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Some tips and theories for your own restaurant or bar
The day has finally come. You have been planning and preparing for days, weeks, months for the opening of your new place. You have tried to completely prepare for every detail, you have planned carefully, thinking of everything that you could need, everything that can possibly happen, everything that could go wrong, (see attached list). Tonight, you are finally opening the doors, finally serving real guests real food and real drinks, ringing them up in the POS system, and actually, finally, dropping your first check. But know this: Once you actually open the doors, and that first guest walks through them, everything changes, because now, no matter how well you have planned, no matter how perfectly orchestrated your opening is, the only thing that matters, and the only thing that will ever matter again, is how the guest perceives what you are offering. All that matters now is what the guest wants. Yes, of course you stick with your plan, and you stand by your ideas, and you see them through, because sometimes it requires a little time and a little getting used to for people to accept your ideas. Imagine if I had listened when everyone told me that it would never work when I opened Christopher’s with 100 wines by the glass and handcrafted beers and premium cocktails with all fresh ingredients, in what was at that time a cow town (Christopher’s 1989); or when I poured American microbeers on draft and matched Belgian beers with food, and bought all of those German Rieslings and Spanish wines and made my bartenders actually follow recipes (Gramercy Tavern 1994); or paid attention to the naysayers that said a brewpub could never serve Thai food in midtown Manhattan (Typhoon Brewery 1995) or let them tell me I couldn’t make it work to put in a sake bar with Korean-based Asian fusion (Mirezi 1996)….the list is long indeed. ALL OF THAT SAID Once that first guest walks in the door, you have to react and be ready to change and adjust your place to what your guest wants, so that you can meet, or better yet, exceed, their expectations. Opening a restaurant and bar is complete insanity at its very most extreme level, as crazy as it gets. There is nothing quite like giving birth to a new operation. You won’t sleep for days. You WILL work every single day, every shift, until you get those reviews. It takes a very special person to open his or her own place, or even to work at any level in an opening. It is at once magic and hell. There is indeed nothing so satisfying and gratifying, and yet so demeaning and demanding. In the midst of the insanity, many years ago, I had a realization that I have never forgotten, and to this day that is my motivation to be at my best each and every shift. I realized that being on the floor of the restaurant, or behind your bar, is just like the theatre. I know, I know that is so obvious, of course we are performing, of course it’s a show, of course we are on stage. But it is so much more than that. You see, it doesn’t matter even a little bit to the guest, what the guests from the night before thought about their experience, it makes no difference to anyone at all what the critics said in the papers, if anything, that just sets the expectations even higher! Every guest has his/her own expectations that need to be fulfilled and exceeded, because for each of them, it is their first time, their only experience, and they deserve the same performance as the other happy guests. They are indeed critics in their own right, never mind the glowing reviews of past critics, they will judge themselves, tonight, and every night. So every day, when I am getting ready to go in, and I am putting on my game face, I look in the mirror, and I look myself in the eye, and I remind myself that every day I have to put on a brand new show, that every guest deserves my best, and that I only get one chance to show each and every guest exactly why they should be coming back to MY place, every night. I use that to get myself in the right frame of mind before I even leave the house, so for me, even getting ready is prepping for the big show. By the time I actually arrive at work, I am so pumped up, I cannot wait to perform the food and beverage ballet that we do so well, and provide for my guests the show that they deserve, that they want, that they are hoping for, and if I can do that, I will have regulars for life. THAT is what it is all about. So, I believe it should work the same way for my service team. Why would you ever just let them go out on the floor and go through the motions of service? They come from all types of other places, and have a number of other priorities. They have families, other jobs, school…it is MY job to make sure that they are in the right frame of mind, that they leave all of that baggage at the door for the next several hours, and that they too FOCUS on the SHOW! All I am asking my bartenders and servers to do is represent me as if they are the owner, to be ME with the customer, the way that only I can, SO…? It is MY JOB to get them prepared, get them psyched up, get them focused, and then to provide my team with the tools that they need to succeed. Family meal may be the single most important time of the day. It is the one time that the entire team is together, the one time that we all get to talk, share ideas, teach, learn, taste food and beverages, and PREPARE for the SHOW. Never waste a minute of family meal, or the preshift meeting. Use a timer. Every minute should hold special value. It is the moment that could decide whether or not your performance this evening is a hit, AND whether or not your show will have a long run…! Some Basic Philosophies Here are some of my most basic philosophies of service, rules that I live by, and share with my team: *We teach our servers to read the customer….not in MY house! Every guest should be treated like a guest in your home, every guest gets a hug, and every guest is welcomed warmly. After all, what is the ultimate form of hospitality? Inviting someone to your home. So, treat the guest as if he/she is a guest in your home. *Make every guest a regular. Create an environment and an experience that makes everyone FEEL like a regular, so they want to BE a regular. The guest should feel that we never want them to leave, and that when they do, he or she should be saying, “I can’t wait to come back.” *High-risk service---I truly believe that in today’s word of food and beverage, it is no longer enough to “anticipate the customers’ needs” as we were taught to do long ago. Instead, try to think of what they might want before they even realize it is available to them, go out on the edge, provide them with something special, go the extra mile, and truly EXCEED the customers’ expectations. *Door-to-door service describes my philosophy of service. Nothing worse that the young untrained host or hostess holding court behind the podium (or is that a pulpit?) who asks as the guest arrives, “Two?” Step out from behind your pulpit and greet that guest with open arms and great big hug (of warmth at least!) Memorize the names of the next four or five tables that need to be seated, and welcome the guest graciously---their special table is ready. I believe that service does NOT just start from the time they enter and end at the time they leave. We begin our service from the time that the guest first picks up the phone to call us, or checks our website, or makes the reservation online, and it extends of course through the meal, but lasts until weeks later when they are still talking about their experience with their friends, because we have made such a lasting impression upon them. *All great servers and great bartenders share a sickness: they live to make others happy. I hire sick people. To me, the need to please others is indeed a noble trait, therefore, I look for people that love to serve others, and live to serve everyone. Living to serve, and loving to make others happy, is what makes the difference in service. *I hire people with heart. I can teach anyone how to bartend and serve, but it is not possible to teach people to be nice. *Great servers and great bartenders are all great listeners. Listening is the single most important skill in our business, the ability to truly hear what the guest is saying, and learning about the guest by what they say, finding the person in our guest, and relating to them. The only reading of the guest is done by listening to what they are really saying and learning such things as: Why is this guest here? Where is he/she from? Does he/she have a budget? AND: We never push people through up-selling, but offer people high quality through well-chosen options, options we know they are interested in by listening to them! *What separates Legendary Service from passable service is Judgment. * The customer is NOT always right….but indeed they are never wrong. *Don’t Lie, Don’t Lecture When in doubt, find out. If you can’t honestly answer a guest’s question about a particular item, don’t fake it or lie. Know your products. If you don’t, then go and find out. Honesty is always the best policy Don’t project your personal tastes on the guest. “I don’t know, I don’t eat anything that has a mother” is really inappropriate. Be careful of sounding self- righteous. Remember, the guest was asking for your help, NOT necessarily your opinion. Find ways of describing items that would answer the question. *The only thing more important than training is continued training. Training is an ongoing, daily, hourly process. We are always training (and learning). We think because we taught it once it remains top of mind? Think again. Train, train, train, and then retrain. *All staff members should complement each other, but share the same vision. The restaurant and bar business is survival, and that means it is all about teamwork – combine all of our individual strengths to achieve a common goal. *Learn how to win what I like to call “the relay race.” When you go to a table, you must assure that when you walk away, they are ready for the next step of service, whatever that might be. This is always every server’s responsibility, and the entire team must live and breathe this concept. If the table needs to be cleared, clear it. If they need drinks, take the order. Each member of the service team will use this method, and everyone knows that when an individual leaves a table, or walks away from a patron at the bar, that guest is wanting for nothing! Plan ahead and make every move count. Wasted motions are a sign of inattentiveness. - Dale Carnegie * The magic words for resolving complaints --- I am sorry! Take responsibility, diffuse the anger, assess the situation, repeat the problem back, apologize again, fix it or make it right. How can we make their evening enjoyable? Make them forget what happened. Let them know that you care. Most guests with an issue don’t want something for free; they want to have a good time. Your most devoted followers are often the people that had what could have turned into a bad experience, that you turn around and make into a great and memorable experience, because these are people who know you care. *Managers must inspire trust and confidence in the staff. Managers should be approachable. At the first sign of trouble, the staff should be instructed to come to the manager immediately, and they must be made to feel comfortable doing so. *Always make management decisions with the whole team in mind. Consistency in your way of responding to the staff is key. If you are not sure, think it through or get back to them. Everything we do is on the table. Management should never slight each other in any way in front of anyone. Bring any issues to the weekly manager’s meetings. All decisions should be made by the team, behind closed doors, through discussion and compromise. Managers must all be on the same page at all times with all staff members. Every staff member deserves an answer, a” why”. Don’t pass the buck. We are expected to listen to the staff, as we expect the staff to listen to the guest. *Our number one responsibility as managers is to provide the staff with the tools they need to make the guest happy. We must take responsibility for all problems. The staff member must always know that they have been chosen for the team, and management is never looking to make their lives difficult, or fire them. If someone needs help, we find a way to bring them up to speed whenever possible. We don’t look for problems, we look for solutions. We should always have enough pars of service wares, but we may run short at times. This problem must be diffused immediately. If a shortage occurs in the middle of service, then the restaurant was not set up properly. The manager needs to be informed of shortages. There should also be a “shortage equipment list” on the bulletin board. When being informed, don’t just listen, but listen in a caring manner. Let the team member know the problem will be solved. Never cut staff members short. This is key for high morale and problem elimination. *Education, Information, Compensation and Documentation Providing the physical tools for your staff is the single most important task of management, but it must be taken a step further. The type of person we want to hire is the person who wants to learn. We need to provide an atmosphere of continuous education and nurturing. People who are ready to be taken to the next level should be taken there. As managers, we have access to a wealth of information, which we can impart to the staff. This is what keeps good people. Compensation The main reason everyone works for you is to be paid well for his or her hard work. Systems can be monitored and adjusted accordingly, but it should be a major priority to be sure your employees make a decent living. Documentation refers to regular employee progress reports based on performance, and certain disciplinary documents as well. Positive reinforcement is essential, and everyone deserves to know how they are doing in the eyes of the boss. Treat your servers and bartenders like adults, like human beings, provide benefits, make sure they are compensated accordingly, provide them with tools, including continued education and information, and you just may stem the tide of the ever present problem of attrition and transition. *I carry a notebook in my pocket at all times to jot down notes to remind me of service details, problems, stock issues, etc, and then I write all pertinent points down in the manager’s log at the end of the shift. If there is a problem, it should be fixed immediately so I/you can move on, but don’t forget to address all issues later, after the shift. Your life is as good as the food you eat - Russian Proverb *SAY THANK YOU, FAREWELL AND INVITE BACK Good service does not end after the check is paid. The farewell is the last impression the guest takes home with them, and it will influence their decision on whether to repeat the visit. Legendary Service doesn’t end when the guests leave. It’s an experience that the guests will take with them and share with others. Thank them for their visit and always say good- bye, and invite them back! We feed you such treats you’ll tell all the world Nicoli Gogol, in “Evenings on a Farm near Dikanko”

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