Few modern restaurateurs are more celebrated than Chef Charlie Palmer. His “progressive American” cuisine at Aureole, Charlie Palmer Steak, and Dry Creek Kitchen, among many other restaurants, made him an early pioneer of the local, farm-to-table movement in the U.S. It also earned him acclaim from the James Beard Foundation, Michelin Guide, and countless more organizations in the industry over the past two decades. Who better to share advice for fellow restaurateurs?
We asked Chef Palmer five questions about his career, his approach to hospitality, and how he’d like to see the industry evolve as a whole. Read on for words of wisdom.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received for success in the restaurant industry?
I worked for Buzzy O’Keefe at the River Cafe when I was 23, and his advice is similar to my advice to other restaurateurs below. He taught me to break down the divide between front of house and back of house. It used to be like a brick wall between FOH managers and the kitchen, but at the River we made it work pretty seamlessly, and that’s something I’ve brought with me to everyone restaurant I’ve worked at and opened.
What advice would you give to aspiring restaurateurs?
It’s so important to learn all aspects of the restaurant business, not just back of house for cooks and not just front of house for service-oriented staff. It behooves everyone to know every little last detail — from how much a case of c-fold paper towels costs to what the somm’s monthly beverage cost is to what Mr. Smith’s favorite table is.
What does hospitality mean to you, and how does that inform your approach at your restaurants?
This is something I talk with our managers and staff about almost every day that I’m in the restaurant. Hospitality not only means great service or even just service with a smile. To me it means welcoming someone into my restaurant not only as if I were welcoming them into my home, but more so, to their own home.
I want them to feel at home in our restaurants, to know that there is always a seat for them at the bar or in the restaurant, that we always have their favorite wine or beer by the glass and that we’ll start making it for them as soon as we see them turn the door knob.
What trends/innovations in the restaurant world are you most excited about today?
So many trends come and go. I like the Chefs Club trend with chef installations, but I’m also really enjoying this return to fine dining, to the experience of eating and dining with fine food and upscale service.
If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I think maybe the rush to get to the top. Shows like Top Chef and Chopped have been incredibly instrumental the career of some chefs. It’s done wonders for some of our former guys, like Bryan and Michael Voltaggio. But we have to remember that this is still a very hard industry and it takes hard work and dedication every day to get to the top and to stay on top. If you’re fortunate enough and talented to win on one of those shows, then you’ve got to harness that talent and keep working hard every day to make it work and be successful in this industry.
Photo Credit: Charlie Palmer Group/Harvest Inn