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For restaurants, it's about the little things

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My mother was insane about cleanliness. Not only did everything have to be in its place, our house was routinely scrubbed down and cleaned to the bone. She passed some of that insanity along to me. I’m super tidy. This goes for my home, my car, my office. Nothing is out of place.

That’s probably more information than you need, but I point this out because when I see an untidy restaurant, it drives me nuts.

Here’s an example. I like to sit at the bar to drink and/or eat. I don’t like swizzle sticks or straws in my drink. I’ll take them out of my drink and place them neatly on the bar. If I’m there for a long while, there may be three straws on the bar. Good bartenders will come along and swoop those straws away. Too many don’t.

The same thing goes for bar napkins where drinks are placed. It’s not usual for a drink to soak the napkin and make it a mess. If the bartender isn’t paying attention, I’ll remove the wet napkin and replace it with a fresh one under my drink. Good bartenders come along and replace the wet napkin, before you have to. Careless bartenders don’t replace the wet napkin nor do they remove it as it sits in a sloppy heap next to the straws they didn’t remove.

Big deal? For some, maybe not. For me, yeah. I blame my mother. But if I was a bartender, not only would my home and car be tidy, my bar would be as well. I’d be picking up all the litter that customers invariably leave. In a beer and shot place, maybe that’s not so important. In a nice restaurant, it just looks bad to have a messy bar. People come to your place to be taken care of, and keeping the space tidy around them demonstrates that you care.

This point particularly holds true when customers are eating at the bar.

Now it’s not just a matter of picking up straws and napkins, it’s about dirty plates, silverware and glasses. Too often I see used plates and glasses on bars long after customers have finished eating.

I know bartenders get busy and making drinks is a top priority. But when bartenders are busy, shouldn’t someone in the organization be charged with removing soiled plates? Should they remain in front of a customer who’s been done eating for 20 minutes? It happened to me just recently.  

More than 20 years ago I had the opportunity to interview Joe Baum, a genius restaurateur who was the mastermind behind Windows on the World and the renovation of New York City’s Rainbow Room. While waiting for Baum in one of his restaurants, I saw him, wearing a very expensive suit, pick up a napkin on the floor under a table. There were lots of servers and other employees around he could have asked to do the chore, but he did it himself. During the interview, I asked him why. “I want to demonstrate to my employees how important cleanliness is,” he explained. “If they see me bending down to pick up a napkin off the floor, then they know they should, too. It’s about respecting customers.” Success is about the little things, Baum said. Your thoughts? Email me.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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