In the last few years, there has been a boom in Manila’s restaurant scene. While some of the old players have retained their spot in the front of the restaurant races, largely because of customer loyalty, many new players have been jostling to make an impact. How many tapas joints or ramen places can one city hold? What makes this fancy bakery better than that fancy bakery?

In an effort to differentiate themselves from each other, trendy new restaurants have become oh-so-creative with their food, their interiors and what I’d like to focus on: their service.

Since there is so much competition, it’s nice to see how many new places are really pushing good customer relations. It’s reassuring to walk in to a new place and have them welcome you with big, confident smiles that say “You, dear customer, are in for a treat!” It’s wonderfully refreshing to ask about something on the menu and get more than “Masarap po ‘yan“. (This is good!) It makes you feel special when the manager stops by your table to check up on you. There seems to be a lot more enthusiasm and eagerness to enhance the customer’s dining experience. Which is wonderful! Fabulous food just isn’t enough anymore.

But if the eagerness interrupts a serious conversation, or the enthusiasm is pushed down your throat along with the house iced tea, it can be quite off-putting. In fact, just as off-putting as a lack of it. There needs to be quiet balance of making your customers feel at ease while respecting their little bubbles and what goes on in them. While the intention is (probably) good, an overly perky “How is your dinner tonight?” asked in the middle of a serious conversation comes out forced, needy and invasive. Not attractive at all.

While much effort is being put into customer relations, some of it can be geared towards learning how to read your customers and not just repeating phrases from the training manual. The manuals provide the tools but taking those tools and knowing when and how to use them properly… that makes a world of difference.