Serving secrets to success:
With the kitchen, I think the only trick is not to be an a-hole, and not to let your kitchen exceed your own ability. I hire good people in the kitchen, and then I just do the editing. On the floor, my only trick is: there are no tricks. You just have to be completely transparent to people. Always remember: Never f#@$ with somebody’s fantasy. If somebody wants to be someone, let them be that person—it’s not your business to abuse them. Just give them some respite from the difficulty of the world they live in, and then walk away with money in your pockets. Never lie. Never try to be somebody more. …Really know what you’re selling-wine and food. When I waited tables, I read periodicals that I never would have read in real life. I read The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair religiously so I could talk to people about, you know, …whatever Tom Cruise was doing. I read art forums, every interview…just to converse with people. Always know the movies they’re seeing. Always know what book you can count on being on their bedside table. And never judge anybody because of it. Be completely indiscriminant in your reading, be a total dilettante, and have a point of view about everything under the sun to discuss with somebody—that’s your job.
There are universal truths in the service industry with guests or clients. While I’m providing cleaning solutions to restaurants, I always make sure to keep a personal touch with my clients. I don’t need a smart phone. When I first meet with somebody, I always send a thank-you card saying, “Hey I appreciate your time.” And they remember me. Once they become a client, I’ll send out birthday cards and Christmas cards to let them know I’m thinking about them. I know it’s not an easy job in the restaurant industry, so I like to know personally how clients are doing. I bring my friends and family to their events to support them, participate…just be a part of it. I like the chefs to call me directly if there’s any kind of time-urgent service instead of the tech guys. I call the tech guys, then I call the chef and say, “Did they take care of you?” Like any request in the service industry, follow-up is a key to success. Having the product to back your service is key, too. I’m proud that all of our products are manufactured in Rockford, Minn. I’m enjoying the restaurant movement towards local sourcing, and it’s been gratifying to support those accounts and benefitting mutually from those relationships.
I think the ability to adapt on the fly is a secret to success. It’s tricky to do. We’re set up to do that in our environment—in the bar scene—more than fine dining or in fast food. Do bar food well and have a (blonde) service staff that inspires people to come back. We can teach anybody, but they have to walk through the door with a personality. And in the kitchen, seasoning is my thing. Just a little dash of Kosher salt on a tomato makes all the difference.
Have your regulars’ drinks ready for them before they order. I could tell you everyone’s names and their drinks here right now. New people are always a potential regular so shake their hands, find out their names and remember them. We have a guy here right now. His girlfriend will call here after the sun sets and she’ll say, “Hey it’s time to come home for dinner.” He’ll say—even when the phone is ringing—“Tell her I’m on my way.” We have many personalized experiences because most of our people are regulars.
Having a relationship with your table will make or break you if there are any mess-ups. Know your products so you can upsell. Upselling is like flirting: have fun but you blow it if you come on too strong. Don’t recommend the most expensive bottle of wine to a person; pick something that’s heartfelt—something you really like. If a certain guest asks for a recommendation for wine, in the right situation I might try to discreetly find out a person’s price point before suggesting a bottle. Maybe I’ll quietly point to a few different prices on the wine list and say, “Around this? Or here?” This way the guest doesn’t even have to say anything out loud, they just nod or point to a number they’re comfortable with spending. Then I’ll give them the best bottle their money can buy. Maybe I’ll bring them something they wouldn’t have gotten on their own and they love it—that’s their success and everybody wins.
Ryan: Sometimes wearing a smile and being pleasant to patrons can give better lasting impressions than spot on, perfectly timed service.
Emily: I recommend making friends with the beer and liquor reps. I remember their names and I always pay attention to them when they visit the restaurant. I run into them while I’m out more than anyone else. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been given inside scoops on restaurants, grand openings, and have been given box seat tickets to games.