Your name is, in many respects, a reflection of the person you are, your personal history, and a proclamation of respect for those who came before you.  That word represents your life and all that has been invested in bringing you to this point; it is how you are known and how you hope to be remembered.  Your name is an expression of your individuality, an affirmation of your skills, a statement of pride. You use your name freely but do so knowing the way it is used is important. Putting your name on or next to something means it represents all that you are. So, use it wisely – grasshopper.

When you were in school, signing your work was a requirement.  “Who did this?”  You were required to write it prominently in a specific spot on the page so anyone who read it knew the person responsible.  Good, bad, or indifferent – this was YOUR work. If it wasn’t up to par, not your best effort, or below standards then YOU felt the shame in not being “all-in”.  No one wants to feel this way, so hopefully you used it as motivation to improve, to put forth greater effort and reach for the carrot of accomplishment. Others – peers, parents, or even teachers might label you as not having what it takes which was incredibly painful.  But, as hard as that was to swallow, you knew such is life and you could either retreat and accept their judgement or step forward, put in exceptional effort, and prove them wrong.  Your name is very important and depending on how it is used – incredibly powerful.

After school is complete, the power of your name continues to hold on to your sense of worth – sometimes driving you to improve, other times serving as a sign of your lack of effort or ability.  The name is mighty!  Yet, in too many situations this power is lost to those around us.  It lies dormant, uninspired, and diminished. What if that were not the case?  What if those around us – peers, neighbors, friends, employers, and even competitors unleashed the power of your name, and like many years before, required it to portray the person behind the work, the statement, and the opinion? What if you were required to sign your work: “I did this!”

For the cook or chef – what if every plate leaving the kitchen carried a business card with your name and contact information?  Remember those clothing companies that use to have the name of the employee who checked the garment for quality before it was sent to market?  “This garment was inspected for quality by John D.”  What if the same was insisted upon in restaurants?  Now, this is not literal, I’m just making a point.  Think about it.

If that plate of food were to carry your name and contact information, would you approach it differently?  Would you take care to make sure it was prepared perfectly?  Would you take that extra few seconds to make the presentation of ingredients was beautiful?  Would you invest the time to ensure the flavor profile was right and the ingredients used were the best representation of the farmer who grew the vegetables, the fisherman who risked his life miles from shore to net the freshest product, or the cattleman who cared for that Black Angus steer?  What if you, with your name stitched on the face of your uniform had to deliver that plate of food to the guest and introduce yourself in the process: “May name is Jack Jones, and I prepared this dish”? I dare say, you would make sure it was a perfect reflection on your name and your history. When a person’s work is anonymous then they can easily relinquish responsibility and point the finger elsewhere.

The idea for this article began years ago when I was helping a friend come up with a name for her restaurant.  I knew the name would be important because it would or at least should be a statement and a reflection of what the guest could expect. I read through countless restaurant names – ones of prominent operations across the country as well as small neighborhood operations in villages and towns within her region.  Some reflected ethnicity, others historical significance; many reflected a focus on specific dishes while others made the connection to a street address.  None stood out more than those with the name of the owner emblazoned on the marque.  At first, like many, I thought a restaurant called Chef Pierre’s, or Jack’s Diner seemed to be egocentric, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be brilliant.  Chef Pierre was making a statement and in essence providing a guarantee.  “This is MY restaurant, it carries MY name, MY history, and reflects MY commitment to what I do.  If you need to applaud anyone, applaud me.  If you need to blame anyone, blame me.” So, think about it – powerful, right?  Pierre is putting himself out there and signing his work. Risky, but powerful.

I thought of Daniel Boulud, Dominique Crenn, or Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose names sit prominently on their restaurant awnings. Now they, their employees, and guests know everything that happens in those restaurants is a prominent reflection on them.  For this to work, that chef/operator must instill that importance in their staff.  Every person must proceed with their work understanding every work detail in their hands reflects on the reputation of that chef.  They must train, teach, respect, trust, and lead all those employees so they believe in this mission and follow through as if it were their own signatures. From the guest’s perspective it is the closest thing to a guarantee. Brilliant, yet incredibly difficult to pull off.  This is not egocentric; it is a sign of real commitment to doing things right. 

Do not ever underestimate the power of a person’s name – it is the single most important statement about an individual.  Use this knowledge in all you do as a chef, manager, or owner.  Everyone, yes EVERYONE relishes that first chef jacket received with their name EMBROIDERED on the pocket.  Not a clip-on name tag, a part of the uniform.  It means accomplishment, trust, and respect.  It signifies belongingness to something great and recognition of responsibility.  Anyone who claims this is not important is hiding their real feelings. It’s no different than that fingerpainting from kindergarten that a parent attaches to the refrigerator door. It is a statement: “this is great work, we are so proud, you have so much potential.” Learn their names and something about their history, address them with their names, put their names on your menu, do everything you can to help them understand those plates of food represent their history and their family.  Help them sign their work. This is a key to excellence.


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