The Calm Before The Storm
To really understand the crazy and chaotic world of restaurants, you have to have a firm grasp on the client base we attract, which is everyone. So, in effect, we have to be pseudo masters of Psychology. To read a person is your greatest weapon, no matter what position you have in the industry. Servers and bartenders read customers, managers read their employees and customers, owners read their management, hourlies and customers. So what makes our world go round?
There are a million and one descriptions of people and everyone at one point or another has used a phrase not unlike these:
“There are 3 kinds of people in this world”
“There are 8 things people all need”
So on so forth. So, I feel entitled to my own phrase like those.
There are three things that all humans are naturally attracted to. Harmony, Rhythm and Kindness. Let’s analyze each one.
Harmony. The classical definition states that it is, at its root, the use of simultaneous pitches and chords. The derivation of the word itself is Greek for, ‘to fit together, to join’. We all enjoy when two notes, played simultaneously, sound better together than apart. It makes us feel good hearing them together. Conversely, when we hear two notes that don’t work well together, or ‘fit’ together, we feel uncomfortable. Composers use shrieking notes in a horror movie to make your heart race in anticipation of something negative about to happen and beautiful melodies for when someone delivers an important speech or the star-crossed lovers meet for the first time. It drives a subconscious notion that when sounds fit together, people fit together.
Rhythm. The classical definition states that it is any regular, recurring motion. But, at its root, the only way rhythm can exist is by having something and then the absence of that something. Rhythm can be found everywhere. We hear it in beats, we move with it. I would like to make a bold claim, stating that people naturally walk in rhythm. I can definitively say that I have never once seen someone walk out of a rhythm and not look awkward. Every culture around the world is defined by their use of rhythm and harmony. Culture is almost always defined by such descriptors. If I were to cite Latin Culture, more often than not, one of the first things one would think of when citing Latin Culture, is Salsa dance and let’s face it, Salsa, the food. Because every Culture around the world is backed by their own type of cuisine, because there is a harmony between the ingredients locally grown, the climate, weather and soil. Avocado’s don’t grow well in Canada, but grow beautifully in Mexico. It’s a defining point of the region. Regardless, each Culture around the world has constructed a list of rhythms, harmonies and food that define them.
Kindness. This one is easy. It should come as no surprise that collectively, we feel better when people are nice to us. And also, when we are nice to others. We give gifts to people on their birthdays, or major holidays. We give gifts when there is no reason to give one. We open doors for others, move out of the way when someone looks like they’re in a hurry. We make things from scratch, buy things premade, all with the great hope that we just might get lucky enough for someone to tell us, ‘Thank You’ and really mean it. Kindness happens so often that we, more times than not, forget about the incidents. We tend to remember profoundly negative things. Two people get into a verbal argument on the street. They’re loud and obnoxious about it. We all feel the need to stop and listen to it, because it truly does happen so infrequently that it feels awkward that two individuals would feel the need to create something negative in our world. One can argue that those incidents happen more often than I elude to, but the reality is, for every two people fighting on the street, there’s 20 watching it happen. They aren’t angry, nor are they causing negativity.
So how do these things tie into Restaurants?
Simple enough; a restaurant is merely a collection of individuals, congregated in the same building, for an experience. Depending on the level of cuisine and a few other factors, your expectations of an experience will differ per consumer, but in the end, we all go for an experience. Every restaurant type will lend a different one and we tailor our expectations accordingly. No one goes into a Chipotle, looking for white table cloths and a gentleman or lady in a dress shirt, prepared to preach Galileo’s description of wine, being ‘Sunlight held together by water’. Congruently, no one goes into Per Se or Noma expecting a quick burrito or a Big Mac. It sounds trivial and anyone with an ounce of reason will qualify my statement as obvious and unimportant, but it is important. Great restaurants define the expectations of the masses and tailor each persons experience accordingly. My restaurant happens to be in the happy medium of fine casual dining. It’s a strange collage of anniversaries, birthdays, first dates, dad’s taking their kid out for some pizza while he blows all the candles out on each table bordering their own, guests stopping in for cocktails, guests popping in for dessert and wine. It’s a melting pot at best and it lends to an incredibly difficult process of tailoring each persons experience. So, we must rely on the three topics at hand to connect everyone and our ability to read each guest. I would also argue that by ‘reading’ a guest, you are actually discovering the harmony and rhythm they operate on and tailor your own to jive with theirs.
Whether you’re in for your 50th anniversary or first date, or you’re the dad with his kid, you’re all human and all want those three things; harmony, rhythm and kindness. So, as a staff, we have to find a cadence. We have to move with the same rhythm as our coworkers and speak intelligently on our products and tailor or descriptions so that they fit together with the expectations of each guest. Above all, we have to be kind while doing all of these things. A beautiful dining room to a restauranteur, has a lot less to do with the aesthetics of the space. Yes, it is abundantly clear that clean tables and perfect light and sound balance is essential for a positive experience to take place, but that plays with your conscious mind. A real entrepreneur wants your subconscious’ attention. Guests will rarely notice the intricacies of a staff that marches to the beat of one drum, but they know it in their subconscious.
It’s funny, but my two greatest examples of this harmony and rhythm happening in a dining room, comes from two children’s movies. The Polar Express has a scene where all of the children on the train want hot chocolate and these servers have this extravagant dance as they set all of the tables for the course, serve the course and clear it. Ratatoullie has a scene where the whole staff abandons the main character on a busy night and the main character is left serving the entire dining room, so he straps on some roller skates and moves about the dining room in a fluid motion. You can discount these citations, but the reality is, they are severe exaggerations of something that happens on a regular basis in an actual restaurant. Managers would define it as a dining room that is ‘Humming’. The irony that the accepted descriptor of a situation like that is the word ‘Hum’.
While I focus on Restaurants, these philosophies can be applied to not only any service business, but also life. We can all abide by these core beliefs and create a world that others want to exist in. The greatest compliment I can receive on a nightly basis is when a guest has concluded their experience in my ‘house’ and felt so strongly about their experience, that they need to speak to a manager. I approach and hear their comments and it never ceases to amaze me. “Our server was amazing, the food was outstanding, I’d like to make a reservation, so I can show this place off to my friends”. Those people come back and end up walking in like they own the place. They give their friends a tour of the space, even walk them up to Chef and introduce themselves. It is the instant gratification that we have discovered their preferred rhythm and harmony to such an expert level that they feel as comfortable in my ‘house’ as they do their own. That is what I would like to define as true Hospitality.