays an important role towards achieving this. But at the same time it is important for the management to understand that if employees are not trained, it will lead to low productivity and high turnover (Fullen, 2003). Mei Jiang has its own in-house training programme called the Initial Skills Training which is for a duration of four months. During this period, a senior, more experienced staff member teaches the junior staff – quite like on-the-job training. This would involve inducting the trainee right from laying the table, greeting customers, taking orders, to co-ordinating with the chef and mastering the serving style. The restaurant manager reviews the progress of the trainees after two months and decides whether the trainee shows sufficient potential to complete the training. If the menu involves a change, then the Human Resources department arranges for a few members to get trained outside the restaurant. Once they have been trained, they in turn, train other members of staff. Mei Jiang also has a customer care programme, where they record personal details of customers like their tastes, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
A typical day at Mei Jiang
The management of food and beverage operations has a new systems approach which is classified under food production, delivery sequence and customer management (Cousins et al, 2002).
The food production operations would start much before the restaurant opened to the customers. This would typically involve
- purchasing of the raw materials – ensuring quality of the food,
- storage of the raw materials,
- preparation of the food,
- the presentation of the food
- cleaning up
The delivery sequence involves the service provided by the staff
- Preparing the restaurant for the customer
- Greeting the customers on arrival
- Seating the customers as per their requirement
- Taking orders from the customer
- Serving the food
- Clearing the table
- Billing the service
- Washing the dishes
- Clearing after service
The customer process involves the service received by the customer
- Arrival in the restaurant
- Selecting and ordering of food
- Receiving the food
- Consuming the food
- Paying of the bill
- Leaving the restaurant
A typical day starts very early for the staff at the restaurant, even though it does not open till 11.30 am for lunch. The preparation in the kitchen is critical, as well as the cleaning and presentation of the restaurant. The flow of customers usually starts around 12.00 pm and during the week consists mostly of customers staying at the Peninsula Hotel. During weekends, it is frequented more by families. The restaurant closes at 2.30 pm after lunch and re-opens for dinner at 6.00 pm. The customers on weekdays are mostly business people, while again on weekends are mostly families. Mei Jiang also has a tea bar where customers have a wide variety of tea to choose from. The closing time of the restaurant is 10.30 pm, but the staff end up leaving only around 12.00 am after completing all their duties.
A customer needs to identify and associate with a particular restaurant for a particular meal occasion. Mei Jiang is a high-end fine-dining restaurant, and hence when a customer decides to come here, he or she has a certain expectation level of the service to be provided to him or her. Most of the times customers call to make reservations to ensure availability of seats. When they enter the restaurant, they are greeted by the maitre d’ and escorted to their seats, where they are seated and made comfortable by helping with the chairs and the napkins. A particular staff member is assigned to each table to ensure that he/she is familiar with the customers’ requests. The customers are then offered hot towels to freshen up and presented with the drinks menu. Once the customers have decided on their choice, they are offered the drinks with a welcome snack. They are then presented the menu and their order is taken for the main course. Appropriate cutlery is set on the table and the food is served French style, where dishes are presented to the customer for inspection and then served from (Arduser and Brown, 2004). During the course of the meal, the maitre d’ enquires about the service and the food, taking note of any suggestions or complaints the customers might have. Once the main meal is over, the waiters clear the table and present the dessert menu and take the order. After serving dessert, the customers are offered tea or coffee and then presented with the check on request. Different payment options are available and after the payment they are again escorted to the exit, thanking them for their patronage.
Evaluation – how the restaurant fares
Every restaurant caters to a different market depending on the specialised range of cuisine, price and service levels (Cousins et al, 1995). Mei Jiang specialises in Chinese cuisine and is a fine-dining kind of restaurant. Accordingly, the customers frequenting the restaurant have a high expectation level of the quality of food and service provided. The restaurant has made a name for itself over the past few years by winning the ‘Best Chinese Restaurant in Town’ award. This has provided the restaurant with welcome publicity, but at the same time now the restaurant has a reputation to live up to. There are certain tangible and intangible factors that affect the performance of a restaurant (Davis et al, 1998):
Food: The resident Chinese chef has an impressive background and has prepared banquets for royalty and heads of state. The fact that the restaurant has won the award of the best Chinese restaurant proves that the food is of high quality.
Menu: Though the menu is changed every three months, the basic dishes are continued. Also, if a customer requests a dish from the old menu, the staff can prepare it, provided the ingredients are available. Other requests are also catered to in terms of changing the spice levels of the food or increase decrease salt content. This ensures that the customer has enough variety and choice over the menu.
Location: The restaurant is located in the Peninsula Hotel and offers valet parking for customers. Being located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it offers scenic views from the restaurant.
Pricing: Being a high-end fine dining restaurant, the prices are on the higher side and the customers are willing to pay it for the high level of food and service.
Ambience: The interiors of the restaurant are very typically Chinese and the restaurant has a very serene and tranquil feel about it.
Service provided: It is ensured that the customers are provided a high level of service and constant monitoring is ensured in the form of informal customer feedback.
Employees: The employees are trained in service etiquettes and have a uniform, which is fitted individually.
- The feedback received from customers is critical for the development of all service initiatives. It also plays an important part not only in attracting new customers, but also in the retention of existing customers (Cook, 2002). Though the management at Mei Jiang restaurant attempts to receive feedback in an informal way, there is no standard procedure for this feedback to be collected, which would help them identify the areas to improve upon. They should put in place a brief and concise customer feedback form or create some other method of collecting customer feedback.
- The method of training new employees at Mei Jiang is informal and depends solely on a more experienced member of staff’s abilities to impart training. But it is not realistic to expect a staff member who is excellent at his job to have equally good training abilities (Fullen, 2003). Therefore, the trainer could be trained before he starts training the other members. There is also scope to organise a standard training manual which could include areas like computer, software, safety, leadership, personnel management, time management, communication skills, customer service, etiquette, etc for all new trainees, besides continuing the on-the-job training.
- In order to develop a service philosophy, it is imperative to understand the needs of the ‘internal’ customer i.e. the employees, and whether these needs are met, to ensure the cultivation of employee commitment (Cook, 2002). If the internal customer is satisfied, the external service quality will be better, leading to customer satisfaction and therefore, customer retention and loyalty. Consequently, the organisation will achieve profits, which is the final aim of any business. Mei Jiang does not have any programmes in place to recognise these needs of the internal customer. There should be workshops where employees can interact with each other and where they can give their feedback to the management. There should also be an internal recognition award where excellent employees are rewarded in some form.
- Customisation of service plays an important role in any service industry (DiJulius, 2003). In this case, the restaurant has already made a start towards customisation by recording the personal details of customers. These details could be utilised in a more constructive manner to customise the service provided. For example, if a customer has called to book seats he will give his name, and on arrival at the restaurant he could be greeted by his name and records could be referred to for any preferences he might have had regarding his tastes. This would personalise the service provided and increase the chances of not only the customer coming back, but also him recommending the restaurant to his personal or professional circle.