A Shout-Out for the Best Restaurant Managers: Plate Spinners

April 26th 2010

From Chase’s HotelFandB.com Blog

I recently had an occasion to visit the Broadmoor Resort, the Colorado Grand Dame. If you are from out West, or are a golfer, you’ve likely heard of her. I am soul-linked to the place by family memories and the sheer beauty of the setting.

My Grandfather would refer the all-pro staff and their sparkling results as a “house-proud” group. I would probably use verbiage more common in today’s parlance: the Broadmoor is a venerable cougar, and when she struts her stuff, she can still turn heads.

On the property there is a fine restaurant called fittingly, the Summit.  At my best, I’m an interesting dinner companion, but my wife will tell you that I get the junkie-shakes entering any hospitality establishment. Like many of you, I’m quick to notice a burned out light bulb, napkin on the floor, or improper ambiance settings. 

I’m not a world class foodie, wine connoisseur, or super-chef groupie, but I am a plate-spinning aficionado. For those of you who did not grow up watching the Ed Sullivan Show, that’s an old school term for what it is like/what it takes to manage a hospitality operation. So many parts moving at such a fast pace, it is truly a marvel when things run smoothly. If an operation shows strong evidence of polish and pride, of training and development, of superior guest focus or majesty in execution, they have me entranced. I know the hours of effort that go into bringing forth a “you can count on us” hospitality experience. Sadly, there is an ever-shrinking world when it comes to these matters.

Equally important and rarer still is the fine art of hospitality rebound. Yes, despite our best efforts, the “plates do slip off the sticks” when one is driving forward one shift after another, and there is an ever-dwindling breed who have mastered the proper alchemy to transform a negative misstep into a positive experience. The following is an example of proper “script-flipping” …

My party was seated in the Summit dining room around 7pm and by 7:27pm I was looking for a manager.

  • Note to servers: Reading your guests demeanors is as important to staying on the right service track as reading road signs is to your driving. My group had 3 young kids. If parents arrived parched for spirited beverages (read as stressed), it goes without saying that the goodwill you establish by providing the self-medication they seek will incalculably add to your tip percentage.  (FYI – Parental  Behavior Judges – PBJ’s – we walked to ‘n fro) Additionally, if the bar is backed-up, then “it’s on you” to step up and bring out some veggies and dip or bread to assist with the engagement of the children. You do not have to go all Chuckles & Cheez with balloons and clown faces, simple recognition and kind acts will suffice.
  • Note to guests: Do not go “all-postal” from the jump. There is a right way to deliver information to managers (who are in the middle of rush) about your distress, and it goes something like this –

“Excuse me; are you by chance a manager?”  Establish that you are speaking to the right person with a “wee tip o’ the hat” to how important they are to keeping the plates-spinning and to resolving your issue. “We arrived at a smidge past 7 and the “greet and seat” was great.” Start off with something positive so that they don’t think you are another one of “those” thereby giving them an excuse to clinch-up and wash you off. “But now we are at 7:27 and we are dragging our bar order and I noticed that other tables have a bread basket which would sure help with our kids. If there is anything you could do to turn this around, my wife and I would sure appreciate it.”   Request personal assistance and be willing to show appreciation for their help. Give them a chance to right the ship; don’t expect “freebies” out of the gate

  • Note to managers: I’m sure you have had some exposure/instruction to the multitude of methods available to properly handle guest complaints, i.e., calmness, rationality, mirroring, acknowledgement, empathy, apologizing, and so forth. Let me just say that it is really very easy; just decide where you want to end-up with this party and backtrack from there. Whether they leave as life-long fanatics, fairly satisfied, or never coming back, it is all in the palm of your hands. It needn’t be a struggle, conflict or fight, to determine your desired outcome and then marshal resources to that end. I have seen many small complaints devolve into blood feuds because the person in charge showed-up with no idea where they wanted to end-up.

(“I might be give’n you some ice-tea on accounta’ we screwed up, but I ain’t gonna be give’n you no pie!”)

Your guest complaints are simply an emphatic disclosure of what they care about.  As a manager your arc of progression is toward altering their current beliefs, which may include feelings such as, they don’t matter to you, you don’t care about them, and that you aren’t good at what you do. It is your ability to “think on your feet” or have the right “presence of mind” that will dictate the outcome 99% of the time.

All of which brings us back to the manager/wine director/Captain of the Starship Summit, whom I had flagged down. He listened, he agreed, offering no excuses, he did offer a sincere apology and confidently stated that he would make things right. (You know, “Make it so…”)

Nothing was left in doubt after the first instant of his involvement. He insured that they not only caught up to our expectations, but surpassed them. We saw staff members that we had not previously seen, refills were automatic, and pre-bussing was timed to perfection. All the delicious hot food was hot, and the cold food was bone-chillin’ cold. My wife received preparation details of a fantastic spinach side dish. We tasted a couple of unsolicited samples of menu items he thought we might enjoy, and the kids shared their first world class dessert pastry. Our meal/relationship (key word) had started off on the wrong foot and this gentleman fixed it, without copping an attitude or comping a meal.  Some of you may get enthralled when you witness a walk off dinger, a buzzer-beating tre’ or a hat-trick. Me? I like this.

Don’t save your savoring for cheese, wines, cigars or salumi. Sometimes, there is a mastercraftperson operating right before your eyes. If you get the chance, stop by the Broadmoor, and eat at the Summit. There is some pretty fine plate-spinning going on and it seems that they recover/rebound/rectify with the best of them.

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