Zingerman’s: The Service

“Zingerman’s is the only deli-and-service nirvana I know” –Eating Well

When it comes to eating out, I’m obsessed with finding good food and great service. It’s hard for me not to, since I work in the restaurant business. In the words of my sweet, generous husband, I tend to “go all Norma Rae” on service issues. When I see bad service and poor management, I want to stand up on a table and say “It’s all about great customer service!” But then my husband reminds me that maybe that kind of behavior will either get me carted away by the police or fired. I take this stuff very seriously. Maybe a little too seriously.

When I find great food, I’m elated. When I find a passionate server or bartender, I clap like a giddy school girl. When I find both great food and great service (which, unfortunately, is rare) I become a volunteer spokesperson for the joint.

Unlike many diners, I always walk into restaurant ready to love it. Based on my numerous years in the restaurant business, I know my eagerness to see a place succeed is just not the norm. Call me the optimistic pessimist. When it comes to dining out, I always want to believe that something great can happen.

The thing is, so few restaurants want to put in the time and effort to create a great experience for the diner from the front of the house (the service staff) to the back of the house (the kitchen staff). The food may be well thought out, but the service staff is neglected and left to their own (bad) habits. Or the service could be impeccable and the food is sub-par. Getting both parts of a restaurant right is very, very hard.

Can I get a drum roll please

Which brings me back to Zingerman’s. I know. I’ve been writing a lot about that place this week. But after all the writing (okay, I’ll say it, cheerleading), I would be short changing the place if I didn’t take a moment to express how impressive Zingerman’s trademark service is.

Beyond the incredibly delicious hand picked heritage foods and their artful presentations, Zingerman’s well-trained staff is always attentive, ready to help, knowledgeable and prepared to go the extra mile for the customer.

On a recent trip, my mother in law was presented with a handful of balloons (that had to be painstakingly filled up on-the-spot) when she mentioned it was her son’s 40th birthday. Sandwiches were hand delivered with a smile by an employee that that had to search the two floor dining room in order to find us. Our Roadhouse server, seeing that I was an information hungry foodie, answered all of my food related questions and offered historical background for many of the dishes. Ari Weinzweig, owner of Zingerman’s, went out of his way to make myself and my family feel welcomed and appreciated. He even took the time to find and read my blog after I mentioned it to him. At the Roadhouse he even filled our water glasses while telling us the story of the Pennsylvania sweet corn.

Me and Ari Weinzweig (my hero)

Every time I visit Zingerman’s, I’m blown away by their can-do attitude.

How do they do this? By dedicating huge amounts of time and effort into their people. To borrow the words of Ari Weinzweig, my service hero and author of Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, in order to give great service one must:

1. Teach great service
2. Define great service
3. Live great service. The management staff spend enormous amounts of time walking the walk of great service by actively showing their staff how to give good service.
4. Measure it.
5. Reward it.

If you’re in the service business and take your job seriously, you ought to buy yourself a copy of Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. It will teach you everything you need to know about getting successful results for great service.


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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. Leah Greenstein
    July 17

    Here here to great service! It’s sadly lacking today and I really appreciate your drawing attention to a business that’s doing it right!.

    Thanks 🙂

  2. Mark by Chocolate
    August 3

    I’m not sure where you are eating but the restaurants I eat at and the hotels I stay at have great, stellar service:

    French Laundry (gold standard)
    Per Se (platinum standard)
    Tru Restaurant (they sweep here. Terrific.)
    Perilla (seamless)
    Jardinere (stylish)
    Boulevard (homey and fast)
    Le Bernardine (perfect!)
    Elizabeth-Daniel (defunct, sadly, but they sweep.)
    Rubicon (very elegant)
    March (pretty much now defunct)
    WD-50 (above and beyond)
    DA|BA (super fun and very nice, above and beyond)
    Le Ciel (Vienna) (This was beautiful and old world.)
    Spago Palo Alto (now defunct)

    Four Seasons just about anywhere
    Marriott Marquis
    Grand Hotel Wien
    Simpson House (Santa Barbara)

    Just to name a few off the top of my head.

  3. […] never expected to find bedrock inspiration from inside a humble brick deli with crooked wood floors. But ever since I took my first step […]

  4. […] important aspect that many people don’t realize is a key to Zingerman’s success: an unrivaled commitment to service. From the minute you walk through the door, every employee goes out of their way to make sure that […]

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