There is an old statement that still holds true for restaurants that are consistently successful: “The handshake of the host determines the flavor of the roast”. As a chef by career choice, I certainly spend a great amount of time focusing on the value of food in creating a restaurant buzz. As a person who oftentimes had responsibility for the successful operation of a restaurant business I am acutely aware of how the sincerity of service and the commitment to making people feel at home is critical to the overall financial success of the restaurant.
I have been a part of training thousands of students and entry level cooks who aspire to be the next great chef and find it frustrating to note that very few of these “next generation” restaurateurs really get it. The FoodNetwork, a plethora of beautiful cookbooks, trade magazines and culinary schools continue to focus, almost exclusively, on the product. It is rare to find any serious talk about hospitality and the role it plays in building that next great restaurant.
Drew Nieporent talks about this as a contributing writer in “The Art of the Restaurateur” by: Nicholas Lander. Drew infers that the days of the restaurateur have come and gone with the focus on the chef. The shame of this is that the restaurateur was, for decades, the reason for the reservation. People wanted to go to that person’s operation, to meet them, shake their hand, laugh a bit and feel like they were uniquely welcome to dine. The new generation of restaurant that is chefcetric, can be successful “if” the chef is also the visible, gracious host. Guests will come initially for the opportunity to try the food, and may return a few times if the food is special, but they will only become loyal return customers if the operation is a mecca for unique hospitality and a personality who personifies this trait.
“Why isn’t my restaurant successful?” I hear this statement so many times from people who have dedicated their hard work, time, family life and talent to building a vehicle for presenting their special food. “The food is great, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, the location is perfect, but the tables are half empty.” Look to that secret ingredient: what are you doing to make people feel like they are the most important guest; guests who are have a perceived unique relationship with the owner/operator. Make everyone feel like Norm entering Cheers to the unified greeting by employees and guests at the bar. This “hospitality” always trumps price, and can even rank higher that the food. It is the experience that keeps people coming back.
This is not to say that the food, somehow is not important – it certainly is! Great food today is really the price of admission. It is the expectation of guests who know more about the product than ever before. The food must be great at any level, it is the hospitality ingredient that will make your restaurant unique.
The whole package is critical if your restaurant is to thrive in a highly competitive market. Bring back the hospitality of the restaurateur. If the business is chef owned and operated, then make sure that the chef provides the “handshake of the host”.