Restaurant cooking in Bangkok may be reaching global standards, but little thought or training goes into the improvement of service.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the restaurant cooking in Bangkok is now approaching global standards. Few though, in my opinion, reach the level of say London and Copenhagen. I’m sure some of you are jumping up and down in your chair right now, screaming, “What about New York?” Well, I have only a rudimentary knowledge of The Big Apple; or “Noooo, Bangkok is way better, you ignorant, uninformed halfwit!” to which I say, shut up and sit down.
The difference between other culinary capitals and Bangkok? Service. While Bangkok restaurants continue to make lists, news and garner awards—steered by smart PR and hefty publicity budgets—the standard of service in restaurants here remains servery lacking.
Diners judge a restaurant experience not merely on food alone, but the overall experience, service included. This begins as soon as they approach the front door. While I’ve been happy to pay for quality cooking, I’m reluctant to tip or compliment the service when, in my practised experience, staff mostly appear to stand around and gawp. In one instance, in a Michelin-rated restaurant who will remain nameless, one member of the team had his flies undone and was chewing gum. The horror!
Then there’s the host or the person at the reservations counter. Here is a solo role in which I see more and more of in Bangkok, even upon entering my local Dean & Deluca. I believe that the reservation process and the welcome are two of the most critical factors of the restaurant experience, yet the manner in which staff answer the phone here is often hurried and without compassion. Before I’ve even set foot in the restaurant, my experience is off to a bad start.
When I enter a restaurant, a server greets me with a wide-beamed smile and “sawadee khrup” only to then fail in taking my jacket, showing me to my table or even passing me off to some other attendant. Once at my table, I’ll be handed a scruffy menu, and one of two things will then happen: either a waiter will hover over me, eye-balling me and forcing me to rush my order or they’ll vanish completely, never to be seen or heard from again.
As for the whole hand-across-your-lap thing with the napkin—I can unfold my napkin, thank you very much; what you’re doing is bordering on molestation.
A chef or restaurateur will dedicate hundreds of hours to researching, sourcing and applying the finest ingredients, perfecting it on the plate for the customer; but rarely will they educate the person whose job it is to sell the product. I’ve questioned the staff about my strip loin and how the carrots were cooked, and they seemingly have no idea at all. Often, the answer is, “Let me check” to which I never see that waiter ever again.
In Bangkok there still appears to be a separation between kitchen and floor staff, each protective over their domain without unifying their efforts and working as a team to the benefit of the restaurant—or the paying customer.