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Little things that say so much

By Arnold.Fewell

August 5, 2014

I was judging some industry awards recently and was talking to a fellow judge; suddenly we started talking about teaspoons and in this case the lack of them.  We were at a large, five star establishment in London.  The teaspoons were beautiful silver, immaculately polished but there were not enough of them.  People had to ask for more and the waitress who was immaculately turned out with a beautiful smile had to disappear and get more.  Judging by the length of time she was away I suspect she was collecting dirty teaspoons as she returned to the kitchen and having to wash them.  Which do I remember most the lovely venue or the lack of teaspoons?

This was a minor inconvenience for the guests but it did send out negative messages that may have had an impact on the business.  They had a lack of teaspoons and either needed more in the department or in the hotel generally. 

I used to guard teaspoons in my restaurant management time with Trusthouse Forte.  I would search the kitchen pot wash area after lunch to make sure we had enough for the evening service.  I used to lock them away in the wine cupboard and take the keys with me.  This was despite there being a Buttery in the hotel that was open all afternoon and an afternoon tea service.  I am sure this would not be allowed nowadays but it was a general symptom of a lack of resources in the hotel.  The impact on service to customers was that staff ended up searching for teaspoons to serve a beverage.  The time being wasted was phenomenal and so the negative impact on service followed.  The first thing I did when I became Deputy Manager at the same hotel was order more equipment.

Another example of how teaspoons send out a message is at the breakout sessions for tea and coffee in a conference.  When the delegates first see the layout of cups, are all the spoons placed on the right hand side under the handle and all at the same angle?  It takes a fraction of time longer to place teaspoons in this position but it looks so much better and presents a professional set up and service.  In my experience of many conferences is that the little things like teaspoons indicate the standards and attention to detail that will follow.  Frequently it means the dinner in the evening takes too long or the food is cold and dietary requirements are missed.  And of course coffee cups will not have enough teaspoons and people end up sharing and talking about the situation!

If only conference venues concentrated on the small things it would make a huge difference on their overall financial performance and quality of service which encourages repeat bookings.  Teaspoons are an interesting indicator that in my opinion should be observed more often by operators.  Unless of course they are checking other small details like the placement of chairs, fresh water at break times, topping up the sweets and ensuring tea and coffee is ready just ahead of time.  The last item being the biggest bug bear with conference organisers.