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3 Princes Consulting is a customer service and experience design firm based in Boston

Belly Wine Bar

   

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Belly is a new wine bar in Kendall Square owned by Nick Zappia and Liz Vilardi, the team behind The Blue Room and 1/2 the team behind Central Bottle.  I began consulting for them in March.  At that time we thought that my work would solely be focused on improvement at The Blue Room.  The Blue Room was opened in 1991 and faced the challenges of a matured business—revenue plateauing, a little set in it’s ways, less responsive to changes in the restaurant community.  To Nick and Liz’s immense credit, they were not satisfied with simply accepting these things as a given.  

The idea of Belly began unbeknownst to anyone with their decision back in November of 2011 to replace the chef who had been with the restaurant for almost 10 years.  Robert Grant came to The Blue Room after 3+ years with Barbara Lynch at The Butcher Shop.  Robert is an immensely passionate and talented Chef on all fronts but is especially brilliant with charcuterie and sausages.  

After about a month of trailing and attending meetings for the restaurant we dove into the financial history looking for trending and potential opportunities to continue the evolution that began with Robert.  We quickly realized that event sales in the restaurants had never fully recovered from the financial crisis, true of many restaurants in the city.  The semi-private dining room was located on the back side of the circular bar and could seat about 45 people.  The space was great when it was occupied but ultimately it could be much more than just a private dining room.  I proposed to them that there might be a better way to utilize a space that essentially had it’s own entrance, restrooms, and bar.  

From this point it felt very natural to conceptualize around Liz’s unique wine perspective, voice, and editorial.  Coupled with Roberts love of charcuterie and the wonderful cheese program at Central Bottle, a new idea was born.  Nick and Liz committed to Belly in early May and thanks to design from Dave Rubino of Huth Architects and the team at Cafco Construction we were able to open less than four months later. 

Restaurant Week, Week: An Enthusiastic, Positive, and Profitable Approach to Restaurant Week

              

                                            (Click Play to Listen and Read)

Restaurant Week in Boston is 5 weeks away which likely means restaurants are a month removed from being very late with submitting their menus and 4 weeks away from it hitting a front burner.  Seems like an optimal time to talk about how to approach restaurant week.

There are a number of falsehoods about the biannual tradition—“These people aren’t like our regular guests”, “They only come out for restaurant week”, “Ugh”.  Unfortunately the mentality is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  A service and kitchen team that believes these guests are somehow lesser subtly treats them like lesser and lessens the likelihood of return.

Now is the time to take a new approach to RW.  Below are a few ways to galvanize a team for a positive, energized and profitable Restaurant Week.

  • Start Now:  Don’t wait until the week before or week of to think about the tone you want to set for Restaurant Week.
  • Write and Perform a Rap with Your Team:  OK, doesn’t have to be a rap but something that extolls the virtue of being the best version of yourself during RW.
  • Establish a Hospitality Focused Competition:  Incentivize going above and beyond during Restaurant Week.
  • Create Guest Codes:  People do return if treated well.  Note that they were in during RW and you can track returns.

An without further ado…..RESTAURANT WEEK,WEEK set to Outkasts’ “So Fresh, So Clean”

Ain’t nobody dope as us

It must be restaurant week  (restaurant week, week)

Our food will be so sexy

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

We love selling wine pairings

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

*****

33 dollars and 9 cents

all yall haters best repent

it aint about the money spent

we givin’ up skeptics this year for lent

we rockin it out for guests sake

so yeah mother***ker try the hake

*****

Ain’t nobody dope as us

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

Seared Foie Gras with Duck Confit

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

Danny Decaf drink some tea

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

  *****

You know the cocktail pairings they be dope

Matt S. infallible like the pope

We spreadin’ hopi like obama spread hope

What up Drink?, can’t you cope

*****

Ain’t nobody dope as us

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

you know you want that prune gnocchi

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

don’t you forget the pastry team

It must be restaurant week (restaurant week, week)

*****

Kevin, Jamie & Ana

Bringin’ the drama to match

Fennel Agrodolce, and gabbana

they droppin’ hazelnut gateaus

like eliot spitzer picks up hos

*****

ain’t nobody dope as us

it must be restaurant week  (restaurant week, week)

Smoked Salmon and Horseradish cream

It must be restaurant week  (restaurant week, week)

Joey’s stories at their peak

It must be restaurant week  (restaurant week, week)

Battier Stats

               

Lebron James was not the only first time champion this week.  Shane Battier added an NBA championship to an NCAA championship from his Duke days.  The NY Times Magazine featured an article a few years ago about Battier’s unique contributions to the teams he joined.  Michael Lewis offered Battier as a basketball example to the stat based approach showcased in Moneyball.   The thesis of both the article and book is that the statistics used to quantify athletic success (batting average, RBI, Points, Assists, Rebounds) are not sufficient, or sometimes even relevant, to explain the ultimate goal of winning games.  The mystery of Shane Battier is described accordingly:  

“ …a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.”

Battier helps his teams win by doing the things that might not make a box score.  When there is a rebound, Battier doesn’t go for the ball, he goes for the other teams best rebounder.  He studies hours of tape to determine where and under what circumstance Kobe Bryant has the lowest Field Goal %.  Then, rather than try and steal or block shots, he tries to push Bryant into those situations or alter shots.  The video shows this well but is a bit long.

In restaurants we obsess over cover counts, check averages, top sales people, etc.  These are our points, rebounds, and assists and while they are certainly relevant, they don’t tell the full story.  There are no stats for the things that underlie success in these areas. The absence of these stats makes it  harder to recognize critical contributions from those who might not shine in the traditional categories.  When a server is selling a bottle of wine that is new to a guest, someone is supporting them in other ways in the restaurant.  What are the overall circumstances that best lead to tasting menu sales?  How do we better quantify and recognize the contributions from supporting staff?  What are the Battier Stats in hospitality? 

Once, when working in a bar, we were able to determine that our most useful Battier Stat was cocktails per person/hour.  Watching this stat allowed us to make educated determinations about guest happiness and service efficiency.   When looked at in conjunction with cover counts, we found a sweet spot that led to better experiences for guests, higher check averages, repeat patronage and of course greater revenue and profitability.

Battier Stats might differ from place to place depending on the service model or concept but we need to develop these metrics to better understand and influence guest experience and business health.

Does Your Restaurant Tell a Story?

                          

Working in restaurants is often compared to theatre—“curtain up” and “on stage” metaphors abound.  A great play (or film) starts with a story.  So does it stand to reason that a great restaurant might also start with a story?

Emma Coats of Pixar recently tweeted 22 basics of storytelling.  You can find the full list on her blog.  It’s cool to think how some apply to a restaurant idea or a desired guest experience.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Wax On, Wax Off: The Role of Muscle Memory in Service and Hospitality

The montage of training scenes from The Karate Kid demonstrates the power of repetition to train muscles to react in certain ways without thinking about it.  Daniel-son learns, through a series of menial tasks, a defensive strategy and is able to integrate the movements without thinking (and of course then become the South Valley Under 18 Karate Champion).  You can train the brain to do the same thing in a myriad of hospitality situations.

I have been an avid follower of the science author Jonah Lehrer since his first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist.  Imagine, his most recent book, is about the science of creativity.  Lehrer uses a series of case-like anecdotes mixed with some lightweight neuroscience to show that the creative process can be learned and cultivated.  One recurring theme in his writing is the role that muscle memory plays in high level performance:

"An expert athlete largely performs on auto-pilot. Manny Ramirez doesn’t think about the mechanics of his swing and Kobe Bryant isn’t contemplating his jump-shot when he pulls up behind the arc in the 4th quarter. They are performers and they’re performing. They might think about these details during batting practice, or during warm-ups, but the best athletes cultivate a kind of mindlessness during the game itself.  I think this also explains why the best free throw shooters tend to have the most elaborate free throw rituals. They’ll lick their hand, grab their shorts, spin the ball, dribble it three times, etc. (Tennis players go through a similar routine before serving.) The purpose of these rituals should now be obvious: they help keep those self-conscious thoughts away, and allow players to segue into a more automated state of mind"

Imagine the challenges of a nightly dinner service—guests are late, corked wine, running behind on tables, food dragging—achieving a positive outcome requires training the brain to default to an empathetic place (more to come on this).  Achieve this, creative and effective solutions will flow.  Initial & ongoing training, pre-service meetings, and a running dialogue on creative problem-solving are all “batting practices” and “warm-ups” to allow managers and servers to cultivate the muscle memory for hospitality.

Restaurants and Urban Manufacturing

Kitchen @ Per Se in NYC           

Kitchen @ Per Se in NYC                                                 Manufacturing Line 

There has been much talk lately about the resurgence of American manufacturing.  Exports have been on the rise over the last few years and the Obama administration is happy to tell anyone who will listen about the American auto industry.  Much of this growth is happening in less urban areas where space and labor are both plentiful and cheap.  There has not yet been the same full throttle return to urban manufacturing; or has there?  I’d like to suggest that restaurants may offer a modern take on urban manufacturing. 

A restaurant, when run well, is a highly efficient manufacturing facility (kitchen) with an integrated sales floor (dining room).  A restaurant kitchen is the R&D space, raw product sourcing and receiving, processing plant, and quality control all often within a few hundred square feet and within a 24-hour period.  Perishability of raw ingredients requires that the “manufacturing” process is both nimble and creative.

The sales and marketing team (managers, servers and support staff) works in concert with the R&D and manufacturing.  Sales people must be highly trained, educated and enthusiastic about every aspect of the manufacturing process and end product.  Purchase and consumption of the product is done on premise.  Gratuity can even offer a near real-time opportunity for feedback.

Everyone has jobs on the brain.  Manufacturing is seen as a significant engine for job growth.  Restaurants may offer a unique kind of manufacturing whose end products (food, beverage, hospitality, and experience) cannot easily be digitized, outsourced or off-shored. 

THE PUPPY AND THE DUCKLING:  TRAINING AS IMPRINTING

The first few days on a job can be thought of as the imprinting stage.  Imprinting is a psychology term referencing any kind of learning that is phase-sensitive, i.e. happens at a particular age or period.  For these purposes, the imprinting phase is essentially the training period.  What a new team member learns during this phase will stay with them throughout there tenure.  Keep in mind, this goes both ways….nail this period and you’re well on your way to a successful hire but the opposite is true as well.  Below are a few things to keep in mind when thinking through a new hires training:

  1. Make a statement BEFORE and ON day one:  From the moment a job offer is accepted, there is an opportunity to start imparting culture.  Email a new team member prior to their first day with pertinent information like who they’re training with, what to bring with them, and who to ask for when they arrive.  Most importantly, have all the necessary training materials and forms ready and collated for them when they arrive.
  2. Set your trainers up for success:  Training people well is hard and requires a certain mindset.  Inform the trainer a couple of days in advance that they will be training someone and provide them with updates as to where the trainee is in the process, where they are excelling, and where they need work.
  3. Review training content regularly with trainee:  A new hire is drinking from a fire hydrant while also negotiating new interpersonal dynamics; it is easy to miss out on critical content.  Review each training session at the end both for the trainee and as a way of assessing where the training program might need work.
  4. Reinforce MISSION and VALUES:  Too often, employee handbooks and manuals will reference the company mission and values and they will not be referenced or reinforced during the training process.  The mission and values of a company are best internalized when they are pointed out in action.    

"SOMETIMES A WHITE COAT ISN’T JUST A WHITE COAT"

Chef’s Coats & Pizza Shirts: Clothes and Self Perception

This piece ran two days ago in the NYT and served as a catalyst for a blog post I have wanted to write for a couple of months:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/clothes-and-self-perception.html

I am not a cook or a chef.  I have worked the last 12 years for ambitious restaurants that cared about the integrity of the food they served- it’s provenance, preparation and presentation.

 In the last few years there has been a change of uniform in many of the top kitchens in the country.  This may be a result of the relentless heat in kitchens, the ever increasing intricacy of chef tattoos, or an attempt to lower linen costs.  Either way it is not without consequence.   

By it’s very name the kitchen “brigade” is rooted in military principles of discipline and hierarchy, of which uniform is an integral part.  As kitchen culture evolves this may be less important but there ought to be an awareness of what the uniform might represent.  

Maybe with a little effort we can get behavioral scientists investigating the embodied cognition spoken of in the article to run a test in kitchens based on different uniforms.