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For restaurants, the little things count

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In the February issue, Michael Sanson discussed his penchant for cleanliness and how it annoys him and other customers when bartenders don’t remove drinks straws, wet napkins and soiled plates and glasses from the bar in a timely manner. Here’s what readers had to say.

I actually read your editorial about 15 minutes before a staff meeting and had it was a point of discussion. I had the advantage of working my way through the system with Marriott Hotels & Resorts. I was classically trained and the tenets you spoke of were drummed into me at a very early stage and have followed me since.  

I often talk about attention to detail and performing the fundamentals well—i.e. The Little Things.  Often times I coach my staff that such is the roadmap to success. The Little Things can be applied to every facet of our operation, so your note was spot on. I encouraged our staff to keep the article on hand and use it as a foundation for their preshift and departmental daily stand up meetings.

Mike Barnett
General Manager
Potawatomi Inn & Conference Center
Angola, IN

As a chef, a lack of cleanliness is also one of my pet peeves here in my kitchen and when I go out to eat in other establishments.

Photo: Media Bakery/Marketplace

Many years ago when my parents shipped me off to Germany to start a three-year culinary school apprenticeship, I was dumbfounded when an instructor returned one of the first tests that I took marked with 0. Although most or all of the answers were correct, my handwriting was sloppy, mistakes were messily crossed out and I had other smudges on the paper. I complained to the instructor, but he just looked at me and said that if I can’t be neat and clean in school, how can I be neat and clean in the kitchen? Those words have stayed with me for over 40 years now, and I have repeated them countless times to my apprentices, young cooks and interns.

Curtis Eargle
Executive Chef
Maryland Club

Yesterday I read an article in Nation’s Restaurant News stating 92 percent of restaurant chains this year are expected to raise menu prices.  With the cost of goods skyrocketing, many independents will have to follow suit. I meet with dozens of independent restaurant owners each week and they’re all terrified to pass along the rising costs to their customers.

My answer is always the same: Your customers are not as sensitive to your prices as you think and customers will be more tolerant of price increases if you continue to provide value for them.

I believe your article hits the nail on the head as to how operators can provide outstanding value to their customers.

I’d gladly pay $1 more for a drink at the bar if the bartender was friendly and attentive to the little things.

Chris Miller
Business Resource/iCare Specialist
Suffolk, VA  

It seems that all too often, the simple and little things take a back seat to all of the other issues operators and their staff are consumed with. The funny thing is, the “little things” usually cost nothing, are achieved in a matter of seconds and truly make a difference. Just as you, I will judge a restaurant on how they address the little things!

Your mention of Joe Baum truly hit home, too. Leadership by example is something I’ve lived by and continue to preach to anyone who’s ever worked for me over the last 30 years. You can’t expect your staff to do and understand the importance of things if they’ve never seen you do it yourself. We are not above doing anything that our staff is required to do and what better way to make a statement than to see the boss gladly do something that, on the surface, seems menial and trivial.

Bob Orloski
LBA Food Concepts
Leaf & Ladle
Mountain Top, PA

As I sit here reading your editorial about the little things, I realize, it was my mother who did it to me as well. I’m a neat freak to the max. My former restaurant staff would often get a kick out of my constant inspections. Forget about used straws or napkins—that is totally unacceptable by any standard.

I am talking about how straight are the clean napkins and straws? Are the bottles symmetrical, wiped down and shiny? Is the bar top perfectly clean and inviting? Are specials updated and displayed properly? Is the silverware placed perfectly with the napkin? Are the salt and pepper shakers filled and spotless? Oh so many details.

I can’t tell you how many times a bartender would say to me “really, are you kidding me or are you OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) ?” Yes, I am, now please punch out. I am sorry you decided to quit like this, good luck in your future endeavors.

It’s the bartender’s responsibility to make sure the bar remains perfect in every way, as well as their uniform. Smiling is not an option. It’s part of the uniform.

Believe it or not, I was not the tyrant I may sound to be. I enjoyed very low turnover for many years, and everyone made money together. It’s a very simple equation: quality of operations equals higher profits.

I worked for Joe Baum at Windows on the World when I first graduated from culinary school He was a great mentor. “Lead by example” and “you better sweat the small stuff” were two philosophies that he taught well. What a legend.

Gino Pesce
The Catering Box
Morris County, NJ

I have a good friend who started a small candle company called Yankee Candle. The man was driven and a neat freak! He did one thing that blew me away. On any given day in his flagship store he would throw a piece of paper on the floor. On the back of the paper was a note, “If you found this paper bring it to the office, Mike Kittredge.” The lucky employee would get a promotion and a $100 bill. From time to time I have tried this trick and I rewarded the employee with a crisp $100 dollar bill. I have a very clean floor. I sell food and liquor; Mike sells candles. He sold the business for almost a billion dollars! What the hell am I doing in this business? And, yes, good bartenders are hard to find.

Bob McGovern
Packards Restaurant
Northampton, MA

I am totally in agreement with you.  When a server or a bartender overlooks “the little things” it’s an indication that this person only works for tips and does not understand that excellent attention to service and the little things most always results in better compensation. I like to remind my servers that the job is not about chasing money, but rather about caring what the guest needs are before they do. When the guest feels comfortable and relaxed and their needs are being met, then positive rewards come naturally.

Wanda Radosti
Outlets Manager
Coquina Cafe at the Maverick Resort
Ormond Beach, FL

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