Service with a smile.

You may not have met Patrick yet, but you’ve probably heard him. The boisterous Canadian has come to our shores after an interesting career in ‘The Great White North’. He started out working for the largest rock station in Canada, working on-air first as the morning drive chaps’ lackey, then as an afternoon drive on-air promotional personality. This is where the engagement bug bit him.

Since I work for a Sports & Leisure marketing agency I thought I would cover the leisure side of things for a moment. I wasn’t asked to do this as part of my company’s remit or anything like that; I just have a passion for good service. It does probably lead to some of my sports rantings about fan experiences, as I think many sports clubs in the UK provide very poor service.

I had an impression when I moved to the UK, an impression that there would be a very mature service culture. Man, was I ever wrong. Maybe I thought it was all tea and scones, with proper ladies obliging my every whim. Well, as you can very well imagine, I was shocked by what I encountered.

Now, I think it would be appropriate to provide some context. In a much earlier life I was a bartender, but not in your average place. It was a fine dining Italian restaurant. It was a brilliant place to work as a young man: there was always great food on hand, the best wine and spirits in the land available, and the nature of the clientele ostensibly allowed me to cavort with beautiful young professional women. And the hours gave me much in the way of social time – it was a dream job for a young man.

The key aspect of this job was service, service at the highest level. We had a militant owner who ensured that every detail was managed, and even the smallest error could lose you shifts. Shifts were very valuable, especially Friday and Saturday nights, and the loss of one of these nights would severely affect your mildly lavish lifestyle. Since North America has a tipping culture, you can make quite a bit of money on a Saturday night. To give you an example, on an average Saturday with good turnover, you could make upwards of $700 (£432) beyond your regular wages. You walked home with that in your pocket – after seven hours of work. So we ensured that we listened to our military officer; we wanted those shifts.

He was so finite when it came to service that a dropped fork or knife would lose you a shift. Not taking the plates from the appropriate side would lose you a shift. There were so many rules it was tough to keep track at times, especially in the early days. But ultimately the guests kept coming, and they were happy. I’d have ‘regulars’ who would allow me to sit with them and talk sports and politics. They would tip a king’s ransom if I saved a special bottle of wine for them. As the bartender, I was like the chap with all the cigarettes in the prison. I could pull strings all day to ensure my guests had the best of the best.

And that is the crux of my point. I wanted my guests to have the best; I wanted them to enjoy their dining or drinking experience. Some may suggest this was just because I was in fine dining, but this type of service culture trickles down to the more rudimentary tiers of service too.

To flash forward, this all came to a head last year. I was so fed up with the debauchery that is called service in many establishments that I rarely went out to eat any longer in the UK. Originally I thought it was just me, I thought it was because I was used to good service thus I expected more. I began to whinge to friends here in the UK about it and I found that so many felt the same way – sure there were a few who said it was ‘American’ and ‘fake’ and the British don’t want that – but ultimately I think this is hyperbole. I think that there are individuals who don’t expect quality service, but the masses want to feel that when they spend their hard earned pounds, they get the service that goes with that.

I came to these service oriented revelations when at a country pub a few winters back. This place was packed – or chokka as some may say. It was rare to see a pub this overflowing, thus I was intrigued. My wife and I popped in after a long autumnal walk, and we were really looking forward to a hot tea and a bite to eat. And then we were amazed: the service was impeccable, the food was fantastic, and the atmosphere was perfect. And the key message here was that it was packed to the rafters with happy clients. This is what good service and good food can do – and the best part about good service is that it doesn’t come from the bottom line. But good service definitely increases profits.

Some may say the incentives for servers are not good enough, hence the surly and unhappy attitudes. This may be correct, but this is why you may need internal incentives to drive the impetus. But once you get your staff on your side, treat them like a valued part of the team and they will perform. And that performance will produce cash and repeat business. I know I make it sound simple, but that’s because it is. I know that if I’m getting bad service it comes from the owner, whether the owner is a pub or restaurant group or an individual proprietor.

Coming out of these tough times, when pubs are closing left and right, remember that a smile, a friendly wink, a kind word, warm food, good beer… They all go a long way towards customer happiness. And in the end, it could not only save your business, it could grow it exponentially.

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