Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets by Jeff BenjaminFront of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets by Jeff Benjamin

Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets

byJeff BenjaminIllustratorRobert Neubecker

Hardcover | March 31, 2015

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In the bestselling tradition of Restaurant Man and Setting the Table, Front of the House is a revealing and wryly humorous behind-the-scenes look at the gracious art of great restaurant service.

Great restaurant service is a gracious art that's been studied, practiced and polished by Jeff Benjamin, two-time James Beard Award nominee and managing partner of Philadelphia's acclaimed Vetri family of restaurants. Sagacious and observant, he beckons us behind the scenes for an insider's look at reserving a table, what your server thinks of you, what it takes to get ejected from a fine restaurant and a host of other revelations.

Jeff Benjaminfirst joined forces with chef Marc Vetri in 1998 to create Vetri, one of the country's most influential Italian restaurants. The Vetri Family of restaurants now includes six establishments in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
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Title:Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & SecretsFormat:HardcoverDimensions:208 pages, 8.5 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:March 31, 2015Publisher:Burgess Lea PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1941868029

ISBN - 13:9781941868027

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One Size Does Not Fit AllEvery first-time diner is a potential future regular.I LIVE FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE. It’s always on my mind, no matter what side of the transaction I’m on. I think about it when I’m shopping for clothes in a retail store, buying a car at a dealership or dealing with a utility company on the phone. I also have the pleasure of being a customer service agent and relish the opportunity to practice what I preach. The expectations I have of others when I am a customer are the same ones we strive to meet or exceed as a staff every night.I’ve realized that what sets the guest-service superstars apart is the fact that they don’t need to work at it. To them, superior customer service comes naturally. Dare I say, they are simply nice people. If all you want to do is make the killing—get in, get out, get your money—then by all means size up your guest and let your first impression be the only one you act upon. Worse yet, treat everyone exactly the same. But if you want to create a sustainable, profitable business, you need to establish relationships, not customers. The trick is to enter every situation with the thought that this is a two-way interaction, not a one-sided action to be played by the book. How I start the interaction goes a long way toward informing how the other person will respond and ultimately sets the tone for the guest’s satisfaction.We always say we can get someone to eat in our restaurants once. That’s easy. But can we get them to repeat? That’s the challenge. Each day at our preservice meeting we review the guest list with our staff. Our Open Table account indicates “First-Time Diner”—or as we call them, future regulars. Every regular was once a first-time diner. The question is, what did we do to bring them back? Was it the food? Did they receive exceptional service? Did we meet a special request? Maybe all of the above. Certainly the cultivation of every repeat customer began the minute they decided to dine here. How were they treated on the confirmation phone call? Were they put on hold, and if so, for how long? Did they get the reservation they wanted, or did we have to offer alternatives? Are they coming in for a special occasion, and what can we do to make it more special? Can we accommodate a request for a particular table? Whatever the specific need, the more notes we seek and the customer provides, the better we can prepare to serve them and the fewer surprises when they arrive.All this information positions our service staff to appropriately address each guest on arrival. Nothing disappoints me more than the one-size-fits-all method of guest service seen in corporate restaurants. The guy on the first date and the team of business associates are in the restaurant for different reasons and require very different interactions. It is up to us to make sure they both leave thinking they had exceptional service, but if they compared notes, they would not have had the same experience.I do understand the need for standard practices; training would be a nightmare if we simply told staff, “Approach the guest and figure out a way to get them what they need.” But when you hire the right people and create a nurturing environment for them, you don’t need to create a script that allows for no deviation. The minute you tell your staff there is no room for authentic interaction is the minute you guarantee failure when the inevitable deviation occurs. Because that’s when they stop approaching each customer with an open mind.Of course, certain customers can really test your commitment to maintain that open mind right from the start. I have struggled with this challenge myself at times. During Vetri’s first year, I took a call one Friday afternoon from a woman requesting a reservation that night for her boss. We weren’t very busy during the week at this point, but Fridays were booked months in advance. We only had thirty-five seats, so it didn’t take much to fill up, but that also left us no room to hold back a “just in case” table to accommodate last-minute guests.I informed the woman that we were full. “But my boss really wants to come,” she said. “Isn’t there something you can do?” She was very pleasant, and I sincerely wanted to help, but I just couldn’t do it and made that clear with a sense of finality. She didn’t give up. “What if I told you he was the president of a multinational pharmaceutical company?”I replied, “Ma’am, I would love to accommodate your boss, no matter what his position, but we are so small that last-minute reservations are very difficult. However, I will call you back if we get a cancellation.”Sure enough, an hour later a deuce cancelled, so I called her. She thanked me up and down and assured me her boss would be there. That night, a man and a woman walked in wearing jeans and casual jackets and mentioned the name on the reservation. Displaying no body language to reveal my suspicion—at least I hoped not—I seated the table and walked back into the kitchen.I complained to Marc, “That guy whose assistant called just showed up. Look at him, he ain’t the president of anything!” Marc just glanced at him and said, “Well, whoever he is, he’s about to eat real well, so hopefully he enjoys it.”My annoyance wasn’t caused by the fact that this guy didn’t seem to be president material, but because I believed his assistant had lied to me to get him in.I approached the table and greeted the couple again, curious to see where this would go. After a brief exchange, the man asked about wine, and from there my first impression took a sharp turn. We ended up having a spirited conversation about wine and discovered that we were both enamored with the Quintarelli label, swapping stories about recent bottles we’d enjoyed. We continued to talk through the evening, and the couple really enjoyed their time with us. Toward the end of the meal the man asked to meet Marc, and said, “You know, he contributed a recipe to our company cookbook for diabetics and I wanted to thank him.” He reached in his wallet and handed me his business card. Sure enough, he was the president of a major pharmaceutical company.We’ve enjoyed many more meals together, hosted his wedding dinner and since his retirement we’ve flown to the West Coast to cook at his house. He’s become a true friend, thanks to the commitment we made early on to approach each first-time customer with an open mind, with the hope that they might become future regulars.