Culture: Un-training staff to act like humans

by Marieke on February 6, 2017

My habit to let the staff or chef choose my meal has some interesting side effects. Not only dare I argue that it makes me enjoy my meal more, it also is a quite interesting thing to see how it confuses staff. Confusion mainly because they are un-trained to think for themselves.

Restaurant staff is predominantly trained and conditioned to do a limited number of things very well: make sure guests are served, make sure they get their food and drinks in time and then -depending on the quality of the restaurant- seducing guests to buy more, give them advise on wine, etc etc.
An easy example is that you will see restaurants where some staff is either not ‘allowed’ to take orders, to take payments or to serve out food.

This is so even for experienced staff (or maybe: especially experienced staff). I had an experienced waiter refuse to choose for me when I asked for omakase and more often than not, and in general, in my experience, experienced staff needs extra convincing before they will actually choose for you.

It starts with a simple question, after I pretty much instantly lay the menu aside: “Can you choose for me?”.

Usually, the conversation goes as follows:

  • Me: “Can you choose for me?”
  • Waiter: “Sorry?” / Confused glare.
  • Me: “Can you choose for me? I eat everything. You can not go wrong.”
  • Waiter: “Really?”
  • Me: “Yeah, really, I do this all the time. You can not go wrong.”
  • Waiter: “Uh, ok.”

And finally they will concede and choose my meal.

The entree is usually a safe bet; either something safe that pretty much everybody likes (like carpaccio) or something that is most popular amongst guests (like a mixed platter).

After I convince them it was good and that they met my expectations, they usually relax more and are more confident.

The next course will follow with more confidence and bravado.
A small step in re-training staff to be human again.

Posted as well on my travel blog Omakases.

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