Saturday afternoon I swung in to Mason Street Grill. The restaurant wasn’t open and jazz played quietly while the fireplace crackled to an audience of empty bar stools. This Saturday was a sunny thaw of a day which followed a sudden Friday snowstorm. Roads now cleared by snowplows and sunshine generally forecasts a busy night for bars and restaurants. I was hoping to sit down and speak with Heather Kanter-Kowal, the restaurant’s assistant manager and sommelier. A sommelier is certified as a wine expert and anyone who has been able to pursue a field they love and convince the world to pay them for it is a person I want to know a little better.
It turned out Heather wasn’t available, but I noticed something curious. Nearly the entire restaurant staff was in the dining room seated at the counter. Everyone appeared to be eating and talking with one another. It was about 4pm, an hour before the ‘Grill opens for service. I happened to catch the bartender Ryan prepping the bar for the evening.
I asked Ryan what was going on in the dining room. He took a brief look back through the clear glass behind the bottles and didn’t notice anything out of place.
“Oh, you mean our family meal?” he asked.
“If that’s what you call it, yes. What’s that all about?”
Ryan went on to explain that every evening before the restaurant opens the staff sits down for family dinner. This is the time when everyone gets to eat a meal before they plan to work around food for the next several hours. They are also able to try the evening’s specials to accurately describe them to diners. If wines are added to the restaurant’s palette, or changes in cocktails, or new menu additions this is when the staff is able to sample them in order to relay informed observations to customers. Managers Ed and Bradley take time to list all ingredients in case guests happen to have any aversions or allergies.
After the day’s specials were covered the managers brought out customer comments. When compliments were announced the appropriate employees received recognition. If there were criticisms everyone tried to pinpoint which day the guest may have visited, any issues that arose that specific evening, and how the guest’s experience could be improved upon. The two managers explained that to be successful the crew had to run smoothly as a team and to always strive to make their guest’s visit extraordinary.
I’ve worked in a few restaurants and I couldn’t help but marvel at the logical simplicity of such an idea. Feed your staff and they will be satisfied and smiling. It’s silly to think that anybody half hungry will be able to focus when in such a delectable environment. Then give them the tools to assertively explain to guests their dining and drinking options throughout their meal. Allow them the time to ask questions and voice any concerns. Then give them a few minutes to speak with one another as colleagues, friends, and family before they spend the next several hours concentrating on the needs of their guests. A staff requires down-time to communicate with one another before they can hope to perform successfully in the fray of a busy Saturday night. I stood quietly in the background listening to everyone. If a staff doesn’t have time to feel like a family, how can they welcome guests as warmly as one? It made so much sense I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.
Family dinner struck me as an obvious metaphor for the Pfister ethos I’ve learned about up to this point. It starts by employing the best possible staff. Whether they’re a piano player, a dishwasher, or a wine expert, pay them well and fill their bellies. Then provide them with the tools they need to excel in their field. Keep the staff happy and they will make guests happier. Then open the doors and turn them wild at what they do best.