Writing a Restaurant Consultant Workbook

ship itSorry it’s been a little quiet around here lately. There’s a good reason, though. I’m almost done with my first draft of my e-book on how to become a restaurant consultant! Hooray!

I’m working hard to detail the steps I took to building my business as a successful restaurant consultant. I want my book to serve as a resource for anyone who wants to start their own consulting practice, creative business in the food industry, or be a private chef.

I’m eager to publish because I want to help as many people possible to find the answers to questions about starting their own business as a restaurant consultant or private chef.

Sharing the Answers

Every week I receive tons of email from people who are eager to express a desire for support, advice, and mentorship as they begin their own consulting business. It’s not easy to find your way as you start your own business. It’s even harder to find answers to the hard questions and align with people who can be generous with what they’ve learned along the way.

That’s why I’m writing a book that shares all that I’ve learned since starting my consulting practice four years ago.  When I started, I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to share with my their process. Competitive research and networking helps. Attending seminars and reading business books improves understanding. Mentors can share with you their experience. But only you can answer the tough questions about what kind of business you want to build and how you want to do it.

In my book I’ll answer the top three questions I’m asked about starting a restaurant consulting business:

How much should I charge?

How do I start?

Will this work? 

Continue reading

Service 101: Selling Happy

Los Angeles hospitality consultant sells happyI am a consultant to restaurants and businesses who want to have a strong service program. I write training manuals, I build operational systems that support strong performance, hire and train great teams, and coach people on how to engage guests (and increase sales).

But most importantly, I’m in the business of teaching people the how and why of selling happy.

Plenty of restaurants have figured out the process of making great tasting cakes, a sandwich, latte, or fried egg. But what many restaurant owners forget to spend time on is how they deliver their products to their guests.

Here’s the thing, businesses that thrive in today’s connection economy need to do more than just deliver high-quality products that people need or want.  Successful businesses with a dedicated fan base are ones that go out of their way to delight their customers.

Why sell happy?

A sandwich may just be a sandwich, but when you buy a smoked turkey sandwich with fresh avocado from somebody who remembers your name, gives you a taste of something extra that’s delicious, and treats you like you are the best thing that’s happened to them all day—you’ve been given something more than what you expected.

selling happy

When the retail clerk picks out what you ask for and then goes out of her way to pick out an outfit for you that when you try it on makes you look like a cooler version of yourself, you’ve experienced something delightful.

When the handmade gift you’ve ordered from Etsy is delivered with a hand written note from the artist, you feel special.

Understanding the importance of the how and why of delighting customers in every day actions is an important part of individual business growing towards something BETTER.

Why spend time and money in dreaming up ways to exceed customers’ expectations? According to Seth Godin, a best-selling author (Tribes, Permission Marketing, Purple Cow and many others) and inspiring speaker, business makers should be in the business of creating something that delights customers. Because when a product or service delights a customer, what’s gained is more than the dollars from that single purchase. What is created is repeat business from an engaged customer who is compelled to share the story about the cool new thing they bought.

In the connection economy, an excited customer who’s in love with your company’s product line or services and gushes about you to all their friends is just about the most powerful, organically grown social media tool there is. Continue reading

Service 101: The Problem with Folklore

 

table top

Back in high school I became fascinated with folklore. I marveled at the hand-me-down stories and morality tales that were whispered between teenagers. There were many versions of the same tale. There was the one about the couple at make-out point who find a hook on the side of their car. The tarantula stowed away in a crate of bananas. The sad end of a child star, as a result of a deadly mixture of pop rocks and Coca Cola. Though the details of each story may have been interchangeable—they were murdered! They escaped! They ate the spider! The spider laid thousands of eggs!—the story left the audience feeling in a similar way. Uncomfortable.

Folklore may be a good way to deliver a moral idea, but it is an incredibly ineffective way to share an organization’s plan for service.

Plenty of restaurants start with business plans and a vision for success, but don’t take the time to write any of it down. Owners commission blueprints, lease spaces, write the menu, decorate, hire the staff, and open the restaurant to the public. Money gets tight and they skimp on building training materials.

The opening team bands together like a tight-knit family and creates a living and breathing restaurant. Time goes by. Staff members leave and new team members come onboard. Change begins to set in as the remaining staff retells the story of what they’ve learned to the new employees. Fine point details are skipped. Corners are cut.

Instead of telling the story of the restaurant’s really cool filtered water program, for example, the only message that’s handed down is a simplified version. The training server tells the new hire: “every table gets bottled water or water from that tap.” Gone is the story about why the triple-filtered, reverse osmosis process is so important. Erased from the story is the ethos of the restaurant. What remains is an action, not the reason behind the action.

Continue reading

Iced

coffee cup

I follow a twenty-something woman with a messy ponytail and rock tee-shirt into the air-conditioned coffee shop.

A tall Latino man in a Coffee Bean baseball cap waits for her behind the register.

“Good morning,” he says with a smile. “How may I help you?”

Her face is expressionless as she keeps her eyes down. She scans the multitude of apps on the screen of her sherbet colored iPhone.

“Iced blended,” she says. A double-click with her agile thumb launches an app.

“What size would you like,” he asks.

“Regular,” she says, annoyed. Her mouth is angry. “Put some whipped cream on top.”

The tall register man leans closer. What did she say?

“I’m sorry. Did you say you wanted whipped cream on that iced blended?”

“Yeah,” she says.

He keys in her order and repeats it back. She flashes him her frequent customer app and keeps her eyes down. Maybe she’s playing a game of let’s-see-if-I-can-ice-this-guy-out-of-existence.

She tosses her phone into her purse, almost triumphant. She has passed the point of required verbal communication.

She pulls a Bank of America card from her wallet. She waves it in his general direction, but doesn’t bother to raise her eyes to him. She doesn’t take the time to look him in the eye to see the man—a son, a father, a brother—helping her.

She misses that moment when the register man’s eyes go dim as she has reduced him to a nonentity. She wouldn’t know anything about this man and the way he holds his head, or moves his glasses up to the bridge of his nose when nervous, because she is looking at her phone. He slides the card through the register’s reader and hands it back to her.

“Would you like your receipt?” he says. He holds up the slip of register paper for her to take, but she is already gone.

10 Things Restaurant Owners and Managers Can Do to Improve Service

10 things you can do to improve serviceRestaurants are built on two major principles: serve great food and give great service. Problem is, many restaurant owners fail to take the time to chart out what specifically they want their service to look and feel like or invest the funds to create a solid service program.

When things start to go off track, sales slump, and Yelp reviews get increasingly worse, that’s often when people at the top begin to wonder what they need to do. When things are going wrong with a business, many hope they can find a quick fix to a bigger operational problem.

It doesn’t matter if you are about to open a restaurant or have been up and running for years, asking for help from a hospitality consultant like can definitely speed up the process and make a positive impact on your bottom line (just ask my clients!). But beyond a shot in the arm from an inspiring workshop or coaching session, restaurant owners and managers need to take a long-term commitment to working hard on daily maintenance of hospitality principles with their staff.

Here are the top 10 things I suggest restaurant leaders consider when wanting to improve their customer service and hospitality programs.

1. Get clear on what great service looks like for your restaurant and write it down.

Many restaurants operate without service training guidelines or employee handbooks that include service guidelines. Though having a service manual for a small café or mom and pop restaurant may seem unnecessary, keep this in mine: a restaurant without a service handbook is like a football team without a set of plays.

A thorough manual that states clear service goals, steps of service, and performance expectations is integral in the teaching process of instilling a consistent philosophy of service.

If you don’t write down what you want from your staff, your goals and expectations are unclear. If you have ever thought “they should know what their job is,” you are experiencing proof that the people who work for you probably don’t know what’s expected of them.

Employees who aren’t given clear guidelines or top priorities for their job position are left to assume what is expected of them based on their past experiences.  Even though the concept of waiting tables is very familiar, how a corner café defines the position is much different from the four-star, fine dining Italian restaurant. Assuming that people know what their jobs should be is a recipe for bad service.

2. Give your team the tools that they need.

Look, every restaurant runs out of inventory items. But a restaurant that consistently operates without basic tools is a restaurant with big problems on the horizon. A restaurant without enough silverware, plates, glassware, or food and beverage inventories will continue to experience decreased sales, sloppy performance, increased risk of health department violations, theft, and poor training of new hires and current employees.

When employees don’t have the tools that they need to give great service, they are forced to cut corners, lie or make excuses to guests, and work twice as hard for decreasing results. The staff of a restaurant without a consistent inventory loses faith in the organization and forces them to stop caring about being professional at their job. Continue reading

Soft Boiled Eggs, a Remembrance

food memoryIt is morning in Los Angeles. Not yet 9 am, and I have claimed a corner high-top table at Republique, my new favorite restaurant by my friend, Walter Manske. I turn on the computer and prepare myself for a morning of writing. I have notes, a pot of coffee, and soon, the breakfast I ordered.

Moments later, a runner places a wood board before me. On it is a freshly baked baguette with a trio of white porcelain dishes: one holds soft butter; a pot of handmade strawberry jam; and another, two soft-boiled eggs.

The yolks are orange as sunset and hide behind translucent whites cooked so slowly they appear to be made of custard. I pull a coin-sized bite from the baguette. I marvel as the crust explodes into tawny shards.

I dip the soft interior of the bread into the egg yolk and take a bite. Suddenly, sensory memories flood my consciousness. I am transported to an early morning in Angers, France several decades ago.


I am 19 and a student at a small Catholic university in Angers, France.  I awaken in an unfamiliar bed. My eyes focus on a cluster of pictures taped to a wall. The photos show a man in playful moments with a woman who looks like me but is not me. For a hazy moment, I believe I may be dreaming.

But then, I hear movement across the room and I see that there in a galley kitchen, stands the man from the pictures. I begin to piece together the night, the late night hours, a bar, glasses of wine and fumbled caresses.

The young man from the snapshots pulls a pair of eggs from boiling water with his fingers. He deftly drops them into tiny cups that look like trophies. He slices through the top curve of the egg’s shell with a large knife he pulls from a wood block. He smiles at me.  I fear I do not know his name.

I pull back the sheets and discover that I am fully clothed. I step from the bed and approach the young man as he cooks. “Bonjour,” I say.

He says something in French that I do not understand as he finishes his breakfast masterpiece with a high sprinkling of salt and pepper.  “Bon appétit,” he says.

I smile, awkwardly. I have never eaten eggs like this before and am afraid I will make a fool of myself and the entire population of America with a false move. I watch as he spoons egg onto a torn baguette. I do the same.

The young man apologizes. I’m sorry I don’t have more to offer, he says. It’s okay, I tell him,  this is the first time a man has ever cooked for me. He shrugs.

He is French, he tells me. This is what we do.


Sunlight streams through the windows of Republique. The sober morning light reveals the beauty of golden pearls of fat from the cream in my coffee. The spheres spin along the rim as I raise the porcelain cup to my lips.

I pull back the crust of my baguette. I butterfly it with a brush-stroke of butter and jam. I marvel at the perfect trinity of a well-made baguette, soft-boiled eggs, and softened butter. I am grateful.

Today, the world I live in holds mysteries, but thankfully, none are the result of too many glasses of wine or muddled choices. Today I am mindful, I have light, hope, faith, willingness, and a love for the simple things.

I am grateful for all the days that have led me to this moment. I am grateful for every morsel.

Service 101: Being the Unseen

Big Traveling Potluck dining table
Service asks the practitioner to find satisfaction in the act, not in the results.

It’s dinner hour at The Big Traveling Potluck. I head straight for the kitchen.  Three of the ladies behind The Potluck—Erika, Pam, and Sharon—garnish the succulent smoked lamb and pull the vegetable skewers out of the oven.

Tina, a strong Finnish woman and host of the night’s events, hands me two spoons and a silver tray piled high with lamb and lollipops of vegetables.  “Let’s go,” she says. 

It was almost a year ago when I first volunteered my hospitality services to The Big Potluck founders, Maggy, Erika, and Pam. I wanted to apply my hospitality skills and restaurant experience so I could help to relieve them of the organizational pressures of the event and they could be free to do what they do best.

I step into the dining room and a familiar rush of adrenaline flushes through my veins. I feel more alive when I’m in service.  I feel doubly present in a busy dining room. A few tables away I see Maggy—one of the event’s lionhearted leaders—as she laughs with a small gathering of friends. Though the event’s pressures are mounting, I don’t detect even a glimmer of stress on my friend’s face. A swell of gratitude rises in my chest. 

Just as fast as gratitude can come, so, too does fear. Even though French service—the technique of serving food one-handed with two spoons—isn’t any more complicated than using chopsticks, I worry as I lift servings of meat from the tray.  I say a little prayer to Joan of Arc, the patron saint of service, that she help me keep me from dropping food on someone’s lap.

I approach another table and in a flash the fear transmutes into self-doubt when a guest I hope to impress with my service—orders more food without even looking at me in the eye. She doesn’t care who I am, I think. All she wants is an extra portion of lamb. I am her servant.

FLIPPING THE SWITCH

The more I do this work, the more I see how service—like the martial arts—is a spiritual practice that one can spend a lifetime working on. It’s easy to say the words “Let me be of service,” but it’s hard to actually live them. Because when I mean what I say, I am stating that I am willing to commit to an entirely selfless act that requires generosity, kindness, and a certain level of personal sacrifice. 

People who practice radical hospitality in their work and in their lives must be open and willing to go to any lengths for others, even if they are never seen or given thanks for their service. Service asks the practitioner to find satisfaction in the act, not in the results. Service requires a smashing of the ego and pride.  The expectations of thanks and recognition can only lead to personal misery.

Even though most of the people I serve that night nod and smile at me when I offer them portions of lamb and vegetables, I invite  personal misery into my heart when I take the one woman’s offhanded order personally. Even though she may have a very good reason to not look at me at all, I take it as an affront and feel my own need for acknowledgment. I want to be seen by her.  

It’s a funny setup – I volunteer to play the part of the servant leader of the event but here I am now seeing the truth of the matter: I do not want to be treated like a servant. 

I thought I was being humble and selfless, but I was really just hiding my ego and pride behind all of the humble acts.  The truth revealed itself to me in that moment of pride and expectation: I really wanted EVERYONE to love me.

A crisis of faith ravaged my resolve. my mind exploded. What the hell are you doing serving? No one here is going to know you are a writer too! Everyone is going to think that you’re just a hired hand, a server, a servant!  No one even knows you have a blog! I wrestle ingloriously with expectation, anger, doubt, self-loathing, and humiliation for the next long while.

I am quiet on the bus ride to the hotel as the chorus of mean voices continue to attack.  I know that the suffering is of my own making. I know peace will come only when I can  reach for something else that can help me let go of all of the expectations and all of the voices. 

Before slipping away into sleep, I pray for relief from the bondage of self and ego and pride. I want out of this crucible of suffering from expectation.

A NEW WAY

The next day, I start from a better place. I surrender myself to the idea of being unseen and to give without expectation for praise. I put my head down and work hard. I fill a pitcher of water. I move a table. I hug a new friend. I give in places where my contribution may not be seen, but felt. 

It’s no coincidence that everything goes well. There’s minimal stress and an abundance of sweetness and beauty all about me. The final hour of the Big Traveling Potluck is quiet like a whisper. The hugs goodbye are heartfelt and true.

I spend the car ride home to Los Angeles in silent meditation. I thank the power of the great big world outside of myself for the opportunity to learn, grow, and surrender a little bit more of myself.  I thank God for showing me the painful effects of expectation and ego.

I believe there is no coincidence that the ride home to Los Angeles is traffic free. Only open highways and beautiful vistas.

My husband and dog greet me when I arrive. We embrace, happy to be in each other’s presence again after a long week away. 

At home, my email box lights up with thank you notes for my service and hard work.  One particularly moving missive is from Pam, the culinary leader of the event. She thanks me for my diligence and tells me that my abilities in service allowed her and the team to be the best that they could be and do what they do best. 

Hours later, I open an email that is only one sentence long.  It’s from Cheryl Sternman-Rule. “You made a deep impression on me,” she writes. Attached is a link to her most recent essay. It’s a tribute to the beauty of watching me (and others) be of service.

I laugh out loud when I read her words. After all my struggle and self-doubt, here was someone who truly saw me. 

I imagine God winking, nudging me a little.  Don’t you see, little one? Just do the good work and forget about the rest. You will always be seen.

Service 101: How Do I Become a Restaurant Consultant?

Important questions to ask yourself before starting your own consulting business

how do I become a restaurant consultant

Ever since I wrote the essay “How I got into Restaurant Consulting,” I’ve gotten lots of emails from men and women who are considering restaurant consulting as a potential career. Though the people vary in age and approach, they all ask the same big question: What do I need to know in order to become a successful restaurant consultant?

I wish I had a simple one-line answer, but I don’t. There are no easy answers or shortcuts for building a meaningful career as a freelancer.

Big Answers First

The good news is—thanks to limitless resources on the internet, book shelves, workshops, and people like me who offer coaching*—you can find resources and guidance for walking through the process of discovering the best path for your individual career goals.

In time you will need to know how to calculate how much you should charge for services (this freelancer’s resource site has a great rate calculator), but first you should ask yourself the complex questions of who you are, what you want, why you want it, and how you want to go after it, before you take your first client meeting.

The hardest part for some is making the time to do the soul-searching work. When entrepreneurs rush to market with little more than a big idea and passion, it’s no wonder that one in four new businesses fail within their first year.

Shortcut to the Back of the Line

Look, plenty of people will tell you that starting your own consulting business isn’t hard. They say just start doing the work! But you should also know, especially as someone who wants to go into the business of helping restaurants, that rushing into business with little more than a big idea and passion is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve met plenty of potential clients with failing or struggling restaurants that remind me just how important having a well-defined vision is. When a business gets rolling it’s even more difficult to implement a vision plan. Businesses that rush to market or grow too fast are typically organizations that don’t have a strategy beyond making profit. They don’t have the time to create business plans, employee manuals, or monitor staff training or morale. The result: unenthusiastic service, bad restaurant reviews, menu issues, and serious culture clashes that threaten the health of the business.

Restaurant consultants can suffer the same fate. If you don’t know what you stand for, what your particular specialty is, and why you go to work every day, the quality of your work may be compromised over time. Clients will dictate how you run your business and your social marketing/networking opportunities will go sideways.

A recent Inc. Magazine poll showed that the most successful and thriving businesses were built by entrepreneurs who had a clear vision, were generous to employees (regardless if there was only one employee or thousands), and had a commitment to giving back in some way. So with statistics like that to prove that a motivated and passionate workplace is one that makes a successful business—even if that business is just you working out of your living room—why wouldn’t you want to take the time to build a clear vision for a career that’s crafted just for you? Continue reading

Mint Matcha Latte

Mint matcha latteLife as a restaurant consultant requires a deep well of faith along with a big dose of hustle. I’m always been prepared for hard work and have to accept the natural periods of rest that come between jobs.

Rather than fret and worry about downtime, I remind myself that taking time to recuperate and to recharge my batteries is a job requirement. I’m so wired for GO! I can sometimes forget the importance of a nap, the inspiration that can come from a dinner at a new restaurant or a book that’s read cover to cover, or even a movie. Because, as a friend likes to remind me, “you can’t transmit what you haven’t got.”

So whenever I have time between consulting jobs, I take what’s given to me as an opportunity to get inspired. This week I’ve been spending more time in my kitchen, taken a fair amount of cat naps, and had the pleasure of reading two great books (Brene Brown’s Daring GreatlyIt’s a must if you want to live a wholehearted life—and Don Frick’s biography of Robert Greenleaf, the man who birthed the idea of servant leadership).

One beverage that’s fired up my culinary creativity is a mint matcha latte. I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to perfect a latte that’s balanced with the grassy flavors of green tea, herbaceous mint, and the sweetness of whole milk.

I was first introduced to a mint matcha latte at Andante, a new café located around the corner from where I live. I got inspired by the baristas use of a house made matcha syrup they squeezed from a squeeze bottle (I offer my own recipe below) and blend it with mint tea and steamed organic milk.

Like any culinary project, it took a while to dial in the process. But the process of discovery was a delicious one! I hope my recipe’s steps and ratios helps you achieve the tasty result I’m currently enjoying at home.  I use fresh mint to infuse the drink with its mint flavor, but you could definitely use mint tea bags if you can’t get a hold of fresh mint.

Enjoy!

Mint and Matcha Latte

Makes two 12 oz drinks

Equipment:
1 milk frother (I use the Aerolatte) or small whisk
1 Bodum teapot (or medium sized ceramic bowl)

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons matcha powder*
4-5 mint stalks (30-40 mint leaves)
16 ounces of organic milk
10 ounces boiling water
1-2 tablespoon of agave syrup (or stevia)

Bring filtered water just to a boil on the stove. Pour 2 oz water into the vessel you will be making your lattes in—I suggest using a a Bodum tea pot because it helps eliminate lots of mess.

Once the vessel is warm, dump out the water.  Add the mint leaves to the tea pot’s plastic filter or directly into the mixing bowl. Pour the remaining 8 ounces of water over the mint leaves. Let the mint steep in the water for a few minutes. The longer you let the mint steep the more minty the latte will be.

Meanwhile add 16 ounces of milk to a small saucepan. Heat the milk over a medium-high flame, being careful to watch the milk. Take the milk off the heat when you start to see tiny bubbles start to form at the edge of the saucepan. Do NOT let the milk boil over!

Mint Matcha collageRemove the mint leaves from the hot water (or just remove the plastic filter holding the mint leaves from the Bodum). Add the matcha powder or matcha syrup* to the mint water and mix thoroughly using a frother.  Please note, if you do not have a frother or a small matcha whisk you will need to start with the matcha powder and add the mint water slowly. Make sure there are no lumps!

Steeping the mint leaves in the warm milk can extract more mint flavor
Steeping the mint leaves in the warm milk can extract more mint flavor

Now you are ready to add the warm milk. If using a Bodum, you can return the plastic tea filter filled with mint leaves to the teapot and pour the warm milk through it to extract even more mint flavor, being sure to remove the filter before frothing. Otherwise, just add the milk to the mint tea water.

Froth the mixture. Taste. Add sweetener. Froth again.

Serve into warmed mugs.

Matcha Syrup

To simplify the process even more, I suggest making a matcha syrup. You will need a squeeze bottle for dispensing the matcha.

Measure out the amount of matcha you would like to have for the week (for example 12 teaspoons—6 days worth for two people). Carefully spoon the matcha powder into a bowl. Slowly add just enough water to the powder to make a liquid—you want a syrup consistency that will go through a squeeze bottle—not watery! Whisk the water and matcha mixture until there are no lumps.

Once you have your matcha syrup to the constancy you want you may want to add sweetener—a couple of tablespoons is more than enough—be careful to not go too overboard especially if you don’t want super sweet drinks!

I suggest you cover and refrigerate the matcha syrup in its squeeze bottle if you are going to use this syrup for several days.

*I found matcha powder at my local Asian market at a much less expensive price than at my local health food supermarket.

 

Service 101: The Rise of the Service Jedi

Hospitality ninja
Service Jedi Illustration by Brooke Burton

Lots of people pursue careers in restaurants, hotels, medicine, and politics. Most in these service industries see their work as great a way to make a living. But rare are the individuals who perceive their job—as a server, hotel receptionist, technician, doctor, chef, bell hop, county worker, or clerk—as a calling.

In a microcosm of service workers, there is a faction of workers who go out of their way to give generously of themselves to others as a way to make the world a better place—one simple act at a time. These unique folk practice a rare art form of hospitality when they employ the humble ideals of compassion, empathy, and humility in the workplace.

I like to call this radical group, the Service Jedi.

Like the peace-making warriors of the Star Wars cannon, The Service Jedi are a band of unique individuals who study, serve, and use an unseen force of goodness to help those in need. They approach service as a calling, not just a career.  The Service Jedi are modest heroes whose metier is to uplift others, rather than themselves.

The Service Jedi are outliers in the for-profit world of Big Businesses. They are a scarce and powerful folk who practice a rare art form of service that is admired by many, but accomplished by few. The Service Jedi have the power to transform people and experiences.

The Service Jedi may begin their journey alone, but naturally seek out others like themselves for alliances and understanding. Within the ranks of The Service Jedi, all are students. Few are masters.  Despite galactic differences between industries, Service Jedi can identify each other’s talents and appreciate their similarities. Through connection, The Service Jedi increase their power as they step away from isolation and share their hard-earned knowledge and emotional intelligence. Continue reading

Restaurant Unstoppable

valentines day restaurant tableFinding good resources for inspiration or direct support within the food and beverage industry can be difficult. There are websites and food publications like Saveur, Lucky Peach, and Bon Appetit that may have helpful ideas you can use. Restaurant books, chef memoirs, and exposés on the service industry can give perspective and ideas. Reality television shows like Restaurant Impossible, Top Chef, and Kitchen Nightmares can entertain and teach by example.

But it is face-to-face conversations with restaurant professionals that many in the food and beverage business lack the most. Thanks to the restaurant industry’s long hours, pace of business, and fierce competition restaurant leaders can easily get isolated from each other. Many restaurant pros rarely see fellow comrades, unless they run into each other at the same late night noodle shop or bar. And even then, we are frequently too exhausted to share quality resources or ideas.

Restaurant Unstoppable: The Pod Cast

Last week I was approached by Eric Cacciatore, creator of Restaurant Unstoppable, to be a guest on his weekly podcast. Restaurant Unstoppable is a weekly radio show that features industry professionals’ insights and tips on what it takes to succeed in the food and beverage industry.  I had to admit I hadn’t heard of Eric’s show, but I was intrigued by his enthusiasm and dedication to growing an online resource for restaurant professionals.

Restaurant Unstoppable is a place where restaurant people can share insights and ideas that can be accessed at any time of the day. Bravo! I like what Eric is trying to do, so I agreed to be interviewed. Who doesn’t want to be part of building something cool?

Eric sent me a rather detailed questionnaire before our interview. His questions about what it’s like being a hospitality consultant got me thinking about simple solutions I could share with people in the restaurant business.

Here are a few hiring tips I shared:

  • Smile when you interview applicants.  If the applicant is unable to smile, don’t hire them if they are applying for a front of the house position.
  • Have open interviews once a month, even if you don’t need people. It lets your current staff know how important doing great work is and it keeps you open to finding extraordinary people.
  • Pay great people more. When you find great people, pay them a little bit more than average if you can afford it. Even $.50 more an hour can go a long way in making a difference in the choices of barista or counter person. Paying more encourage great people not to go elsewhere.
  • Feed your team. Once you get a great team, make sure they’re fed. Offering a great staff meal can go a long way in making your food workers happy and perform well.

Continue reading

Service 101: Shame and Self Loathing in the Restaurant Industry

Service is an honorable profession
Service is an honorable profession

We live in a time where chefs are celebrated like rock stars and restaurants make great TV.  But no matter how popular chefs have become, the people who wait tables, deliver food, and clear dishes exist outside the realm of cool. Service staff occupy a space that’s filled with shame.

Discrimination against service staff is so hardwired in individuals, even journalists are unaware of their bias. The media may do a good job of elevating the status of chefs in the eyes of the dining public but many do much to continue the stereotype of a servile service staff.

Flip through a newspaper or magazine or peruse an online media site and you will find that the largest percentage of stories about waiters focus on unfavorable service styles or controversial tipping practices. Hospitality leaders like Danny Meyer may be cited in profiles about elevated service but the media does little to raise the public opinion of servers, bussers, and runners alike. Rare are the laudatory profiles of service professionals that deliver in the dining room. It seems that in popular culture, there’s no honor in making a living as a server, busser, runner, or barista.

In my professional experience, service professionals who identify themselves as career waiters or full time bussers are regarded by friends, family, customers, and the business community with pity and dishonor. Shame motivates many full time waiters and service staff to hide details of their restaurant work from friends, family, or acquaintances. Service work is—if referred to at all—is spoken about as a way to “pay the bills” until they get “a real job”.

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The Cup of Life

cup of lifeEarly in my twenties I designed a tattoo to be placed onto the soft spot of skin near my ankle. The tattoo artist placed a thimble-sized chalice, made of curving blue lines that overflowed with abundance.  I named it “The Cup of Life”. It was to be a pictogram of who I was–a life-force so strong it bubbled over the top.

Over time, the meaning of the tattoo morphed to fit my changing personality. During my dating years, I joked with suitors that my tattoo was proof that I was the Grail; a treasure worth pursuing.

During my years as a successful mixologist, the tattoo was evidence of my commitment to the fine art of creating and enjoying cocktails. Later when I began studying wine–the history, varietals, characteristics, regions, flavor profiles, and wine makers–I thought the tattoo proved my enthusiasm for wine.

Then, three years ago, I gave up drinking all together.

Once I took away the daily act of wine tasting and removed boozy cocktail making from my skill-set, my tattoo trademark seemed inaccurate. During the summer months I tucked my ankle behind my leg to hide my insignia. Who I was and what I stood for was uncertain. I was undergoing an overhaul.

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Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

cauliflower gratinJust about everybody loves macaroni and cheese. Kids and adults. Vegetarians and meat lovers. Even gluten free folks and carb-loaders alike crave the instant comfort of the satisfying combination of cheese and pasta.

Though most people may enjoy the indulgence of a ooey-goey macaroni and cheese, not everyone seeks to become a modern day expert on the subject of marrying dairy and pasta. Few go out of their way to become fluent in the way of whey; cow, goat, and sheeps’ milk, and dried pasta.

Thanks to the journalistic skills and writing talent of Garrett McCord (VanillaGarlic.com) and Stephanie Stiavetti (TheCulinaryLife.com), the work of understanding the art and mechanics of making truly great macaroni and cheese dishes is served up for you to enjoy in their newest cookbook: Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese.

Garrett and Stephanie are great food writers who elevate macaroni and cheese to a whole new level. They lavish their readers with entertaining stories and important insights on cheese and pasta. Melt, The Art of Macaroni and Cheese is a cookbook filled with well-crafted recipes that are a pleasure to cook with year-round.

Beautifully photographed and elegantly styled by the epically talented duo of Matt Armendariz, photographer, and food-stylist Adam Pearson, this book is as educational as it is visually stunning. Melt is a perfect holiday gift for the difficult to buy-for food lover: the book is filled with unexpected gems of information (like a comprehensive guide of artisanal cheeses and a primer on the fundamentals of pairing specialty cheeses with pasta), witty headnotes, and fascinating research. The book oozes with inspiring food photos and over 75 original recipes.

While some single-genre cookbooks might veer too far into the lane of kitch, Melt, The Art of Macaroni and Cheese navigates an enjoyable path for the home cook who seeks to create satisfying gourmet comfort food.

Organized in stylized chapters, Melt is an incredibly versatile cookbook that gives readers different ways to approach cheese and pasta: creamy stovetop macs, hearty casseroles, refreshing salads, and surprising sweets.

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Service 101: How to Get a Restaurant Job on Craigslist

how to get a restaurant jobWant to find a great job in the restaurant industry? If you want to get hired, the best thing you can do is to be impeccable and pay attention to every step in the process. It doesn’t matter if restaurant work is your life-long passion or a way to pay the bills. How you approach your job search will directly impact the chances of you finding and keeping a great job.

The first step in finding the best restaurant job is to slow down and pay attention to the process. Take a little time to understand what kind of job you really want to get.

Remember: it’s better to send out four great cover letters and four great resumes than blanketing craigslist with a slew of resumes via your smart phone.

  1. Figure out what kind of job you really want.  Before you send out a single resume, get clarity on what kind of job you really want. Are you seeking a full time job as a bartender at a fine dining restaurant or a part time counter job as a barista? Do you want to make the transition from server to manager?
  2. Don’t send a resume to job posting that you don’t really want. Sending resumes for a position you aren’t really interested in is a waste of time for you and for the people looking to hire you.  Don’t let financial stress or fear motivate you to send resumes for a job you wouldn’t enjoy doing.  Only apply for jobs you would actually want to go to every day. Continue reading

Service 101: The Language of Service

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Most businesses don’t have the time or money to teach their staff what true hospitality is. Instead of investing in teaching compassion and genuine hospitality, most restaurants and retailers invest their time and money in teaching their teams how to recite a finely-tuned script for making friendly and efficient sales.

Rare are the shop keepers and restaurant employees who craft their language to suit the buying needs of their particular customer. Instead, it’s “what can I get for you” or “are you ready to order?” Rather than take the time to share stories of how customers were won over or made regulars through a few key exchanges, businesses focus on encouraging number of sales per hour, check averages, and a high score on a secret shopper report.

The problem is, the more we focus on speeding things up, the more we lose an important part of building business: connection.

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Mint and Basil Pesto with Avocado Oil Recipe

Mint and basil pesto with avocado oilWonderful, unexpected things can come into your life and change you in an instant. An intoxicating scent. A random act of kindness from a stranger. A new ingredient.

Lately, I feel as if I’ve had a front row seat to a show of lovely and surprising moments. Unpredicted things reveal themselves to me and demonstrate in delightful ways that life lived with an open heart and open eyes can turn out to be truly extraordinary.

One such incident of unexpected treasures came in the form of a bottle of Bella Vado avocado oil.  The oil’s flavor is unmistakably derived from ripe avocados and has the ability to uplift the taste of a salad, an omelet, or even a handmade pesto. Ever since I started using it has changed the way I approach making lots of my every day meals. I never expected I’d find a flavor revolution in such a small bottle.

I discovered this unexpected treasure earlier this year at the first annual Big Traveling Potluck. I received two bottles –  avocado oil and an avocado oil with jalapeno — in our event swag bag. I had never seen avocado oil before — it’s no wonder, Bella Vado is the first avocado oil maker in the US — so I had no idea what to expect.

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Service 101: How I Became a Restaurant Consultant

When you open a new restaurant in Los AngelesI recently received an email from a business student who wanted to know how most restaurant consultants get into the industry. Though I may not have the official statistics on restaurant consulting at my finger tips, I do know my own story. I’m happy to share my perspective on the business of restaurant consulting with you.

How do restaurant consultants get into the industry? 

For me, I started young. I was a teenager when I got my first restaurant job. I worked in the 110 degree kitchen making milkshakes at a fried seafood shack. My intention getting into restaurants at that time was to make some spending money. I never imagined the food and beverage industry would be where I would make my profession.

I became a waitress and bartender in my twenties. I enjoyed taking care of people and found comfort in the camaraderie I felt with my co-workers.  I knew I had a unique talent for service and my entrepreneurial spirit helped kept me rolling in the tip money.

From Part time to Full Time

I went from dabbling in restaurants to taking things a lot more seriously when I started managing restaurants in my 30′s.

The more I poured myself into my job, the more I discovered that the work I did in restaurants fulfilled me in a way that writing never could. I enjoyed building a community, being of service to others, and getting passionate about the products we sold. I saw how leading others not only helped transform their lives, but also mine.

It was also around this time that I began to see that restaurant work was an honorable profession. It was a job I was learning to enjoy from the inside out.

Then, after six years of thriving as a restaurant General Manager, I went to work for Nancy Silverton, Joe Bastianch, and Mario Batali as part of the service team of Pizzeria Mozza and later, Osteria Mozza. It was there I honed and developed a service vocabulary and systems.  I became a trusted leader in the dining room — in sales and in happy, return guests. Then, after more than four years of putting my service theories to the test through personal research and development, I felt ready to begin my work as a Service Consultant.

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A Recipe for Buttered Coffee

bulletproof butter coffeeI spend a lot of time around caffeinated beverages now, thanks to my new job working for a Los Angeles-based organic coffee company. I have plenty of choices at arms reach: a brew of the day, a latte, or a perfect shot of espresso. Hand-made coffee gives me more than enough energy to get me through a long day.

The other day I overheard the owner/coffee buyer discussing his daily ritual of buttered coffee. “One cup of the stuff,” the owner said, “and I’ve got enough energy for the morning, I don’t have to eat until lunch time.”

I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Butter Coffee?”

Buttered Coffee?

I can’t say that putting a pat of butter in my coffee sounds all that appealing. But when a coffee professional suggests buttered coffee as a great source of sustainable energy and a cognitive enhancing beverage, I couldn’t help but get interested.

I had to try butter coffee for myself.

Buttered coffee may not be something I’ve ever heard of before, but Tibetans have been adding yak butter to their coffee for centuries. Thanks to people like Dave Asprey, a health conscious evangelist and author of The Bulletproof Exec, the beverage has become popular with people looking to maximize their energetic potential.

And the recipe for buttered coffee couldn’t be any simpler.  No need for gourmet shop ingredients and fancy techniques. All you need is a frother or a blender, coffee, and a high quality butter.

Taste Test: No Oil Slick. Just Frothy Goodness

Once the buttered melted a bit, I submerged my milk frother into the coffee. I was surprised at how quickly a thick foam formed at the top. The taste?  With just one tablespoon of a butter, my coffee had a velvety and silky mouthfeel that wasn’t a bit oily. I found that adding a tablespoon of coconut oil and agave made my beverage even more delicious and decadent.

Use Great Ingredients

If you’re going to make a buttered coffee, I suggest using the salt free Kerrygold butter. I’m in love with the stuff. I’ve been this way ever since I was awarded with a year’s supply of Kerrygold’s butter and cheese. I got lucky when my name was pulled from a hat at this year’s Big Traveling Potluck raffle! I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the high quality and nutritious butter from happy, grass fed cows from Ireland.

coffee frother for buttered coffee

Buttered Coffee

1 heaping tablespoon of Kerrygold Butter
2 cups of coffee
Optional: 1 tablespoon of agave
and/or 1 tablespoon of coconut oil*

Heat the container you are going to froth your coffee and butter in with hot boiling water. Dump the water.

Put the coffee and the butter into a hot mug or hot blender. Wait 10-15 seconds for the butter to butter melt. If adding sweetener, add it before blending the beverage. Froth the coffee (either with a hand held frother or a blender). Serve immediately.

*When you add the coconut oil and butter to your coffee, it’s called a Bulletproof Coffee

Service 101: Beyond Profit, How to Open a Juice bar

cranberry date juice blend

If you’ve even played around with the idea of opening a juice bar, you’re not alone. Lots of people–about one in ten new restaurant owners today–want to invest time and money into turning fruits and vegetables into liquid gold. I work as a restaurant consultant in the city of Los Angeles and in a few city blocks there are at least one or two juice bars and there are more on their way. Fresh juice bars are a $5 billion dollar business that’s projected to grow from 4% to 8% a year.

So why is a fresh juice bar such a popular idea? Well, if you think running a juice bar is easy, think again. There is no such thing as easy in the business of food.

Search the internet for suggestions of how to start your own juice bar, and you’ll find advice that suggests that location is the most important thing to figure out first. After that, they say, come up with a business plan, and then come up with a concept.

As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for over two decades, I humbly suggest you consider something else first: is running a juice bar something you want to do for the next five years?

Freshly pressed juices are the newest food fad. Lots of people want to get in on a business that promotes a healthy, on-the-go lifestyle for health conscious people who want to take care of their bodies in a fast and efficient way.

Juice, my friends, is the new cupcake. Continue reading