Sunshine Coast Daily

Bad service off the menu

BRETT Freeburn knows that it only takes one bad experience to turn a diner off more than his food.

The co-owner of the award-winning Choux Box Espresso Bar at Kingscliff says that he invests more time in “getting the mix right” with his staff than any other aspect of the business, because customers' first impressions last.

“Serving good food is only one of the ingredients to a memorable dining experience; the other is professional service in our front-of-house or wait staff, who are not only ambassadors for our restaurant but for the whole area,” he said.

“Word-of-mouth is everything in this business, and if someone has a bad experience they are likely to tell all of their friends, while they are less likely to rave about a good experience.”

The chef, who has been operating from Marine Parade for more than a decade, has supported comments from Gold Coast Tourism bosses at a House of Representatives committee hearing in Brisbane this week that poor service could be turning tourists off from coming to the Tweed and Gold Coasts at a time when the industry is already suffering lower visitor numbers because of the global recession, the inflated Aussie dollar and swine flu fears.

At the hearing, chairman of Gold Coast Tourism and head of the Gold Coast Airport, Paul Donovan told the committee first-hand about the rude service he received at one Tweed restaurant, and said hospitality workers needed to be better trained to provide quality service.

“Our waiters and wait- resses are on the front-line when it comes to creating an experience for our visitors and really should consider themselves ambassadors for the area,” said Gold Coast Tourism boss Martin Winter, who made the presentation with Mr Donovan.

“We are not saying that poor service is contributing directly to a drop in visitor numbers, and we are not being critical of our members; what we are saying is that in these tough times everyone in the industry should be doing their bit to make sure our visitors enjoy their experience.

“What we are saying is that good news travels; but bad news travels faster, and to keep in mind that we are not the only destination that is trying to attract tourists, because everyone both domestically and internationally is suffering in these conditions.”

Putting the business best face forward is so vital to success, according to Mr Freeburn, that his cafe was a finalist in a NSW Department of Education Training Award, competing against all industries, and follows the Choux Box's success in winning the award for Best Breakfast at the 2009 NSW Restaurant and Catering Awards.

“Our focus is on giving our staff not only the skills but a sense of belonging so they feel proud and personally responsible for what happens,” he said.

“Staff retention is also important, and we have a lot of long-term staff.

“That is where I think the Tweed is better positioned than the Gold Coast, because it has more of a transient population and those people tend to get into hospitality jobs.”

Owner of Sugar Beat Coffee Shop in Murwillumbah, Brett Hails, whose cafe was also rewarded at the recent industry awards, agreed with Mr Freeburn that a steady workforce is important.

“We also get the same faces coming in all the time, so they might be more forgiving if we give bad service,” Mr Hails said.

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