The goal of every restaurant and every chef is to create memorable experiences for the guest. Somewhere in our internal job description is a desire, and even a need to build an environment of WOW! Wow visuals on the plate and in the dining room, wow views from every seat, wow service, and of course – wow flavors on the plate. We may complain about the guest who is taking loads of pictures of their food and posting them on Instagram, but deep inside we get a bit of a rush when it happens. Guests will return when the effort expended to create memorable complete dining experiences is front and center.
What we seem to forget sometimes is that those memorable experiences are due to a collective effort of every person involved in creating a dining event. That Instagram picture was possible because of the farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and vendors who brought the ingredients to your receiving dock. Internally, the guest experience owes a great deal to the housekeeping staff, the dining room servers and managers, bartenders and sommelier, dishwashers, prep cooks, bakers and pastry chefs, line cooks, expeditor, sous chef, and chef who holds the lead position in the kitchen. It is, and must be, a team effort. So, what are we doing to create a memorable experience for this team? Does this seem farfetched? After all, these folks get paid to do their part in creating guest experiences – why in the world would we put any effort into creating the same for them?
The answer is obvious – if those involved directly or indirectly with your team feel the magic of your operation, feel it in the same way that the guest does, then they will perform better, look forward to their work, engage better with others on the team, and feel part of something special. These team members will go out of their way for the guest because you do so for them. Chefs, managers, and owners should live by a simple rule – “If you are not serving the guest directly then it is your job to serve those who are.” Take care of your employees and vendors and they will take care of your paying customers.
Think about it for a moment: If you create a positive experience with your vendors then they might just go the extra mile for you. If you recognize the farmer, the rancher, and the fisherman, then they might be so inclined to set aside those extra special ingredients for your kitchen. If you create an educational, supportive, uplifting, and inclusive environment for your staff from dishwasher to line cook, and server to sommelier then they will feel great about their job and in turn build those experiences for a guest – every guest. So, here are a few thoughts on creating those behind-the-scenes experiences:
 FOR THE VENDOR: Give them a tour of your operation, introduce them to the staff and the ownership, put their name on your menu (if they do an excellent job), give them an opportunity to talk with your cooks about their ingredients, take your cooks to tour the vendor’s facilities, drop them a note on occasion thanking them for the quality products they deliver to your door, invite them to dinner once a year to see their ingredients on the finished plate. Make them feel as if they are part of your mission – they are!
 FOR THE SERVICE STAFF: Training, teaching, and tasting are all part of the program. They can’t sell a product that they don’t know. Let them kick the tires and take the menu for a spin. Put an apron on every server and let them shadow and help your cooks for a good part of a shift – you will be amazed how far this will go towards building understanding and appreciation on both sides of the kitchen doors. Let them taste wines on your list and help to build an understanding of the process and the product. Make it fun!
 FOR THE SOMMELIER AND BARTENDER: Food and beverage pairing is a fast road to customer satisfaction and a great way to maximize profit potential for the restaurant. Part of the experience for the sommelier and bartender is to taste those pairings – yes, everything on the menu so they know how to do their job and at the same time build a deep appreciation for the talent of your cooks.
 FOR THE DINING ROOM MANAGER: Every dining room manager must work a few shifts in the kitchen. This is essential as a team building process. The manager is the conduit between the kitchen and the front of the house – help them to become better informed as an advocate for unity. When the chef visits a vendor farm, tours a processing plant, takes a trip to a dockside fish monger – take the manager along. The more they know about the extended team the more meaningful their job experience.
 FOR THE DISHWASHER: Now, we all know how important a conscientious dishwasher is to the operation of a restaurant. If you are not sure, try going through a service without one. Look at every dishwasher as your next cook in training. Yep, even if they don’t seem to have any interest in it. At the very least – you will help to build respect between cooks and dishwasher. Let’s face it, dishwashing is rarely a career choice – show yours that there are opportunities to grow, to learn, to become something special. Feed them well, treat them with respect, help them out when they are busy, make sure they get a break, and teach them about the cook’s skill set. They will surprise you.
 FOR YOUR COOKS: Every chef is only as good as his or her weakest cook. It is your job to teach and train, to show some empathy, but be tough and have very high expectations of your cooks. Teach them to be professional, to look sharp, to respect others, to be competent at their craft, to understand the history behind processes and specific dishes, to learn how to care for tools, to appreciate what things cost, to know the source of ingredients and how hard the farmer, rancher, and fisherman work to bring ingredients to their prep table. Make sure they build a solid palate and appreciation for how food looks on the plate – help to MAKE THEM PROUD! This is the experience that you owe them.
 FOR YOUR SOUS CHEF AND EXPEDITOR: You would be lost without them, they are you just a few years ago so think back to that time. What did you need, what was lacking in your training, how did you feel, what type of support or push did you need? Be that resource for them. Teach them to take your job! Show them about budgets, and marketing, human resource management and inventory control, menu planning and recipe costing, and how to build their personal brand. Be their experience.
 FOR YOURSELF: Don’t neglect your own experience as a chef. You worked hard to get here, now it is important to enjoy it. Continue to push the owner to help you further develop skills and aptitudes that are important to the position. Join organizations, compete, attend workshops and conferences, publish your recipes, travel, build your library, and seek every opportunity to build your brand and reputation among peers and guests. This is your time – your personal experience too.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast
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