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A Meal Is More than Just Food: A Hotelierís Perspective
By Alan Campbell
I owe whatever success I have earned in the hotel/hospitality industry to a well-prepared and presented dinner of good food and a glass of wine.
I am reminded of this fact every time I eat out; I start judging every aspect of the restaurant I am in against what I learned during my apprenticeship at the Sahara Hotel (Las Vegas, NV) during its heyday, when the Sahara was THE place to go to be entertained, to gamble, and to enjoy a superb meal in any one of its great dining rooms.
After a two-year internship, I became the manager of the Sahara’s Caravan Room. I also served as an Executive Steward and, later on, as the Sahara’s Director of Convention Facilities.
Early into my training it came to me that only three principles were necessary to insure my success: attention to detail, the customer is always right, and if I don’t love and have a passion for what I am doing—get out.
Whether you are an executive chef, a sous-chef, a chef de partie, saucier, or just a . . . cook, you are part of a team, a team that can only function successfully if all its individual members work in concert with each other.
And that’s exactly what any great kitchen is, a concert, a blending and melding of great talents for the sole purpose of producing a single plate of food that not only satisfies the hunger of a stranger, but more importantly, will awaken, often with a jolt, that stranger's dormant taste buds, setting them all into a frenzy of delight and new life.
A well prepared and presented meal satisfies not just hunger, but satisfies the soul as well.
And it all starts by paying attention to detail: Cleanliness of the kitchen, training and experience of all kitchen personnel, freshness and quality of all perishables, age of ingredients, quality of other foods and products, stoves, oil, etc. If the Executive Chef ignores any one of these things, as well as all the other things that come under his or her preview, it will affect the final product—the stranger's meal.
In any large or busy kitchen, it takes many cooks to bring to life a meal in a timely manner, so that no part of that meal is hotter or colder than any other part. Teamwork in the kitchen is essential for this to happen. To me, there is nothing more disgusting to my palate than a mound of cold potatoes, or hot potatoes smothered in cold gravy, or, again, potatoes not hot enough to melt a square of butter.
But no matter how successful your kitchen may work and no matter what specialty items they may be famous for (if any), the ultimate merit of the success of that meal rests solely at the mercy of the customer. Hence, the customer is always right.
After all the culinary schooling, after burning all that midnight oil in studies and homework and slaving over hot stoves, after all the hours of internship and apprenticeship and after all those hours of chopping, cutting, slicing, filleting, grinding, basting, breading, kneading, boiling, sautéing, and after all the hard work I put in to create, to make, to cook that meal, it's up to that stranger to decide what I created is good or bad?
If you got into this "service" business for YOU ONLY, then YOU will fail. To succeed, you must give of yourself, you must walk in the stranger's shoes, and you must create meals with the stranger's palate in mind.
The customer is always right is precisely what customer service is all about. You work for the customer, not for yourself. Your job, what you signed up to do, is to satisfy the customer within the guidelines established by your business or service.
You learn how to do that, you will succeed.
If you have read any of my previous articles, then you know that you must have a passion, a love for what you do. Halfway measures will never do—your customers may not know the difference between a boulanger and a poissonier but they can tell right away, consciously or unconsciously, whether your heart is in what you are doing . . . and serving.
If it's too hot for you, GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!
As for the glass of wine, it was great!
Yes, there are other aspects of the restaurant business such as ambiance, location, name recognition, chef recognition, etc. But no amount of any of that will assure your success without the three I have discussed.
Yes, all great restaurants offer a culinary experience that delights the senses.
Yes, the customer must be able to feel the ambiance of the restaurant implied in the restaurant's advertisement.
Yes, first impressions are important, and how and when you are greeted upon entering may well make or break a guest's appreciation for what follows.
Yes, the service you receive from the serving staff is important and, if done sloppily, may well ruin the guest's dinner.
Yes, all the aforementioned qualities go into making a plain restaurant a great restaurant.
But, and there is always a but, however; none of these qualities, no matter how good, can make a bad meal better.
Whereas a well-prepared meal that follows the three precepts I stated, along with the minimal basic courtesies between guests and hosts, will always be great, whether in a fancy restaurant or a hole-in-the wall restaurant.
Attention to detail, the customer is always right, a love and passion for what you do.
Do you measure up? Does your restaurant measure up?
By the way, the wine was excellent.
About the Author
Alan Campbell has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. He has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. Alan considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world - it is the only place that both king's and Paupers will visit you.
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