Three T’s for success in running a restaurant

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 10, 2009 

One of our readers sent me a questionnaire recently asking for my advice, as an enthusiastic patron of great coffee shops and food establishments, on how to succeed in the restaurant business. Now, I could go on about the three L’s of success (location, location and location) and the administrative and marketing end of things, about which I will plead considerable ignorance. But what I’d like to offer instead is my own philosophy of the three T’s of success in the food service branch of the hospitality industry: Taste, Tidiness and Temperament, with special emphasis on Temperament.

Taste. It goes without saying that what you serve must taste good and is good value for the money. This applies as much to a simple cup of coffee as to a full-course gourmet dinner.

Now, getting a full-course meal right should be a no-brainer for professionals. But did I say “a simple cup of coffee”?

No such thing. From my own experience and investigations around town, I can assure you that the owners of several of Cochrane’s most successful coffee shops invest lots of time and money into choosing their coffee beans and brewing equipment. More than that, for weeks on end they experiment with getting the combination of quantities, temperatures and times just right so that they can deliver a great brew of dark, medium or light roast cup after cup after cup.

Chances are, if they’ve paid that much attention to getting the coffee right, then they probably will get the rest of the meal right, too.

Tidiness. What good is it to have a great meal or cup of coffee in an establishment that looks like a pigsty (no slight intended to the hog industry)? And what about unkempt or inappropriately attired serving staff? (See Mary Lou Davis’s column on employee appearance in the June 3 Cochrane Eagle.)

Fortunately, even the food itself in our town has a good reputation for tidiness. Consider the artistry of presentation in our full-service restaurants. And among our coffee shops, several have taken prizes for their latte art. Appearance counts, whether in the food, the staff, or the facility as a whole.

Temperament. Of  my three T’s, I believe this is the most important. Let’s assume nobody would likely go into any part of the hospitality business – and especially not the food service sector – if they did not intend to offer good product in a pleasing setting. There’s just too much at stake to take a risk in these two areas. This cannot just be assumed in the area of temperament, however.

The overall personality of a place is inseparable from the people who serve us, from bosses and chefs to baristas, waiters, waitresses and busboys. Their demeanour bears directly on the quality of our dining experience, whether positive or negative.

In particular, the pleasantness of the person who serves us our coffee at the counter or brings our food to the table can shape our enjoyment way beyond the food itself. The ancients well understood that a cheerful disposition can outweigh problems in other areas. Courtesy and attentiveness will draw us back to an establishment long after the memories of a too-well done steak have faded.

Nothing beats friendly eye contact and a genuine smile. Indeed, those who serve us locally have some of the most beautiful, winning smiles in the entire food industry. They come across as happy, and they make the guests at their tables happy, too.

Some years ago I had a lunchtime experience that taught me much about this quality.

Our waitress was slight of build with impeccably groomed silver hair. On this particular occasion, the dining room was packed, and if any waitress ever had reason to be in a frenzy, she certainly did. But as she moved from table to table, she exuded not frenzy, but an infectious peace and joy.

When she dropped by our table to refill my coffee cup, I commented to her on how happy she seemed in the midst of the noon-hour rush.

“Oh, I’m so glad you noticed,” she replied, then explained how every morning before leaving for work she would spend an hour or so in prayer over her job. She visualized each table she would serve and prayed that she’d be able to care for her guests at that table as if she were serving God in person. Her greatest desire was that her guests would leave happier than when they arrived.

So there we have it, folks: my three T’s for success in restaurateuring: Taste, Tidiness and Temperament. Quite frankly, however, these three T’s can be summarized in just one word replete with three T’s of its own: ATTITUDE.

Bon appetite!

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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