Guests and Service; What it’s like on both sides of the fence, part one

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There is an expectation of the guest to feel welcome, cared about, waited on and special when they decide to spend their hard earned money in the place you are trying hard to earn your money. Given that service is a big part of why guests return, it is one of the three major areas of focus for all owners. Whether it be a drive thru, a family restaurant or a fine dining venue, owners and managers strive to deliver hospitality that will be remembered, tailored to the expectations of the guest. Countless hours are spent in training, observing, correcting, fine tuning and perfecting the impossible: how to make every guest experience memorable. Think of it this way. Throw a bull’s eye every time you throw a dart. Or a ringer every time you play horseshoes. Or answer every question right on the SAT.

Sounds hard right?

That’s because it is. Every person is different. Opinions are uniquely individual as are expectations.

Fundamentally, these are the components of good service from a front of the house perspective. A genuine smile and warm welcome as you walk in. An accurate estimate of the wait time, if there is one. Another genuine smile and welcome from your server, who is actually happy to see you and very personable. A brief but complete explanation of the evening’s specials and a suggestion of what to enjoy from the drink and food menus. Knowledgeable responses to questions. Quick delivery of water, bread, if offered, and drinks. Refills that appear before you ask for them or an offer of another drink before your glass is empty. Timely delivery of food. A check on your satisfaction and needs within a few minutes of the serving of the meal. A suggestion of dessert. Timely delivery of the check. A fond farewell and invitation to return.

There are myriad other things to be done to execute stellar service, but these are the basics. And sincerity is crucial. The server must care about the guest. The most awesome thing delivered with a ho hum attitude ruins the experience. Very much like a waffle. They smell great and make your mouth water, but never taste as good as they smell. No matter how good the food is, lack of service will prevent a guest from returning. And vice versa.

If the experience in the dining room is outstanding, mediocre food will also ruin the guest experience. The kitchen has their part to play in delivering expectations. A drive through burger that is cold, a wilted, over tossed salad, tasteless entrees; all of these will also prevent a guest from returning. Why would a guest spend more of that hard earned money that we talked about in a place where they feel the value is not good? I’m not talking about $10 a person “value”. I’m talking about an experience a guest has that leaves them feeling they received what they paid for. Now, that can be a $5 burger or a $200, five-course fine dining meal, or anything in between.

We, as food and beverage professionals, work hard to determine and deliver the experience for which we are charging. From the level of service to the menu; from the ambiance to the silverware and glassware; from the beverage offerings to the server uniform, we spend much of our time identifying what it is we need to do to deliver what the guest expects for the price we are charging. A LOT of time. Daily in fact. We constantly observe, change, improve, elevate, correct, elicit feedback, observe some more, change some more, improve some more, continually train, update food and beverage menus seasonally for variety, create daily specials, and on and on and on. Every day. All to ensure the guest experience. To deliver the best product at our price point plus a little plus one so our guests return. To provide our guest a feeling of home but better. Nothing frustrates us more than an unhappy guest, a plate returned to the kitchen for any reason, or the perception of a mediocre or worse, a bad, experience. These are not what make us get up and go to work every day. We do not abuse our bodies and minds with 16 hour days, six and seven days a week, to see a plate come back only half eaten. Or to have a guest leave our establishment saying “we’ll never eat here again!”.

Bottom line? We care about what we do. We love what we do. We are a passionate group of people for whom hospitality makes our hearts beat, our minds create and our blood flow through our veins. We appreciate good service and a satisfying meal, and we check out our competition to find out how we compare. And, we are our own worst critics. Constant analysis is bred into us like chasing the hare is bred into the greyhound. We simply cannot help it. Whether it is our own operation or a joint we are trying for the first time. WE NOTICE EVERYTHING. A spotty fork, lipstick on the water glass, a grumpy hostess, a server who hates what they are doing, hot food served on a cold plate… EVERYTHING.

This makes us possibly the worst kind of guest.

So…

What kind of guest are you anyway…?

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Sunday Dinner

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Tapas. One or two bite appetizers that beg you to make a meal out of them. One of my favorite ways to dine. You start ordering; one, then three, then two and before you know it, you have sampled a dozen bites with a dozen personalities. At a good tapas joint you will find everything from simple marinated olives and stuffed dates to cool carpaccios and awesome charcuterie. All of this from what started as a slice of bread to put over a glass of wine to keep the flies out. Art from necessity.

Enter Barcelona Tapas and Bar.

It is dark and full of wood tables and dark wood booths, a bar and lots of character for a strip mall joint. The atmosphere is casual and subdued and would have remained as such had our server not appeared to grow impatient as we enjoyed moving through the menu. He started off welcoming and willing to explain dishes, but as the evening wore on, seemed put out  to have to return to our table. Too bad. He could have made a good experience great.

We decided to start with a mojito and sangria. Now, if you are going to emphasize the word bar, the drinks should stand up and beg you to order another. Ours were ok and we each had only one. Nuff said.

The tapas menu looked pretty good and $22 for all you can eat is a good deal by anyone’s standard. Commence happy time! Start with chicken tacos. Corn tortilla, seasoned chicken, pico de gallo…simple, good flavors, a great way to start. Two and three came as croquetas and beef carpaccio. Ham, manchego and parmesan croqueta is creamy and tasty drizzled with aioli. Carpaccio has great flavor with tapenade, fried onions, aioli and balsamic reduction with a crisp crostini. 3 for 3 so far.

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Now number four was memorable. Almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon drizzled in merlot reduction and sprinkled with bleu cheese. Wow. And I don’t say “wow”. Sweet dates, crunchy almond, salty bacon, fruity reduction, pungent bleu cheese. Best of the night at this point.

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Five and six are grilled artichoke stuffed with boursin cheese under tomato sauce and tilapia with capers. The artichoke was grilled nicely and who doesn’t like boursin, but the tomato sauce seemed to have an “it’s only tomato sauce” kind of attitude. Not bad but lacking flavor. Unripened tomatoes maybe. Tilapia on the other hand is cooked perfectly with capers and lemon butter. Nice!

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Time for ravioli, decent in the pasta and cheese filling, but that same tomato sauce. Spanish tortilla is standard potatoes and onion layered with egg on spicy tomato sauce. Tortilla was moist and cooked properly though a bit bland and no spicy in, yep, the same tomato sauce again.

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Stuffed mushroom finally arrived (we ordered in the first round) stuffed with chorizo and chicken topped with a shaving of parmesan. Chorizo is heavily seasoned as it should be and parmesan adds the right amount of salt. Not bad.

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Now the beef and chicken skewers arrive.  Both are cooked nicely and look good. The beef is tender and stuck with bell pepper and drizzled with merlot reduction. A welcome reprieve from the tomato sauce.The chicken is marinated but the blandness of the black bean corn salsa was a bit disappointing. Gotta have another round of dates!

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After dates round two, came fried calamari. Now you have to be careful with calamari. Overcook it by just a few seconds and you’ve got rubber bands. Not so here. Fried perfectly but with guess what? The tomato sauce!

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So here come the empanadas. I have been waiting for these. One chicken, one pork and one beef. (There might be a song in there somewhere.) All three had flavorful, moist fillings inside very decent pastry and very good house aioli. Hat trick!

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Overall, Barcelona has the right idea. The experience could be great with a bit more attention to the quality of the drinks and the quality of service. No one wants to feel as if they are a nuisance when paying for a meal. Your customer is your guest, kinda like when you have your mother over for dinner. Hospitality is priceless and profitable.

Would we return? Possibly. The food is good enough for a second try…

Three and a half toques.

Sunday Dinner

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As you may well have guessed, “Sunday Dinner” will be about…food. Eating it. Cooking it. Smelling it. Enjoying it. Sharing it.

This will be a journey through the eyes, nose, taste buds, experience and opinions of a professional chef. I have spent the better part of 28 of my 46 years on this planet in the kitchen preparing everything from simple burgers to meals for hospital patients to $500 a person dinners. I have been a line cook in restaurants and kitchen manager in a bbq joint in Colorado. A cook in a hospital and chain restaurants in Phoenix. Banquet Sous Chef, Chef Garde Manager and Senior Banquet Chef in a 4-star, 5-diamond resort in Scottsdale. I spent time as Executive Sous Chef at a 5-diamond resort in Cave Creek, Arizona and Executive Chef of a kosher cafe and catering company. Currently, I am an Executive Chef in Las Vegas, a city which boasts nearly 4,000 restaurants. Decisions, decisions.

Maybe I can give you some insight on what restaurants you might like to visit, or a particular cuisine you may wish to try. If you like to cook, there will be recipes, some personal and some I use on a daily basis, from simple to complex. Maybe a few sneak peeks inside the commercial kitchen and certainly things to watch for when dining out. I will rate restaurants from one to five toques. (That is the tall white hat some chefs wear in case you are unfamiliar with the term.)

Here is my philosophy on food:

Fresh ingredients, proper cooking techniques, proper seasoning and good textures. That’s it. You don’t need to over think it or over manipulate it. Cooking does not need to be complicated. It is not a horrible chore if you approach it with an open mind and an experimental spirit. Have fun because guess what? Even the best chefs create dishes that suck. Not everything is a winner right out of the gate. Occasionally we overcook things. We burn stuff. It happens. Deliciousness takes time, practice and experimentation.

With that said, let’s take our first foray into Sen Japan, a nice, little Japanese restaurant here in Las Vegas.

One of my favorite things to do is to get the chef’s opinion of his food from a tasting menu where he or she sends what they believe to be the best items on the menu. According to our waitress, the Omakase is that option. We decided on the 6 course for $55 per person. Not a bad deal, right?

First up, three slices of yellowtail, garlic soy, garlic chips, a thin slice of shishito pepper and a few crisp veggies for garnish. Very nice. The yellowtail was fresh and just the right amount of garlic.

Yellowtail

Next, a sashimi salad with salmon, ahi tuna, fluke, hamachi, arugula, spinach, radish, daikon and good vinaigrette with a few capers. The slightly sweet vinaigrette and the briny capers balanced the salad well. Good texture and great flavor.

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The third course of seared black cod came dressed with wasabi and a whole roasted shishito pepper. The cod was fatty, seared perfectly and delicious. The shishito was mild on my plate and quite spicy on Amanda’s. This pepper is similar to a jalapeno in that respect. Some are mild while others will burn your lips off.

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A beef filet sauced with mustard soy, garnished with asparagus and micro arugula was again perfectly cooked. Now I am not a huge mustard fan, but the combining of the soy and mustard with the slightly peppery arugula makes a dish to return for.

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The fifth course was sushi. That’s what you go for yes? Japanese restaurant=sushi. Ahi, hamachi, salmon, fluke, snapper and perfect rice with a few pieces of tuna roll for good measure. This came with a miso soup and clams that, unfortunately, neither of us cared for. However, the super fresh fish more than made up for it.

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The multi-course meal is not complete without dessert. A sweet finish to a really good meal. House made green tea ice cream is smooth and creamy with a piping hot chocolate souffle, also house made, to melt the ice cream. Outstanding.

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An integral part of any meal is the service. Attentiveness without being overbearing, a tight grasp on the menu and the ingredients each item contains, genuine friendliness and a big smile with the ability to sell, suggest and guide the diner through the experience. She was fantastic. Good attitude, always there to clear and serve promptly and answered all of our questions without hesitation. Timing from the kitchen was right on the money with never more than a few minutes between courses.

Overall a very good experience,great value, 4 1/2 toques.

My Thanksgiving/Shopping Rant

Its started again, all the posts bashing the sales on black Friday and how terrible it is that these people dont get a holiday with their family. While that may be true, it IRKS me so much as to why just Thanksgiving and retail?

No one cares about all the other people that work on those days? What about the other Holidays? Arent they just as important?

My husband is a Chef and has worked pretty much EVERY holiday for as long as I have known him. Its not Thanksgiving that bothers me the most. I would love for him to be home on Christmas, but he wont, people want to eat. How about Valentines Day, it would awesome to go on a date, but he will be feeding people on their dates. How about Mothers Day? Shouldnt I get to celebrate with the man who helped make me a Mother, oh no you all want to take your Mothers out to celebrate. Fathers Day should atleast be one day that he gets off, I mean after all he is a Father of 6 (more depending on what crazy thing Ive gotten us in to). Where are all the memes for me on those days?

Im not writing to gain pity, I’d just like to put another perspective out there. Its not just Chef’s either, there are plenty of people that work on holidays. Where is the outrage for them?

I’d like to be clear, I am thankful EVERY day that my husband has a job that provides for our needs. I dont want to imagine a life without it. So we celebrate holidays on a different day, just like Im sure many others do. Oh and BTW, last year I spoke to this very nice man working on black Friday, he told me he asked for the shift. He said he and several others do every year. They enjoy making time and a half and dont want anyone feeling sorry for them. Ahhh perspective really is everything!

I will be shopping again this Black Friday, its a fun tradition that my mom and I started years ago. I like people and the spirit of giving. Not all people are trampling each other for stuff. In fact I have always had pleasant conversations with folks and even worked as a team with complete strangers to make sure we each got those $5 hot wheel sets for our boys. Plus my foreign exchange students want to experience the craziness that is only found here in good ol Murica.

I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving with whatever it is you choose to do! But please if you are going to keep whining about the poor people working and the greed of it all, I just ask that you spread the whining evenly. You know, give all the holidays and workers their fair share of memes.

Oh and if you are out shopping, look for me. I will be in the pajama bins at Walmart looking for Hello Kitty and Spiderman, and I’ll even help you find sizes for your kids too. Because although a miracle has happened this year and I am almost done with shopping, I just cant pass up $4.50 pajamas for my littles!

Pop Belly Preschool Game

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I love to use games for homeschooling, especially with my preschoolers. Im actually a consultant with SimplyFun so I have tons of games to choose from. Today we played Pop Belly for the first time. It was a huge hit!

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Each pig has a different sized belly that you pop in. Each person chooses a color to be. They each get a little man token and a bunch of chips in their color. You play by rolling 2 dice, one has a number and one has a color. The number tells them how many chips to feed the pigs and the color tells which one to put it in. They feed two pigs at a time so they can choose one color of their choice to feed and the other one is what is on the dice.

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They take turns feeding the pigs. When one the belly pops, you count how many chips each player has and they move that many spaces on the board, except for the person that popped the belly. The winner is the one that leaves the barn first.

This game taught them:

  • colors
  • counting
  • fine motor skills
  • following instructions
  • eye hand co-ordination
  • and a little bit of strategy

This will for sure go in our rotation! If you want more info about the game or want to get it for your family check out my website at http://www.simplyfun.com/PublicStore/stores/AVandusen/AM/product/Pop-Belly,772,214.aspx.

Thanksgiving Casserole

My family loves a hamburger potato casserole that I make but I wanted to switch it up using sweet potatoes and different veggies. This is what I came up with and my family loved it! Even my Chef hubby ate two plates 🙂

I started by putting some chicken breasts in the crockpot on high in the morning. Then I poured in a bottle of this cranberry dressing I found. I love cooking chicken in the crockpot, its so easy to shred.

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About an hour before I wanted us to eat. I washed and cubed enough sweet potatoes to cover the bottom of my greased pan. I salt and peppered to taste, drizzled olive oil over them and baked at 350 for 30 minutes.

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After 30 minutes I took them out and added 2 yellow squash, 3 zucchinis, and a bunch of green beans.

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I shredded the chicken that had been cooking in my crockpot and added that to the top. I put it back in the oven for 30 minutes.

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When that was done baking, I topped it off with some dried cranberries and candied pecans.

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It was so colorful and yummy, and most of all super easy!

Hello Kitty hair bow holder

This month in our Keepers of the Faith club we are working on organization. This was the perfect timing for me to make Reanna a much needed hair bow holder. We recently re-decorated her room with a Hello Kitty theme, so we made the holder to match.

I went to Michael’s and totally lucked out with this frame. It was on clearance for $10!

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I took out the glass and cardboard backing. Im saving that for a different project. Then I got our super cute Hello Kitty ribbon.

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I just hot glued the ribbon to the back of the frame about an inch apart.

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Voila! I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, it was so easy!

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I didn’t center the ribbon, so if you are a perfectionist I’m sure that will bother you and may be something you should do. I’m just planning on putting her giant flower hair clips on the bottom row where there is more room.

Spinach Egg Bake and Overnight french toast

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As requested, here are the recipes for the yummy breakfast I made this morning.

Spinach Egg Bake

  • 20 eggs
  • 3 cups uncooked spinach
  • 2 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 4oz of Feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup milk

Crack the eggs into the pan you will be baking in. Add the milk. Cook spinach just until wilted, mix spinach in with a fork. Add in tomatoes. Sprinkle feta on top. Bake at 350 for 45 to an hour

Overnight french toast

For the french toast, I started with this recipe http://www.kludgymom.com/blueberry-cream-cheese/#_a5y_p=1071944.

We doubled ours and instead of blueberries, we used 2 cups of white chocolate chips and 1 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries. This was super yummy!

 

 

 

Preschool Craft: Firefly

In one of our summer boxes from Green kids crafts, there was instructions to make a firefly. Nicholas has been “bugging” me to make one ever since he saw it. Today was his lucky day.

Supplies needed: empty water bottle, scissors, construction paper, googly eyes, glue, pipe cleaners, and glow sticks.

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1. Crack the glow sticks

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2. Put them in the water bottle

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3. Wrap 3 pipe cleaners around the bottle, twist, and shape into legs. He needed help with this step.

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4. Wrap another pipe cleaner around the top of the bottle and form into antennas.

5. Glue googly eyes onto the bottle cap.

6. Cut out wings. I stuffed them under the middle pipe cleaner and secured with a little glue.

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7. Give to the boy so he can give you this big cheesy grin and then fly it all over the house.

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Here’s one more because he is so freaking cute!

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This was the perfect craft for him. He could actually help and it was the perfect timing for his very short attention span 🙂

 

 

Candle Embellishment

Today at our Keeper’s of the Faith club, the girls worked on candle decorating. It was so easy and the possibilities are endless once you learn the basics. 

Supplies: candles (we got ours at the Dollar Tree), tissue paper, markers, heating tool (or blow dryer), thumb tacks or something similar, and wax paper. 

1. Unwrap the candle and measure the tissue paper to fit around the candle. Make sure you make it just a bit smaller than the candle. 

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                2. Draw a picture or decorate the tissue paper anyway you like. 

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3. Take the tissue paper and wrap it around the candle. Put the wax paper, shiny side in around the tissue paper. Take your heating tool and heat the design evenly until it melts onto the candle. 

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4. Take the wax paper off and Voila! Then you can add thumbtacks as an added design. 

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Anna added thumbtacks to hers. 

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Sarah used colored tissue for her design.

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Here is a picture of all the girls and their finished candles. 

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Thanks to our awesome leader Jen,  for teaching us this skill! My mind is already spinning with ideas for gifts.