Exploring Good Service in Whitehorse

When I first travelled to Canada and the United States I was impressed with the service I got — from the smallest breakfast restaurant, to a fancy steakhouse. Among other things, I enjoyed being called “sweetie” and “honey,” by servers, and I found North Americans have higher standards than Germans.

Back in Germany I told my friends how impressed I was.

“They have to smile,” they told me. “Otherwise they get fired.”

And I know, it’s easier to get fired in North America than in Germany. But there’s also a different mentality that makes service here different.

Small talk, for example, is not common in Germany.

Also, in Germany, I get excellent service in fancy restaurants, but in ordinary restaurants you never know what to expect.

When I came to Whitehorse I found service similar to what I found in Germany, because you never know what kind of service you’ll get in most of the restaurants here, too.

Art Webster, owner of The Wheelhouse Restaurant, has a theory about that.

“You have to understand that a lot of waiters are just looking for a temporary job in hospitality and that they often have no intention of staying longer in the restaurant business once they find another job,” he says.

Webster’s philosophy is that good service has at least two main aspects.

“First, there is the mechanical, which can be learned, for example, how to open a bottle of wine in front of the customer,” he says. “The second is not learnable, it’s about personality. Some people have it in their blood; they are kind, and have a genuine smile.”

Webster says it takes work to provide good service.

“Come prepared to work,” Webster says. “Be mentally alert, with an attitude to work for the pleasure of the customers. And go beyond the expectations of the customers.

“Good service is making the customer feel like he is the only one in the restaurant.”

Webster opened The Wheelhouse one year ago, but he has worked in the service industry all his life.

“I want to give tourists and customers a special experience,” he says. “A lot of tourists are curious and want to know something about the history of the Yukon, they want to know what exactly a wheelhouse is. And I like to give stories and knowledge and provide them with an unforgettable experience in my restaurant. They will take home a unique memory.”

Indeed, good service has the power to create an unforgettable memory.

This is a point that Whitehorse resident Joy. E. Karp includes in her new book about good service. In her book, called The Power of Service, Karp hits that idea home using a quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Joy Karp and her husband Rick moved to Whitehorse in 1985 to open a McDonald’s in the North. During her 14 years as an owner-operator Joy and Rick Karp won service accolades, including a thinking-like-a-customer award called the Ronald Award from the McDonalds Corporation.

In 2005, Joy won a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce competition to write and teach a customer satisfaction course in preparation for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. This course was the source for a book she released this year, called The Power of Service.

It’s the story of two fictional people, Monica and Joshua, doing a service course. Descriptions of their life struggles and experiences make the book an entertaining read, in addition to the advice on how to offer good service.

“Great service is when you leave feeling a whole lot better and happier

than when you came in,” Joy says. “We need to raise the bar on service in our community, if we want our economy to flourish. We need to better understand what exceptional service is and that is why I wrote the book—to enhance and broaden that understanding.”

Joy’s husband Rick agrees. He is the president of Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, created a service program called Growing Your Hospitality which is a brochure for employees in hospitality. He also wrote the foreword in Joy’s book.

“Good Service involves a lot of things,” Rick says. “It starts with the management, the atmosphere between the workers. Service flows from the top to the bottom. The higher a manager gets, the more responsibility he has for the employee. The employees are servicing the customers, but the management should serve the employees with encouragement and solutions to problems, and an open ear to the workers.”

It’s not an easy job. I know this from my time as a waitress back in Germany.

The time-pressure in a restaurant, the yelling kitchen chef, the glass of red wine falling onto the white tablecloth — there can be a huge amount of stress. And as a server you apologize if the wine is corky, if the soup is too salty, or the steak tastes like leather.

“Good service takes patience and a love for what you do even on those days when you don’t love it so much,” Joy writes in The Power of Service. “The days when you don’t love it so much are challenging. These days are a true test of character. But they will bring you far and grow your skills.”

A fundamental truth is that sometimes a smile from the heart can make somebody’s day.

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