French customer service: the best in the world?

The snappy, brutish and notoriously arrogant garçon is merely a misunderstood creature. Let me explain why French customer service is second to none.

Waiting tables in the UK is largely seen as a high turn-over job for the unqualified, a means to earn whilst studying or a stop-gap between jobs. In France, on the other hand, it’s a respected profession, an art form even, for which you must attend a three year restaurant school course which includes work experience to gain a professional Baccalaureate.

My family and I have been going to the same restaurants on the south west coast of France for nearly twenty years. In the good eateries, the waiters have barely changed in this time. As a child I marveled at them with their swift actions, balancing trays of heavy plates and tall carafes perched upon an upturned palm while weaving around tables faultlessly. They made it appear so effortless, my young brain concluded that they must have magnets on their wrists.

French waiters could do service with their eyes closed. They’re abrupt – because they don’t want anyone to be waiting hours for their meal to arrive, not because they’re snubbing you. They may correct your French but that’s because they think they’re doing you a favour. They may even ignore your attempts at French and insist on speaking English, again, they’re only trying to be helpful. DB-waiter

Tentatively they ask, “Vous-avez choisi?” have you made a choice? They do not play into the Americanised service style of inquisitive waiters brandishing fixed smiles, we have become all too familiar with these days.

In France, they won’t ceaselessly bound up to your table to enquire if everything is OK because they think it’s rude to interrupt the ritual of eating. The chef may be inflexible with your off-menu demands but the French waiter believes, quite rightly, that rules are not created to be broken. French cuisine is considered the best in the world after all.

So next time you’re in a French restaurant, spare a thought for the misunderstood waiter who knows his trade – if the French serveur is arrogant, it is because he has every right to be. The French waiter has learnt from the bottom, having chosen service as a career not just a job, and intends to give the very best customer service.

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