Category Archive: THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS

The Dos and Don’ts of Dining This Holiday Season

Posted on November 23, 2016

Family Dining

If you have  ever worked in the service industry, you would know that the holiday season is the strangest time of the year. It seems that the holidays brings out the worst in people.  This year we have no time to indulge in negativity. We need to change our habits while dining this holiday season.  As Jon Oliver put it, 2016 has been a F…up year.  Regardless of where you stand on your political, social and economic views, it is safe to say that we are pretty divided. This has to end!

FAMILY DINING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Every holiday season I see this happen.  Families get together because they feel like they have to.  The result is a horrible experience for them and for the restaurant. Here is a look into a typical American family dinner:

  1. The father is upset he is not watching the game and pissed he has to sit with his mother-in-law

  2. The teenage kids are bored as can be, and embarrassed by the fact that mom can’t eat anything on the menu because it doesn’t fit her gluten-free diet.

  3. Grandma can’t hear a thing, so everyone needs to talk in loud voices, which brings more embarrassment to the teenagers.  Especially when the parents begin to talk about the kids’ personal affairs.

  4. Grandpa is pissed that he has to pick up the bill, and is actively looking to catch the server in a mistake so he can receive a discount.

This scenario is all too common for servers. The server is walking on eggshells, trying not to ignite the volatile tension at the table by making a mistake or saying the wrong thing.

This is not fair.  If you do not enjoy being with your family, please do not take them out.   The restaurant staff could be with their families, but instead are working so others can enjoy the holiday.  And it sucks if you can’t enjoy it because you can’t get along with your mother-in-law, you obviously are taking the day for granted.

This brings me back to 2016.  So much has gone down this year.  All this stuff is outside of our control.  What we can control is how we interact with our loved ones.  Family is all you really have. Yes, they can annoy the hell out of you, but that is because they know you and you know them so well. Stop trying to control who they are and learn to accept them.  When it is all said and done, they will be the ones responsible for your funeral and carrying on your legacy.  This year, go out with your family on the holidays.  But this time, enjoy their company. Put aside your disagreements. It is not a time of giving, but a time of accepting. Accept your family for who they are and be kind to you servers.

 office party

OFFICE PARTIES

The holidays also bring out the demons we have suppressed all year-long.  The worst part is that they usually come out at the office holiday party. There is always one person whom you thought you knew, and then WHAM! Put a little alcohol in them and they transform into another being. The problem, is that they usually do not remember what they did.  This year, don’t be that guy or girl who has to ruin the party.  So many companies have stopped throwing holiday parties because of the one person who cannot control their alcohol. How can we prevent it this year?

  1. If you normally do not drink alcohol throughout the year, don’t start the night of your office party.

  2. Do not pressure your quite co-worker to drink that night, you never know what you are going to get.

  3. Throughout the year, voice your concerns about your boss and co-workers directly with them. Do not bottle up everything and let it all out the night of the party. Uncool!

  4. Do not bring a date to the party whom you do not know. You never know what you are going to get. It can cost you your job.

scrooge

THE SERVICE STAFF

Remember that employees of the restaurant have families and friends and have either chosen or been scheduled to work on the holiday.  They could be at their friends’ or family gathering, but instead they are serving you. Be respectful. Don’t ruin their day just because you can’t hold your liquor or get along with your family. Be generous, tip them properly.  Do not be a Scrooge.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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The San Diego Restaurant Industry

Posted on August 16, 2016

 San Diego Industry

Prior to working in the San Diego Restaurant Industry I had worked in San Francisco’s restaurant industry. It was referred to as “THE INDUSTRY”.  I did not understand what people meant by the industry.  I always associated the word industry with factories, the industrial revolution and corporations.  I’d hear bartenders and servers chatting at a house party with other young professionals saying  ”I work in the industry”.  The teacher, lawyer or dot comer would nod and reply, “right on.” Apparently they knew what they meant by “The Industry” and it seemed to carry some clout.  The longer I lived and worked there it made more sense.  I worked in an industry, the service and hospitality industry. Merriam Webster defines industry as:

1) the process of making products by using machinery and factories. (I guess my initial understanding was correct.)

2) a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service. (check!)

3) the habit of working hard and steadily. (absolutely.)

San Francisco’s factories are the restaurants and bars.  Look at the Portero district, at one time home to many factories today a thriving restaurant district.  As the outer neighborhoods became more gentrified, warehouses turned into condos, homes became bars, and gas stations transformed into restaurants. A new industry emerged.

The service/restaurant industry could not proper without restaurants coming together.  The San Francisco industry was and is a tightly knit community.  There are people jumping from one job to another in search of the perfect gig.  The industry worker in SF is a professional.  They may work days at one restaurant and nights at another.  In order to get into a good establishment you have to prove yourself.  You have to know your shit. It is not about  how you look, but what your resume says.   That restaurant industry has high expectations.  To meet those expectations, one has to work hard, the third meaning of Industry.  People in the SF service industry not only hard work because the job is demanding, but because they are dedicated to their work.  Without dedication there is no chance of working in a good establishment.  There is always someone better to take the better shifts.  Competition has created a vibrant industry.

Since returning to San Diego I have seen an industry begin boom.  Have you noticed Little Italy, East Village, North Park and South Park?  All these areas have become major restaurant districts.  We have restaurants opening in Bonita, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach areas which at one time had nothing but taco shops and corporate shopping mall restaurants.  There exists an “industry” in San Diego.  However, we still have a ways to go.

up sell the experience

The Experience Assembly Line

Industry produces a product which can be sold. In the restaurant we produce food and drinks, but most importantly an experience.  I challenge all restaurants and bars to think about producing an experience.  The food and drink is important, but service and the soul of the space is equally as important if not more important in creating an experience. What are you doing differently to create a memorable experience?  Dining has to be more than just eating and drinking.  As minimum wages increase and increase in menu prices off set those costs, our service needs to compensate.  We need to create an experience.

How do we do that?  It comes from the employee.  The employee is the face of the business.  But who are our employees and what standards are expected of them? In San Francisco there is competition, in order to get in to the best places you have to prove your self.  The labor force is full of professionals.  We are beginning to get more professionals in San Diego but we still do not have a large enough labor pool.  It is a college town, not to say college students don’t make good employees, but the majority have to much going on and work is a way to get by.  Professional employees treat it like a profession and this means they put time and effort into their work.  This means taking outside time to further their education and sharpen their craft.

In order for this industry to thrive, we need to hold our employees more accountable. We need to set expectations.  They need to know that the industry will only survive if we can sell what we produce. Like in all economic theories, production needs to equal the demand.  We know there is a demand for food and drink, or else places would not be popping up.  But for a long term success we have to increase our production of experiences.  Our employees need to produce the experiences and sell them.  Many do not understand this, and as managers and restaurant owners, we need to lay this out for them so they understand. But how do we select employees who are capable of producing?

come together

Come Together, Right Now…

The reason the industry in SF succeeds, is because as I said in the beginning it is a tightly knit community. This means everyone knows everyone.  They realized quickly that more restaurants did not mean more competition it meant more people will go out to eat.  In SD we are still a bit closed off.  We hear of a new restaurant opening and restaurant owners get the chills, “I hope it is not near me.”

I do not understand this way of thinking.  Look at the areas we mentioned, Little Italy, North Park and South Park, they have become thriving districts and most the restaurants in those areas succeed.  That is as long as they produce an experience. Those that are scared, shame on you. The reason you don’t want more restaurants is because you know you are inferior and cannot compete.  More competition puts everyone one  their toes and challenges them to do their best.  Yes, they now have to work for it.

But we do not need to do it alone.  Work together. Go out and visit other restaurants. Talk with other servers and bartenders. Learn what they do best. Take the good, take the bad and make your decision on how you can improve your business.  I get so frustrated when I see below average servers and managers working at other properties. When I see people that worked with me at some point and then run into them at another establishment I cringe.  Why couldn’t they call for a reference.  We should be a close knit community and use each other for success. So if you decide to hire someone that is going to represent your brand and you do not check a reference then shame on you. You obviously do not want to thrive in the industry of hard work. If it is too difficult to pick up the phone and call for a reference then you obviously  are not invest in training and could careless about your brand.

hard work

Hard Work is Pride

Hard work can be construed as a negative. Nobody wants to work hard.  The definition of industry is the habit of working hard.  However, hard work does not mean laborous, back breaking work.  It means taking pride and putting time into what you do.  Hard work is equivalent to time, thought and passion we invest in our jobs.  In the “Industry” in SF, pride and passion were key.  People were proud of their position as a bartender, server or manager.  They invest time and energy in what they do with the intention of always looking to improve. They strive to be creative and push the boundaries.

I see this in San Diego among the craft beer and craft cocktail community.  Bartenders work hard to push the boundaries of cocktails.  They take their work home, practice and perfect their craft. Breweries work around the clock looking for the next beer flavor and improving their core beers.  There are restaurants that trying to push the dining experience.  However, as a whole I see too much complacency.  Too many restaurants open with the same formula. Managers, servers, bartenders come and go and very few retain long term employees. There is a lack of pride.

In order for a successful industry to thrive the workers need to have pride in what he or she does.  I see so many passersby in this industry and it is detrimental to the demise of our industry.  Few of these transient workers take pride in what they do. Without pride, how do we expect them to give the guest a special experience.  They are there to collect a tip, pay check and go home.  All the other steps of service during their 6 hours of work, are just steps, no thought or energy is invested.

And this comes from the top.  I firmly believe in a one of the principles of Marxism in that the employees should choose their managers.  For example, the server knows where the mice en place should best be located, the bartender knows where the well should be built.  They work those stations on a regular basis. They should hire the manger and select a manager that will help them succeed in performing those steps of service with most efficiency. The managers goal is for effective and efficient service.  The employ hires a manager which will meet this goal, a manager that motivates, teaches and is clearly there so that the employee and guest are rewarded. This means that the managers need to take pride in what they do. But how many actually do?  How many think about how to improve, educate and rise the level of their employees. How many are there because it is a job that has some sort of prestige, but really are not invested in the the long term success of the business. If a manger does not take pride in what they do, then neither will their employees. A strong staff comes from strong leadership. Leadership is not ruling and enforcing, leadership is inspiring, setting high expectations and helping people meet those expectations.  I hate when I see managers that have high expectations but do not invest the time and energy that is needed to help the staff accomplish meeting them. Rather, they watch and wait for them to fail so that they can use their power to chastise and demean.

Pride means working hard, setting high expectations and inspiring those around us.  We need to step it up in order to create a a strong industry in San Diego.  We have to take pride in what we do.  This translates to the guest as a memorable experience.  We have to get away from doing what we do because it is what we do. We need to go further and push the boundaries of our industry.

We are so close.  We need to work together as restaurants, bars and pubs and build a strong unity in order to create a thriving industry.  My challenge to you is to support other local business. Talk to them. Remove negative finger pointing and insecurity and make competition internal and not external. Reach out to others, ask questions, share recipes and ideas. Take pride in your job and inspire those around you to be their best.  Then and only then will we ever have a thriving in San Diego Restaurant Industry. I look froward to it.

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A Call for Organized Drinking

Posted on May 23, 2016

Where is wining and dining headed? It seems as though there has been a huge change in the way San Diegan’s dine. High labor costs has given rise to fast casual dining. There was a time when going out to dinner meant sitting in a restaurant, perusing the wine list, ordering a salad or starter, a main course and dessert. Today people go out to eat and order over a counter and their food is brought to them by a food runner. In order to get a drink they go to the bar open a tab and order a glass of wine, cocktail or beer. Long gone are the days of fine dining and table side service.  Restaurant owners have to change the way they do business.  They can no longer have servers, bussers, food runners, bartenders, sommeliers and baristas on the floor. The rise in minimum wages has forced them to re-think how to service the guest.

I am not writing this to complain about this new trend in restaurants. I am merely acknowledging the changes in our approach to food and beverages. Fine dining is not for everyone, many people feel uncomfortable. This new fast casual dining is quick, easy and if you have kids, makes going out painless. However, something is lost. I have a bit of nostalgia for organized dining. I don’t mean fine dining. Fine dining gets confused with penguin suits, drawn out meals and expensive wine. Organized dining is different. Organized dining involves organized drinking.

My favorite way to start a meal, pastis, absinthe or anise liqueur.

Organized drinking is the way people of the old world approach their beverage choice with their meals. In France, before going to eat you may stop off at one of the many pastis bars for a quick drink of Absinthe, Pastis or Pernod. The apéritif is the opening to the meal. We drink it so that our appetite opens open. Our digestive system loosens up allowing us to begin the meal. Today, instead of asking for a pastis we ask for a cocktail. Some cocktails are made with an apéritif but most are not. A good cocktail should be balanced with sweetness, bitterness and tartness. But so many cocktails are not balanced. When we drink a lemon drop or Mojito full of sugar it slows down our digestion. That first drink is so important, it is what will decide how we will taste the food to come.

lillet

A wine liqueur, Lillet, makes a great start. Try with soda water and lemon twist.

A good apéritif such as Pastis, Lillet or Vermouth is not loaded with sugar or alcohol. It allows your palate to open up and your taste buds to warm up. Starting off with a cocktail, beer or red wine overwhelms the palate. The carbonation scrapes your taste buds, sugar is over stimulating or the alcohol can saturate the taste buds. Beverages such as these prior to the first course can deaden the taste buds and regrettably your palate is unable to perceive the first course to the fullest.

Gose

Want to start with a beer, try a gose. It light and champagne like, sour beer. Lower alcohol and gets the palate started.

Organized drinking is choosing beverages which enhance or compliment the food. This is why traditionally we start with a glass of white wine with the first course then move on to red for the second. If we are drinking beer we would start with a lighter beer such as a lager or blonde ale and then move into something heavier that matches the food. Organized drinking allows the flavors of the dish and beverage to gel harmoniously. So often we forget to do this and drink what we want because we like it regardless of what we are eating.

Chateauneuf-du-pape

Old World wines are a better option for eating with your meal. If you like big wines and still want them to pair, Chateauneuf-du-pape might be a good choice for you.

For example, we order a glass of Cabernet or an IPA before the salad hits the table. These choices overwhelm or palate with tannins, alcohol and/or hop bitterness. When we dig into the salad we miss the nuanced flavors of the herb vinaigrette or the sharpness of the cheese. Of course we still taste the salad, but we miss out on the essence of the dish. We most likely stick with the same beverage for our main course regardless of the weight of the food. Sometimes our beverage will pair perfectly, other times it overwhelms the dish and sometime the dish destroys the beverage. Organized drinking means deciding what to drink because it compliments or augments the meal.

Madeira

Madeira is great to start if eating tapas, great to pair with salty Asian dishes, and the prefect way to end a meal. They range from dry to sweet and each is fantastic. Best of all they last for ever.

More so, what we are really missing is the finale. I don’t think we need dessert every time we eat. But we should have something to help digest. In Italy the grappa is served at the end of the meal. In Spain we may finish with a Pedro Ximenez. The last libation should be used to put a pleasant end to the meal. We do not drink enough Madeira, Port, aged rum or Cognac. These beverages have a role in organized dining. They help us digest the meal. So many times we end with dessert or something sweet. All that does is fulfill a craving. Many times it makes digestion more difficult. It brings a rush of sugar into our blood and awakens us. More thought should be put to the end of the meal. It is the time to say good-bye and goodnight. Eating in a disorganized manner causes our stomach to work double time. When it is time to sleep we are still digesting and leads to poor sleep or worse, nightmares. All it takes is finishing the meal with a digestive libation to help settle the stomach. We forget about these liqueurs. They exist for a reason, so let’s use them.

extra anejo  tequila

Cognac is a great way to and a meal, but try an anejo or extra anejo tequila in its place. You will be surprised at how complex they can be.

The next time you go out to eat, whether it is at a fast casual or a formal restaurant, think twice before you order your beverage. Put some thought into what you are eating and drinking and you will see the dining experience come to life. I also challenge restaurants to put more thought into their beverage choices. They should have options of aperitifs and digestifs on the menu so that guests can choose to eat and drink organized. As restaurants struggle with increasing labor costs, they should focus on increasing sales and offer more apertifs and digestifs.  Put them on special, train the servers and bartenders to offer them once the guest sits down. Organized drinking is a win for both the restaurateur and diner.

Try some of my other recommendations for organized drinking.

Sherry Wine

Like Madeira, Sherry can be used to start the meal or end the meal. Sherry is so under rated in the USA.

Amaro

Amaros are a great way to get the appetite going. You can find them all over the world. Here is one from Mexico.

Chinato

Instead of having another glass of wine at the end of a meal, ask for a Chinato. An aromatized wine from Italy, great to help your digestion.

xtabentun

Anise liqueurs are also a great way to end a meal. Sweeter liqueurs hit the spot. They range from Sambuca to Ouzo to this Mayan liqueur, Xtanbentun which also has honey.

 

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I Can’t Believe It Is Finally Here, COASTERRA!

Posted on August 13, 2015

Coasterra

I can’t believe that it is finally here! It has been 8.5 years in the works and this Friday Coasterra is going to open.  Coasterra is the newest CRG restaurant next to Island Prime on Harbor Island Drive.  It took the place of the Rueben E. Lee, a mock river boat which was a staple in San Diego for over 30 years.  I was lucky enough to be there the day that they pulled it away.  If you are interested in seeing the last day of the Rueben E. Lee, check out the video.

Coasterra was originally going to be called Coral, after the coral trees that grew there.  However, with the build out of the new restaurant those coral trees had to be removed.  Coral, was not going to be a suitable name for a Mexican Restaurant.  Instead, we made up a word that refers to the coast and the earth…COASTERRA.

Hijole, was this a fun project for me!  I got to dabble in everything.  When creating the wine list I decided to focus on a Latin wine list with an emphasis on Mexican Wines.  The wine list features some staples that the average wine consumer is familiar with such as California Merlot and Chardonnay.  However, I tried to keep the list focused.  Along with wines from Baja California, I also featured wines from California made by Mexican-American winemakers.  Wines from South America such as Argentinian Malbec, Chilean Carmenere and other cool stuff like a Malbec/Corvina done in the ripasso method.  Another chunk of the list is devoted to Spain.  I looked for classic Spanish wines such as Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and Priorat; but I also added Txacoli, Godello and Campo de Borja.

insurgentes brewery

Wine was fun and all.  But looking for local craft beers was just as fun.  When I mean local, I mean from Baja to San Diego.  There are quite a few new craft breweries south of the border that are making delicious beers.  Brewers such as Insurgentes, Agua Mala and Manos de Calaca are featured on the menu.

Agave Spirits

What really was rewarding was creating the Agave list.  We are featuring over 70 different agave spirits.  I think since I am a wine guy, I really prefer Tequila over any other spirit.  Whiskey, Rum and Vodka are all commodity based spirits.  Agave is dependent on vintage, production techniques and aging choices.  Just like wine.  I had a field day discovering new Tequilas, Mescals, Raicillas, Bacanoras and Sotols.  Each is its own unique style of agave.  While Tequilas are manufactured to taste clean, sweet and smooth; some of these others are handcrafted and made in the ways of our Mexican ancestors.  I will soon devote an entire post to the differences of these unique spirits.  All you need to know is that there are plenty to choose from.  You should try some of the agave flights, you may discover something new.

Malahat Rum

I spent weeks and weeks with our bar managers Lamont and Christy composing, dissecting and evaluating our cocktail program.  We expect to do a lot of volume so we tried to create a program that was do-able for bartenders in high volume all the while retaining flavor and uniqueness.  The key was fresh ingredients and the right brands.  For example, all our margaritas are 100% Blue Weber Agave, using Repos and Anejos, when we need to add some smoke to the cocktails.  I chose to use a delicious spiced rum in one cocktail called Malahat.  It is a local San Diego rum and absolutely delicious in a cocktail and on its own.  Deborah Scott chose the Coconut Margarita as her favorite and is named after her.  We also had fun with Mexi-gronis and Old fashions with a Mexican twist.  A new Tequila that just came into the market and as far as I know is only at Coasterra is Libre Tequila.  We use the Red Chile Pepper infused Tequila in our Orozco Margarita.  We also carry a Chocolate-Mint Tequila made by Libre which serves as the perfect after dinner drink.  Move over Fernet, here is Libre Chocolate Mint Tequila.

Libre tequila

We had fun picking out interesting cordials and liqueurs that have a Mexican twist.  For example, we use a Mexican Amaro called Amargo-Vallet as bitter for some cocktails.  We also use a Mexican Fernet.  There are a few Mayan liqueurs that work very well in several of our cocktails. My favorite is the Xtanbentun, a honey-anise liqueur from the Yucatan.  I am partial to anise, it was the catalyst of my first drunk at 13 years old while in Mexico at a family dinner.  There is always plenty of room for chili liqueurs.  We use Patron’s “Incendio”, a coffee chili liqueur.  My favorite is the Ancho Reyes Ancho chili liqueur.  It is spicy and smoky and makes a great addition to a beer cocktail.  Talking about beer cocktails, we serve a Tolstoy Michelada. It is a Michelada with the addition of Absolut Vodka to give it a kick.

I am super excited about this beverage program!  I am super excited about the space!  I look forward to holding wine, beer and spirit events on the floating event center called the Harbor Float.  In fact, I have one coming up September 19th.  September is California wine month and to celebrate I will be featuring 25 + wineries from Alta and Baja California on the Harbor Float.  If interested, get tickets now!

Well, it is finally here! Come and pay me a visit at Coasterra, you are going to be blown away!

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The Corkage fee: Two Sides of the Cork

Posted on April 23, 2013

corkage fee

The corkage fee is a an ongoing battle between patrons and the restaurateur.  Like everything in life there are two sides to every discussion.  While working in the restaurant business I have learned to live in the grey areas.  Although black and white is so much easier to live by, life just doesn’t allow for that.  The corkage fee discussion is one that I would like to jump into and give my “grey” point of view and hopefully give a compromise between the patron and the restaurateur. (more…)

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