What is it like to dine across the pond?


What is it like to dine across the pond?

Matthew Smith

HGEM’s Head of New Business, Matthew Smith, recently returned from America after a three-week honeymoon with his family. We got the low-down on his dining experiences to see what the UK should take, if anything, from the US dining scene.

American’s are generally known for being overtly friendly compared to us Brits, often making us recoil into our awkward selves, but surely being more than polite is a good thing? All too often, in the UK, ‘have a nice day’ can feel scripted when the words are said without a smile, sometimes without even looking in your direction. US hospitality staff are incredibly charming, this may be because of their tipping culture, but genuine or not, perhaps us Brits could take something from this?

Servers in the US can be very chatty, and ask lots of questions, which is great, however Matthew and his family had an experience in which they were asked about their trip, and after explaining they were on their honeymoon, were presented with a ‘Happy Anniversary’ cake instead. He commented ‘The cake was a nice gesture, which was really appreciated, but it was clear to me that their interest wasn’t genuine after they hadn’t really listened to what we had to say.’

Is there such a thing as too attentive? You would think not, after all nothing is more frustrating than having to get up from your seat to ask a member of staff if you can place your drinks order or have the bill. But when attentiveness makes you feel super rushed, this makes for a rather unpleasant dining experience. Matthew had a number of occasions in which the waiter would present the bill with the main course, including a tipping guide at the bottom of the receipt whilst assuring ‘there’s no rush’.

It is apparent that US staff are reliant on tips, however with so much focus being placed on a friendly and attentive service, this can mean that the quality of food is lost, with a disconnect between front and back of house staff, unlike in the UK. With less pride being taken in the kitchen, each guests food is sometimes brought out at different times, not what you’ve asked for, and cold. The good news is that sending food back is encouraged in the US, with staff often comping the entire bill when it’s not necessary. Perhaps they hope you will make up the difference in tips – still, team members go out of their way to improve your experience, can the same be said for all UK establishments?

Matthew commented ‘Although Front of House teams are highly motivated to provide good service, for me their product knowledge isn’t on par with the UK. I often asked servers ‘what’s your favourite dish’ hoping they will respond with ‘at pre-shift today we tried X’, or ‘for a team lunch I love X’. This didn’t happen as often as it does in the UK, and on many occasions, it felt like they simply recommend the most expensive dish on the menu.’

Something Americans are definitely getting right is their attentiveness when it comes to drinks and children. Cold water is brought to your table without asking for it and soft drinks are refilled throughout your sitting. A fresh pack of crayons and paper are given to children as you are seated - a crucial time to keep them occupied whilst getting yourself sorted and trying to read your way through the menu. Something as simple as this goes a long way for parents as well as other guests enjoying a relaxed dining experience.

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