The restaurant is half full. It has the noise of a busy restaurant, the beat of music driving in from a nearby bar in Darling Harbour in Sydney, without the numbers. However, the crowd of fifty or so is creating its own music from conversational noise in competition with the bar.

It seems as though patrons are satisfied. However, although I want to feel satisfied because the restaurant boasts one of my favourite menus in Darling Harbour, especially the all you can eat mussels, I feel less than satisfied.

I contemplate as I navigate my way through a tasty bouillabaisse what is causing me to be relatively underwhelmed.

The first thing that strikes me is that no-one scans anymore to see if any of the patrons need anything. Perhaps, I muse, the margins on the mains which range $35-$60 is high enough that the restaurant does not need to sell any additional drinks or side orders.

I doubt that in the time I have been seated that the wait staff have scanned the room once. I scanned the room myself looking for one of the wait staff who might just look in my general direction. I finally find one and sometime later my empty wine glass is replenished. I remark to myself that it seems odd that I have to do the selling here. The food is nice though.

I have a flashback to the previous night to a US style steak and rib place I dined, the anticipation of a juicy perfectly pink medium steak giving way to disappointment of well done on one end and cremated on the other. At that restaurant, not only did no-one scan but the food was poor too.

OK so, my restaurant of choice tonight does not have staff that scan. The food is very nice; so what else gives?

Rapport I immediately think. I’m not the greatest salesman placed on earth but I can exhibit a turn of charm when the need presents itself or I just feel so inclined. What did I get for my smile, heartfelt good evening and generally cheery disposition? Cold body language screaming “Beam me up Scotty”, an “Oh my God what are you so cheery about?” look and a perfunctory seating at a table.

It did not get better looking through the menu. Requesting a drink first and time to look through the menu was met by a look of somewhere between incredulity and “Whaterverrr”. I scanned the room at that moment. Was it my body odour or were other patrons having a similar experience, I thought to myself. I was not alone.

The restaurant manager I soon realise is a cut above his staff. He smiles and is attentive where his staff are not. So ignorance and lack of a role model is not the cause.

I did wonder after ordering my dinner where the famous “All you can eat mussels” offering disappeared to. In moving the table accoutrements to write this article I found out it had not. It was advertised on a table stand on the side facing the post my table hugged. I realise then that there was no introduction to the specials made when I sat down which included the mussels tonight and an order one main get one fee offer. The latter would have defeated my gastronomic intake limits. However, I would have liked the offer of the former.

Further contemplation reveals that this lack of attention to simple detail, lack of service; this lack of warmth is not a new experience. It has been building in hospitality in particular after being institutionalised in stores like Myer many years ago, for years.

So what begets this lack of care towards providing customer service I wonder?

I know from our consulting experience that many organisations do not have standards of service they expect their staff to meet. If they do they are opaque, difficult to read, too easy to interpret to each individual’s own standard and almost impossible to implement. Recruitment we know is also mostly of the emergency type. If you are breathing, can speak reasonable English and ever worked in McDonalds, you are hired. Oh and by the way can you start this afternoon?

Induction is scant and overly concentrated on tick-the-box exercises on health and safety, appreciating diversity and the company values with skill building left to on-the-job training. Trouble is, on-the-job training is left to supervisors and manger’s best efforts. Clarity and consistency across the organisation is non-existent. Customer service is valued in a reactive sense when a customer finally complains or an arbitrary measure of customer service excellence falls below a normal level.

Turnover is high (>60%) even allowing for the high proportion of casual labour. The organisation is forced into more emergency recruitment and more skill-averse inductions.

Turnover is high according to the few souls who stay on because people do not know what their role is, standards are arbitrary and they feel disempowered. Career paths are not obvious and only those who mimic the work style and perceptions of the supervisors and managers are promoted.

Now what was it I was contemplating? Yes, that’s it. Why is service deteriorating in the hospitality industry? If only it was something obvious.