“Hello mate, i’m Brett, i’ll be your server”. Brett was a couple of years younger than me, from New Zealand, and definitely hot out of training as the proudest waiter at the Italian restaurant.
“i’ll have spaghetti and tomato sauce”, i said. “No problem mate, what second sauce would you like”.
“Just the one sauce please, tomato”.
“But you get two sauces mate, what second one would you like”.
“Make that one tomato too hey?”
“And salad or soup?”
“Just the spaghetti please, that’s enough”
“But you get salad or soup” retorted Brett, slightly desperately.
“And what dressing do you want mate?”
Sometimes you have to know when you’re beat. The system continued, telling me that i should have ice cream too. And garlic bread.
Now Brett was great: we talked about skiing, about New Zealand, about places to visit. It was just when we both lapsed into the semi formal world of food that he felt so constrained by the system, and i felt so disconnected from any semblance of service. Not because of Brett, but because of what Brett had been taught to do.
Training can be an abstract activity, getting people to conform to a system, but great service may well be despite any system. That’s why formal knowledge alone is not enough: it may give you a frame to operate within, but remove authenticity, remove choice, remove discretion, and you remove the point of it all.