Daily Habits of a Restaurant Junkie
Hospitality as Habit
I sing out loud on my way to work. As loud as I can. And I want people to know.
It’s usually Zeppelin, although it’s not uncommon for me to dip into the vault of the 80s music of which I am slightly ashamed, to include Kenny Loggins or Van Halen. But I do it with reckless abandon, as loud as I can, and with no regard for what Susie in the Volvo next to me may say to her mom.
I was asked recently about advice for someone who was getting back in to restaurants: what should they focus on? The music from the “Sunscreen” song, fabled to have been the words uttered by Kurt Vonnegut at a commencement (which he denies), came to mind, and I started thinking about all the things that I do in order to accomplish the day at TVH. Many of the practices come from some of the greats in the business, such as Thomas Keller, Tyler Anderson, Garret Harker or Don Strunk, and my current friend and Chef Chris Wilcox – but some of them are simple things that have made my days easier. As we’ve kicked off the restaurant with the grand opening and are now a few months in, it seemed like a good time to share. I’m no doctor, expert, or astronaut, but these things have worked for me.
Never present a problem without a solution, and argue with yourself about the solution you have. Make it bulletproof, but have an answer for your own problem.
Don’t whine. It never helps, and it’s a slippery slope.
Making your bed every morning is such a rewarding thing. It’s so completely basic, but starts the day with an accomplishment, and readies you for when you get to climb into it at night.
Cleaning out your car is as much of a practice for sanitation as it is for sanity. In fact, those words seem awfully similar for a reason.
Demand hospitality. From everyone around you, but also from yourself in everything you do in and out of work.
Of paramount importance is the welfare of the kitchen staff. They’re paid less and work harder than those of us who have moved to the front – so they should eat family meal first, never pay for a beer, and always have a seat at any table. That’s our job.
It’s tremendously important to be as goofy as you want, but only until service starts. Once the candles are lit, focus is entirely devoted to the people paying your bills.
Working as deliberately as possible, with as few steps as possible, creates a better server. To see ten tables from one vantage point, none of whom see you looking, is to understand a room.
Know the last names of your colleagues. Few people ever pay attention to that in restaurants, but it makes a world of difference.
Understanding booze, food, and wine as intimately as possible is important, but not as important as being as unassuming about it as possible. While I take pride in the fact that I have studied extensively, I do it for me; though I can name grand crus vineyards, stylistic differences between beers and identify mash bills of bourbons, the Doctor at my table that operates on hearts is far more impressive.
On the same note, don’t correct your guests unless they ask for your input. Largely because you look like a jerk, but also because they didn’t ask.
Be very particular about who you talk shit with. Definitely talk shit, but just choose your audience wisely.
Though these days I wear the same type of outfit every day during service, I make certain that it and anything else I wear is better cleaned, creased, and ironed than what is expected. And I polish my own shoes – it makes me pay attention to what I do a little more, and tends to speak to the type of food that we’re holding in such high regard.
Demand the world from your staff, but only to help them grow. Defend them to your guests like family; trust them until you have a reason not to. Never allow them to be mistreated, no matter how rich or “important” the guest. Mistakes happen – but no person should be subjected to insults or disrespect because of them.
Empower your people more than they’ve been before.
Make certain that the staff is involved in hiring – a manager’s inout on a new-hire is nothing compared to the staff with whom they have to work. There isn’t time for people to “eventually get along.” It’s a battle on the floor every night, and the team needs strength as quickly as is possible.
Find a mentor that’s smarter and better at everything than you. Learn all that you can, then find them again later and thank them for making you (Thank you, Jim Solomon).
Get fired up to be at work, and help others to feel the same.
Mean it when you ask how your guests are.
Critique everything you do every day. For every minute we don’t spend doing that, some other restaurant is – and they’re getting more business for it.
Get dirty in your restaurant at least twice per day.
Bring a six-pack for the kitchen of other restaurants you visit. It matters.
Most importantly, enjoy what you do. Your livelihood, and the enjoyment of the people that you are hosting, depends upon it.
Otherwise, find another job. We’ll all be better off, especially you.