Crepes Parisiennes: Nuances of Service

Created for Design for Services, a course taught by Molly Wright Steenson at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, with Ming Xing

We entered Crepes Parisiennes, a cafe within walking distance of Carnegie Mellon, just before the busy lunch hour began. We’d both been to this little restaurant before and headed straight for the menu posted high on one of the exposed brick walls next to the ordering counter. With the goal of observing the service experience (as well as get a delicious hot drink and meal), we attuned ourselves to the interactions that form the simulated cozy-European-cafe experience, both onstage and backstage.

Even before customers interact with the staff at Crepes Parisiennes, environmental and intangible cues help form a very inviting atmosphere pulling from French inspirations. Visual cues like warm lighting, cozy colors, brick walls, and Parisian art hung on the walls help create a chic but cozy atmosphere that tie the setting to the French theme. French music radiated throughout the cafe during our visit, adding a nice intangible touch to help the patrons get into the mood. Little things like the bottles lining the counter and the French quotes calendar provide customer with a very different experience than one they might experience at more typically American establishment. Even the workers at the cafe are dressed in a typical French chic-casual style, further reinforcing the theme.

Warm tones and materials paired with blue tones convey a chic French atmosphere.

Crepes Parisiennes also differentiates itself from other cafes in its transparency, which allows it to implicitly communicate vital information. The menu is posted on boards as well as on paper at the register, making information readily available. Patrons can easily discern the different service roles, given the open-kitchen setup behind the ordering counter. Two people take care of food orders and busing tables, while two more work the kitchen and crepe station. The kitchen is in clear view at the ordering station; crepes are made behind a glass panel, and patrons can watch their tea or coffee being made if they want to. This transparency in the kitchen area communicates quality at Crepes Parisiennes since patrons can see exactly what goes into their food. The open-kitchen setup also communicates the idea of the cafe being a casual hangout, as this transparency of process (from ordering to preparation) in the restaurant makes the dining atmosphere seem more natural rather than hierarchical.

Quick sketch of the kitchen/counter view and key features.

In terms of the actual person-to-person service component, the waitstaff were attentive and polite but still stayed within the boundaries of being casual. The person behind the ordering counter would greet the patron first (and with a smile!), and then take the order on an iPad using Square to process the transaction. The patron would then take a card with their order number on it and find a seat. Service gestures like saying, “Enjoy!” after bringing dishes and thanking the customers at multiple touchpoints (ordering/payment, bringing the dishes, when they leave) create a more pleasant experience. A particular interaction we noted was when the waitress brought out my crepe order. She brought out two sets of clean silverware even though we only ordered one dessert crepe — she had anticipated our intentions of sharing even though we had said nothing about it.

Even though the restaurant is counter-service, these little nuances in service from the waitstaff make the patrons feel taken care of despite the general lack of person-to-person contact during the dining process. The staff’s attentiveness as well as the restaurant’s casual and themed atmosphere sets Crepes Parisiennes apart from other dining establishments along Craig Street. It is their attention to detail that makes patrons go back again and again.