Category: Service 101

December 31 / Service 101

foodwoolf season finaleEver noticed that the best shows on TV communicate a particular theme each season?

Shows like Homeland, the Killing, Mad Men, and other past greats like The Wire or The Sopranos tell complicated stories with dramatic themes like: you can never go home, you can’t deny your true nature, or the past will always catch up with you. 

If the writers have done their job well, the theme of the show is reflected in the main and secondary storylines all the way through until the televised narrative comes to a dramatic end.

I’d say that if my life was a series, this season has been full of wonderful narrative twists and turns—some expected and others completely unanticipated.  The season in my life and on has been about big changes that began with small actions and events.

By aligning my personal and professional goals with my internal compass I saw how the incremental turns could lead to entirely new vistas.

The theme of 2014: Actively live in the paradoxes.

The paradoxes:

  • Give in order to get

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable

  • Go slow to move faster

  • Get small to go big

Whenever I made leaning into a paradox a priority throughout my days in 2014 I saw extraordinary things happen. When I actively chose to do the opposite of easy—picking up the phone when I wanted to not call back, sending a generous email to a stranger rather than ignoring their request—I found success, generosity, abundance, and work that I have always wanted. Read the Post Food Woolf Season Finale, 2014

October 7 / Restaurant Consulting
July 27 / Service 101

I 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. Read the Post Service 101: Selling Happy

July 11 / Service 101

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.

Read the Post Service 101: The Problem with Folklore

June 23 / Service 101

Restaurants 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. Read the Post 10 Things Restaurant Owners and Managers Can Do to Improve Service

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. Read the Post Service 101: Being the Unseen

April 18 / Service 101

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.

how do I become a restaurant consultant

Read the Post Service 101: How Do I Become a Restaurant Consultant?

March 14 / Service 101
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. Read the Post Service 101: The Rise of the Service Jedi

February 21 / Service 101
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”.

Read the Post Service 101: Shame and Self Loathing in the Restaurant Industry

October 21 / inside restaurants

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. Read the Post Service 101: How to Get a Restaurant Job on Craigslist
August 31 / inside restaurants


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.

Read the Post Service 101: The Language of Service

July 15 / Business

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.

Read the Post Service 101: How I Became a Restaurant Consultant

June 5 / Business

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. Read the Post Service 101: Beyond Profit, How to Open a Juice bar

May 19 / Service 101
March 8 / Business
Who is the weakest link in your business?
Who is the weakest link in your business?

Regardless of what business you’re in, every line of work has its share of archetypes. You may make your living in a dining room, in the middle of a retail showroom, under stage lights, or in the center of cubicles. Where doesn’t matter. Just like a movie with predictable characters, we all encounter common personality types in the workplace.

Heroes vs Foes

Boilerplate people we want on our team are types like the fearless leader, the go-getter, the quiet workhorse, the inspirational force, and the problem solver. But no matter how great your workplace is, there always seems to be a few pernicious characters. You know the bunch. They’re the complainer, the drama queen, the liar, or even the Friendly Incompetent.

Business Archetype: The Friendly Incompetent

I recently witnessed the most astounding version of the Friendly Incompetent, a negative business archetype, at a bookstore in Pasadena.The book shop employee was a tall, good looking guy with a nice smile. I noticed him right away as he said hello to customers as they walked into the store. Just as I was taking mental note of his good service instincts, however, I began to notice a pattern of neglect. Every time he’d say hello to a new customer, he’d turn his back on them just moments after they crossed the threshold.

He would ignore needing glances and check his iPhone or push a stack of books from one side of the counter to another, like a child pushing blocks for no reason. When an inquisitive book-buyer made her way to the front desk, the tall smiling guy exited the counter in order to adjust a coffee cup display just before she could reach him. Seconds later, I watched as another co-worker noticed the neglected customer and  jumped to her aid with a great sense of urgency.

Later, the Friendly Incompetent complained loudly about the colors of the bookstore’s carpets and how disappointed he was in the state of the book-selling business. When customers asked for information about a particular item, he pointed them to a faraway shelf, rather than walk the person to the stack of books himself.

After just one hour of observing this man, I calculated he not only lost the business several hundred dollars in lost sales opportunities, he also reduced efficiency in his co-workers. In addition, he created such an uncomfortable setting of bad customer service, I had to leave.

Read the Post Service 101: The Friendly Incompetent, A Business Archetype

February 14 / Business
January 19 / Service 101

home health inspection check list

Food lovers enjoy cooking. But how knowledgeable are we when it comes to safe food handling and cooking techniques?

I always put my customers’ health and satisfaction first at every restaurant I work at.  I’m grateful for my ServSafe manager certification training and educate my staff on good health safety and proper food handling protocols. My kitchens do multiple health inspections a day in order to maintain and uphold their “A” letter grades.  My staff know me as a stickler for finer points and am always pushing them to do better.

But the truth is, I wasn’t always food safety knowledgeable. Back in the early days of my restaurant work, I was what I call “a walking health code violation.”

Small Town Violations

More than twenty years ago I got my start at a fried seafood joint in a small town in Massachusetts. It was the Bon Jovi 80’s and I was a naive, teenage kitchen worker.  I microwaved chowders, mixed thousands of milkshakes and frappes on a stainless steel mixer, and grilled the occasional meat patty at a fried seafood shack without ever being educated on any aspect of food safety. The husband and wife team who owned the fried seafood stand, chain-smoked throughout the shift as they cooked and plated leaning towers of fried seafood.

The owners didn’t mind our big 80‘s hair and rock and roll radio we danced to as we worked over the fried clams. They almost certainly didn’t concern themselves with teaching any of their staff how to maintain a spotless kitchen. I washed my hands once a shift and used the same (un-sanitized) rag to clean counters and my equipment for the entire shift. We used sky blue Windex to wipe down the wood counters and stainless cooking equipment. Even when the kitchen reached temperatures above 110 degrees on hot summer days, the thick cream and milk mixture the raw seafood was dipped into was never refrigerated (once we pulled it from the walk-in). I don’t recall ever seeing a thermometer used to check holding temperatures. That’s a culinary memory I’d rather forget.

I discovered much about the food industry back then, but none of what I learned had anything to do with food safety.

Little City Oversights

Later, in the mid 90’s when I began tending bar at a family eatery outside of Boston, I learned very little about safe food handling standards. I was told to taste juices for spoilage and put out vinegar soaked sponges to catch fruit flies, but that was about it. The chef was constantly hung over and he had other things to worry about.  The kitchen’s cleanliness reflected his work ethic. We served frozen foods deep-fried in oil that I never saw changed and monster nacho plates that were heated up in a dirty microwave.  Vegetarian chili, creamy soups, and sauces were made from scratch and reused until they started to smell bad.

I was food poisoned more than once and frequently got sick.

Upholding an A

It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles in the late 90‘s that I was introduced to a more stringent health code with letter grades. Once I started working in LA restaurants and watched my first thorough health inspection, I quickly learned about cross-contamination, internal temperatures for cooked proteins (165º), date labeling, proper cooling techniques, and the danger of ice scoops in ice machines. I became aware of the importance of frequent hand washing, sanitized rags, proper food storage (cold foods must be held at 40º or less), cooling techniques for hot foods, and proper internal temperatures of refrigerators (40 or less).

The more I learned at work, the more clean and safe my home kitchen became.  I realized in time how hazardous my own cooking techniques were. I learned to never cut raw meat on the same cutting surface as vegetables. I stopped using the dish sponge to clean the counter top. I began looking at expiration dates on dry and frozen foods. I found that using a thermometer in my oven and to test the internal temperatures of the foods I cooked made an immediate impact on the quality (and safety) of my meals. Read the Post Service 101: Home Health Inspection

December 31 / Desserts
December 29 / Service 101
December 16 / Service 101

busser cleaningBussing may be the most important aspect of service that is overlooked by restaurant owners and managers. Perhaps it’s because business owners think guests don’t pay attention to the little things like how a table is cleared or when a water glass is topped off. Maybe it’s a pervasive mentality that bussing is a simple job that anyone can figure out. But great bussing is a complicated job that requires experience, training, and passion for the work.

Go to an average restaurant and you may see some tell tale signs of a neglected bussing team. You may see an overflowing bus tub filled with dirty dishes hiding in a corner or see a busser cut in front of a guest on their way to clear a table at the end of their meal. You might watch as the rushed worker clinks plates together as they snatched up the dishes like playing cards. Maybe you’ll be left too long with an empty glass or a pile of empty sugar packets in front of you.  You could find your table wet from a fast wipe down or a chair littered with crumbs. Perhaps you’ll cringe when your busser sticks their fingers in a stack of glasses as they carry them away.  When a table goes neglected for long stretches and then is suddenly barraged by a fast moving busser struggling to clear the table at the end of the meal, diners feel rushed, ignored, or worse–unimportant or unseen.  All of these things may seem minor at first, but when the problems add up during a meal, these little missteps begin to subtract quality points from your dining experience.

“How hard can it be to clear a table?” I’ve heard many a customer say in frustration.  I’ve even seen restaurant owners and managers remark that “any idiot can bus a table” while failing to show the staff how to do their job better. But the truth of the matter is, clearing and re-setting tables in a timely fashion isn’t a simple thing. Bussing requires skill, training, timing, grace, hospitality, and efficiency.

Investment in Service

Because restaurants are in the business of earning profit through the pennies and nickles on every dollar, many restaurant owners choose to focus their support staff training in one area alone: clearing tables quickly. Typically, the instruction offered isn’t so much a formal training as it is daily tirades on the need to “move faster!”

The general lack of guidance and good coaching leads to all sorts of sloppy choices. Rather than challenge their staff to work smart, clean, and gracefully, the average restaurant leader pushes their support staff to cut corners, take shortcuts, and do whatever it takes to clear and reset a table in a timely way.  Many business sacrifice the quality of their service over the long term in order to chase the short game of getting a single table cleared quickly. The result of this short term thinking: thousands of dollars of loss in breakage, lost silverware carelessly tossed in garbage pails, unhappy customers, and food that is mistakenly thrown away that has to be re-fired for a customer’s to-go request.

Read the Post Service 101: The Importance of Bussing