Before guests arrive, there’s a lot to be done. Despite the long to-do lists, managers insist on some time off to bring the team together to focus everyone on the upcoming service. Besides discussing the usual topics – specials, menu changes, new staffers – they often use the time for richer rituals.
To kick off pre-shift at the Mediterranean-minded Cleo Third Street in Los Angeles, general manager Catherine Yoo picks a staffer to start a slow clap. This builds to a fast clap and culminates with the entire group yelling “Opa!” The team repeats the ritual at the end of pre-shift to ensure that everyone heads into service ready to rock.
Wine is the focus at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in New York City. Between lunch and dinner, servers and bartenders gather in the wine cellar to learn about that night’s wine feature from one of the restaurant’s five sommeliers. Staffers get to sample the wines, learn pairing opportunities, get coached on creative descriptions, and play educational games.
They believe a little competition is healthy at Ambar in Washington, D.C. During pre-shift a dish will be highlighted, so servers know how to describe and present it. Then servers pretend to sell it to the manager. The person giving the best description gets their choice of work section for the evening. Additionally, servers will engage in contests during service, such as who gets the most reviews or sells the most of a selected wine or dish. The winner scores a bottle of wine, complimentary meal, or a gift card.
During pre-shift on Saturdays at Ocean Prime in Washington, D.C., management gives a back-of-the-house and a front-of-the-house associate a “milkshake award,” which celebrates exceptional going above and beyond for a guest. The award’s name comes from the fact that although the restaurant may not have a milkshake on its menu, one could easily be made with the ice cream, chocolate sauce, and milk available in the kitchen. The idea is to create a “yes” culture amongst team members, so they create the best experiences for diners.
Gathering the staff for family meal before service is a time-honored tradition in many restaurants. Chef Andy Little of Josephine in Nashville, Tennessee, approaches the ritual slightly differently with his “Cook the Book” series. Every week, a kitchen staffer prepares several recipes from one of their favorite cookbooks. Nearby at Henley, the staff gathers for family meal at 4:15 every day. While everyone eats, chef Daniel Gorman then brings in a dish to highlight, perhaps because it is underselling or to discuss how it pairs with a new wine on the list. Finally, lead bartender Jon Howard discusses any items that have been 86’ed or recently added to the menu.
Over at Wildfire in McLean, Virginia, OpenTable compliments are read aloud. Servers then guess who received the commendations. Meanwhile, general manager Johnny Livanos of Ousia asks his waitstaff during lineup about any feedback – good or bad – they received from guests at the previous night’s service.
Photo credit: Simon Lewis.