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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Diners in no rush to return if staff hurries them out

USA Today


Restaurant diners who have felt the cold breath of a waiter trying to hurry them along may take comfort from a new study from Cornell University.

Breffni Noone and Sheryl Kimes, professors at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, conclude in the study that service can be so fast that it backfires on restaurant owners. Customers who feel rushed during the middle of a meal may be less likely to return or recommend the restaurant to others, Kimes says.

The new study's conclusions may be common sense for diners, but it's new ground for many restaurateurs. Past studies have focused primarily on increasing revenue by reducing customers' dining time. The restaurant business had never studied the pace of a meal's effect on customer satisfaction, Kimes says.

"Pace is a key element in customer satisfaction," she says. "Customers can be happy with the food quality, pricing, the quality of service and the ambiance, but if the pace is off, they might still not be happy."

The study asked 270 participants to recall a recent restaurant experience at which they felt rushed. What some found irritating: the main course coming during or quickly after the appetizer course, hovering servers, dishes being removed too early, water glasses not being refilled or the check coming too early.

Richard Martin, managing editor of a weekly trade publication, Nation's Restaurant News, calls the study "a wake-up call" to restaurant operators. "It puts the onus on restaurateurs to realize it's also about hospitality and not just a numbers game," he says.

It's a difficult balancing act for restaurant owners in a highly competitive business. Customers who linger longer take up space that could be used by a new group of diners. In addition, there's a fine line between attentive service and rushing diners out the door.

"The more tables they turn, the more checks they can write and the more tips for the server," says Bonnie Knutson, professor of marketing at Michigan State University's School of Hospitality Business.

Customer dissatisfaction with being rushed depends on the type of restaurant and the amount of money spent, says John Fischer, assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America. Customers want to relax at fine-dining establishments but often may prefer quick service at a casual restaurant, says Fischer, whose book, "At Your Service," will be published in August.

Bob Beilstein, a computer consultant, says he told the server last month to take back the entree when it was brought with the appetizer at a restaurant in Schaumburg, Ill. Then, he says, the check came with the entree. His group left a small tip.

Sammy Tawil of Allenhurst, N.J., says many times he has been rushed through meals. "You feel like cattle, and it's all about money, money, money," says the construction industry salesman, who dines about three nights per week with clients.

Gus DiMillo, a partner in three Washington, D.C., restaurants, says they aim to turn a table over at least twice between 5:30 and 11:30 p.m. But, he says, his restaurants don't rush customers because, "You can't develop loyalty when you do that."

Speeding up one phase of a meal can pay off, says Cornell's Kimes. "Once a customer asks for a check, do it as quickly as possible."