An Open Letter to the Restaurant Industry in Calgary


On the weekend, I shared this status on Facebook.

Wednesday. I was at a pub where people had to wait for over 2 hours for their food.
Tonight, I went to a restaurant where the server decided making his food before getting mine. Then serve the person behind me. I walked out.
Then I go to another restaurant. The lady told me the guy that ” prepared the food” was taking out the garbage.
He returned to prepare the food, but forgot one important thing…
He forgot to wash his hands.
My conclusion. The restaurant service industry in Calgary needs improvement.

I wanted to follow up on this discussion a little further. Particularly because there was some good discussion around what I said. Which indicates too me there is something going on with the service at restaurants in the Calgary area.

So with that in mind, I decided to write an Open Letter to the restaurant industry in Calgary. Hopefully this can start a discussion on if, and how, the service can improve in Calgary.

Dear Restaurant Industry,

I realize that I’m speaking to almost 3,000 restaurants in Calgary. I realize you all are different.  You have different themes.You serve different types of foods. You have different price points and customer demographics. However, you all have one thing in common.

You are in the service industry. And being in the service industry, you realize there is an expectation from customers that they will be treated well.

Unfortunately, there is something missing. There are some customers that have felt the service is lacking.

I would like to start with three examples I mentioned above. The first one was at a well known sports pub in the city. This was last Wednesday when there were 3 Game 7 Stanley Cup Playoff games on.Due to that, there was an expectation that it would be busy.And it was. The problem was that the food ordered at our table took 2 hours to come out. The other issue was the quality of the food was lacking. Specifically, it seemed like wings were cold.

The second example I have is a restaurant that makes a donair. I approached the counter to order. Only to find out that the server was busy and quite frankly, very slowly making his own food. I waited over 5 minutes to see the family behind me get service. I was somewhat of a regular and was disappointed to be treated that way.

The third example was on the same night. I went into it to find out the server was not available as they were taking out the garbage. The person returned and clearly did not wash his hands. He put on gloves, but I saw no hand washing.

Now, before you site these as isolated incidents, I would like to point out a couple of more. There is popular bar downtown that has a dress code. The dress code includes no runners. We were at this restaurant for over an hour and moved tables twice to actually get service. We then were informed by our friends entering later that they could not go in because of their footwear. Only to realize that looking at one of the servers was actually wearing runners. You respond this is one bar? Many bar’s are gaining reputations of arrogant bouncers who are selective on who is lucky enough to get in to their “special club”. Or who at the bar is able to get a drink.

There is also a well known cafe in Kensington that expresses “Gratitude” that has the reputation of not being gracious to their customers. This is not only from the servers, who have been extremely rude to customers, but the actual owner as well.

I understand there are some current issues going on here. It’s tough to hire and keep quality staff. This is leading to staff shortage and, quite likely, stress amongst those that are working more hours.

However, I would like to point somethings out too you.

The first thing I would like to point out is several are doing this well. As an example, the recently closed down Lido Cafe in Kensington. They were in business for over 70 years. The last owner, Pam, worked 7 days a week for over 25 years. When I asked her the key to success she told me that she treated her customers like family. She valued her customers, she knew their names. She recalled customers that came every day. Those who had their first date. Customers who had children and those children became regulars.

What is also interesting is that the menu never changed. The prices stayed the same. The service stayed the same. And people kept coming back. So, it is possible to provide something special to your customers that take the time to come out. 

The second thing I think some need to be reminded of is the power of the word of mouth. It is a well known fact that negative news spreads faster than good news. As you know, there is many outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Foodie bloggers that will share their experience. So the bad service you might give has the potential to travel faster than ever. But, so does the good service.

In the current climate of Calgary, the average restaurant business span is around 5 years. This would indicate that your time is short in making a strong lasting impression on customers. Quite frankly, there is many of you that understand this and do it well.

Unfortunately, there are a good chunk of the 3,000 restaurants that don’t. And fairly or not,it’s impacting the  reputation of the service industry in Calgary.

On behalf of the customer base in Calgary, I ask that you take the time to value and care for us who come to your restaurant. This means server’s, chefs, bartenders,  managers,and of course owners.

If you are interested in  that, then one of two things should happen. First, you should step away so someone who wants to be in the industry can get involved.

Or, what is more likely, we will walk away. And never come back.


Kevin Olenick