Everyone happy … All of the time.

The old saying goes, “you can make some of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.” There’s a lot of truth in that.

One of the things I tell the customer service teams in all of my companies – and this includes Town Kitchen and Grill -is that the customer is NOT always right. Whoever said they were was an idiot. Professional customer service people know this. If I stood in front of them and said the customer was always right they’d know I was a fool … I try to avoid that.

Here at Town, our philosophy is pretty simple. We do our best to make every guest happy every time. We succeed a lot of the time and we hear that back from the guests we work so hard to serve. Sometimes we don’t succeed. When we don’t we look closely at those cases to see what happened. We scratch our heads and think about it and then we try to fix it.

Usually, when we don’t make someone happy it’s because we didn’t communicate well. That’s something we’re working really hard to cure. As an example, one night we had a fire in the kitchen. It was short lived, but it was a real, certified, fire. (Chef put it out with some very quick thinking and no one was ever in any danger). The problem was that the fire destroyed all of the dishes that were on the hotline. That meant we had to start over in making all of them and that meant that food was delayed getting to the tables. That should have been communicated instantly to the guests in the restaurant, but there was reluctance to communicate the idea of a fire in the kitchen to the guests.

I get that, but I think it was the wrong decision. I’ve found that most organizations make a mistake by trying to think too much for their customers. In my experience, people are pretty smart. If you give them clear information, they understand it. I’ve also found they’re generally happy with more information than with less. So we’ve talked that through and now, even when there will be short delays (as an example, caused by large parties) we communicate that thoroughly with the guests.

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we can’t please a guest. One mildly funny story relates to a woman who came in recently with her teenage son. She had no reservation but we had a table for her – a two-top in the middle of the restaurant. She noticed a round table in the corner and demanded that the hostess seat her there. The hostess explained that the round table was reserved for a party of five that was coming in shortly. The woman insisted to be seated there anyway and asked for the manager. As it turns out, at Town, the hostess is a manager. The woman and her son ate dinner at the table they were originally directed to. They finished all of their food. When the woman left, she made a beeline to the manager and told her that she was going to write a review and say the food was very good but the people are very rude. The manager discussed what had happened with me and I told her she’d done an excellent job.

You can’t make all of the people happy all of the time. When you fail – for whatever reason – you take a deep breath and move on and try to learn from the way you failed.

(and sometimes you have to take a deep breath and tell yourself that sometimes people are just a bit unreasonable).

Onward …

 

 

 

 

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What I Love Most about the Restaurant Business

People who hear I have a restaurant usually have one or two reactions… They either say, “Wow, that’s so much work,” or they get all dreamy eyed and they say, “Oh, that is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

To the first reaction I merely comment that every company I’ve ever been involved in was a lot of work and while the restaurant business may have different hours and pressures, it is not more difficult – or less so – than any other business. Done right, any small business requires long hours and passion.

My passion is in serving my customers. I love seeing them come in and enjoy the company of a friend or family member, hear a laugh and see a smile. I love knowing when we’ve served them well. Here at Town, I love meeting them. Each story is unique in its own way, each person different. It’s fun to be getting to know them and more fun to see them enjoying being known.

I love it when they’re leaving and they say they’ll be back and I know they will. That makes it all worthwhile.

“I Can’t Cook” And other dumb things guys say…

I once worked with a woman who grew up very very poor and ended up making a lot of money, supporting her family, and working in a business where she had a lot of authority. She was, in a word, formidable. She actually scared me and that’s not easy.

One day we were in court (the business had a lot of business in the courts) and the attorneys for the various parties didn’t show up. The judge was about to proceed on to other matters when she stood up and asked the judge if we couldn’t proceed with our matter. He looked a little amused – said, ‘without your attorney?’ and she said, ‘sure, why not, he’s pretty useless anyway.’

The matter was decided in our favor without argument from the duly notified, but absent, other side. She knew exactly what to say and how and the judge let her proceed without interruption.

On the way back to the office I asked her how she knew what to do.. She said, and I quote, “There’s nothing no one knows they didn’t learn from someone.”

I’ve always loved that.

There was a guy in the restaurant last night who’d read this blog, and who said he thought it would be fun to cook, but that he just couldn’t do it. I actually hear this a lot. Let’s be clear, okay fellas? It’s not that you can’t cook, it’s that you choose not to. You either choose not to try, or you choose not to pay attention when you’re actually cooking. After all, in the words of the inimitable Gloria, “there’s nothing no one knows they didn’t learn from someone.” So you can learn.

People ask me how I got started. It’s pretty simple. I was watching Emeril Lagasse one night on Food Network, an episode of Emeril Live, and it looked like fun. He made something that looked good. I went and found the recipes online, bought the ingredients, came home the next night and cooked. Back then I used and followed recipes and I still do sometimes, but not all the time.

Gloria was right, paraphrased she was basically saying anyone can learn to do pretty much anything. We don’t all have to be chefs. It’s really okay to just perfect one or two dishes. But don’t you think that every once in a while it would be really nice for your special someone to come home to a dinner cooked by you? Stop making excuses and try it.

Who knows, you might end up owning a restaurant.

What Makes a Success…

What Makes a Success …

“You must be so pleased with the success of Town.” I hear this all the time, and, if I am to be completely honest, (and why stop now), we are pleased with the reaction of the community to this project of our hearts, souls and sweat. (and no small amount of money!) 

But if I am also to be honest, I would say that I am uncomfortable with the word, success. See, I think you earn that over time. Something that has been around for 3 weeks – and yes, that’s as long as we’ve been here, isn’t really a “success” yet. It’s just a baby. A beginner. It shows promise, but it has a long way to go.

I would say it differently. I’d say, ‘we’ve had a good start.’ I’m really pleased with my staff. Alen has been amazing – the ever present – pseudo ambassador of Montrose and spreader of goodwill, with a sincere heart for all who come to Town. (And, frankly, knowing him as I do, all who just walk by on the street). Corey, Chef, has been patient with all of us, teaching us from his 15+ years of restaurant experience and sometimes laughing at (or quietly cursing about!) our mistakes. Paul. The CV, St Francis, local whose good natured response to problems belies deep experience and a helpfulness in problem solving that simply never stops.  All of these people, and I will write more about each of them and many others, have been instrumental in helping us get the restaurant out of the starting gates.

Many years from now, if we have become a fixture of the community as so many who have come before us have, then I would begin to consider the word, ‘success,’ and wonder if it applies to us. We have profound respect for the career restauranteurs who’ve built the long lasting establishments in our area and frankly, also, for the reckless dreamers like us who’ve made the leap to try and start something new with the hopes and dreams of clinking glasses and laughter and stories and occasional shouts from the kitchen and a community to grow and change with, and love, along the way.

Onward…

Holy Cow, I’m Buying a Restaurant!

Yup, you read that right. Along with Angela and a series of very close friends, probably an over abundance of bravado, certainly no small amount of fear and trembling, the enthusiastic support of my sons, a pocket full of recipes and all the energy and passion I can muster, I’m buying a restaurant.

Let’s back the tape up a little. During the last several years I had the great privilege of running a company that served professional photographers. I tried to teach them a thing or two and help them out while I was there, but in all honesty they were an inspiration to me.  In fact, for a long time I’ve been deeply inspired by people who establish and run small, community focused businesses, drawing on their passion and drive to forge a career that provides more than a paycheck. My sister quit a career in academia to start her own quilting store in her hometown of Berlin, Wisconsin. She has never looked back. In part, this decision is due to what I’ve learned from all of you.

I won’t yet say exactly which restaurant it is, but I will tell you it is in my own hometown (Montrose) and it is a place in which I have eaten many times. In fact, the current owner and I started the conversation about what is about to transpire one night when I was having dinner with Angela and the boys.  None of us thought seriously about the comment I made that if he ever decided to sell the place I’d love to buy it. Well, here we go.

I will also tell you the restaurant will be called Town. It’s a name that appeals to me. The full name is Montrose Town Kitchen and Grill, but we’re all hoping you’ll just call it town. The menu will feature Pastas, Pizzas and Grilled items and it has an intense focus on fresh, local sourcing and on serving the culinary needs of anyone who walks through the door. People make choices about the foods they eat and don’t eat for a lot of reasons and I strongly believe they should never feel those choices are a burden to their host. With dishes for Vegetarians and Vegans and those with the dietary restrictions of Paleo, Gluten Free, Dairy free, diets, etc., we’re pretty sure anyone who walks through the door will find something they want.

I’ve spent many more dinners than I care to count sitting at bars in restaurants around the country chatting with bartenders about the news of the day. Frankly, that’s become my preferred place to sit in nearly any restaurant, so it won’t be a shock to my friends that the bar at Town will become a gathering place where guests will be able to sit and chat or watch a game, enjoy a great, easy meal, laugh and feel welcome.

I need to thank my family and close friends for their support and encouragement. As the next weeks go buy you’ll be seeing more updates here and elsewhere as we make progress.

We take possession of the place on January 1st.

Happy New Year!

What Makes A Great Restaurant

I’ve never owned or operated a restaurant.  Still, as a frequent and dedicated eater, small business marketing specialist and observer, I think I have some idea what makes one restaurant succeed and another fail.  These are my thoughts.

At the broadest level, it’s about the entire experience. Some restaurants decide that they have great food and that’s enough. Others focus on decor. A few may focus on service. For a restaurant to be great it has to have great food but it also has to be comfortable (preferably loud enough that I can’t hear the conversation clearly at the table next to me but I can hear ours without people raising their voices too much), and the service needs to be friendly and attentive.

When you think about it, any restaurant can do these things. Sadly few do…

Here are some specific examples.

  1. How long do I have to wait when I sit down for someone to check in with the table to see if they can take a drink order or get us started? This one’s pretty simple.  I don’t always want to go fast, but I want the option to eat at my own pace and here is where we will set that up. Houston’s is a great restaurant chain but make no mistake, they’re all about turning the table. Next time you eat at a Houston’s pay attention to the process when you sit down. It’s pretty well choreographed.  This said, we don’t eat at Houston’s much anymore because we always feel rushed there. If dinner costs over $100 for four people they should never feel rushed. At another restaurant that I enjoy we can wait as long as ten minutes for someone to take a drink order. This is too long and to me, not smart. The restaurant would clearly sell more drinks (an important revenue source) if they got to the tables faster. Also, guests tend to relax once they know they’re being served.
  2. Is there a menu item for everyone in my party? I want people in my party who are vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free or paleo to find exactly what they want without having to modify dishes.  I eat at another restaurant infrequently because their dishes are all heavy with butter and cream. Make no mistake, I like these dishes sometimes, but sometimes I crave a simple roasted chicken or grilled seafood dish. I’ve mentioned this to the owner and he simply says (while he is complaining about the fact that few people are eating in the restaurant) that these are his recipes and this is what people like.  The problem is that the restaurant is failing.
  3. Are the specials special? To me this shouldn’t be that hard. Chefs are creative. Seasons change. New ingredients abound. If I can recite your specials by heart when I come to your restaurant for the fifth time you should think about changing them up.  People like the option of having the same dish, but they also like trying something new every once in a while.
  4. Is the staff happy and efficient? When the food is good and the service is prompt the last step is the personal touch offered by the staff.  At the best restaurants, no matter how busy people may be, there is always a moment when the server, the expediter, the owner, the maitre de, or even the bus staff, offer a greeting and a smile and connect with the people at the table. When it happens, one can’t help but forgive a foible or two and want to root for and re-visit the restaurant.  When it doesn’t, the restaurant isn’t a who, it’s an it.  And if that’s the case it’s easy to forget.

I’m sure there are things that everyone looks for in a great restaurant.  Post your own here or put up your own post and let me know.