I’m worried about full service, higher end restaurants in general. Our industry demand continues to move more towards fast casual, more towards delivery and drive through, all the while another restaurant “just opened.” And another. And another. It has never been harder to find qualified staff, while its never been more expensive to pay them–as a percentage of sales, against a slim margin. I’m sure you hear this news. (I’m sure you do NOT comb the news, seeking restaurant solutions and perspectives. But some of us do!)
I think we will continue to see full service restaurants suffer and shutter–Like Papparazzi in Burlington is–in the face of mounting costs and competition. Nationally, fine dining sales are trending down around 10%. That’s no small number.
On Wednesday, we attended a seminar sponsored by the Mass Restaurant Association, hosted by Gray, Gray and Gray law offices. ”Around the restaurant industry in 160 minutes.” It was a great seminar, with industry insiders and experts addressing the various many challenges we face today–and many of them, seemingly, for always.
A common message throughout the seminar was “our people.” That while food and beverage and atmosphere and paying the right amount are all incredibly important components of remaining successful, it will be “our people” and our level of training and hospitality that will create separation.
On the way home, filled with ideas (and some dread!), my co pilot suggested we go to dinner to celebrate my birthday. Driving home from Canton we searched options–From Waltham to Burlington–and chose “Flank” because we had never been, nervous of course, knowing we could play it safe and be happy at Capital Grille–they earn that incredibly expensive check through performing all of it. Especially, training and hospitality.
Flank was good. And brave to open such a high end concept, in times like these. There were numerous gaps in service, in a relatively quiet restaurant. Not egregious gaps, just gaps. (Forgot the bread, didn’t clear dirty plates, forgot to check back when food arrived.) The food was good enough. The steak, really good. For $40, it has to be! The burrata salad, the twice baked, the bread, the service, all just ok. (The teamwork was great–numerous servers checked in on us at times or delivered food.)
But, the biggest miss at Flank was the manager. Present the entire time we ate, he was told when we arrived that: It was my birthday, that we chose them over Capital Grille, that we had never been there before. ALL opportunities to take an interest in our table. And yet, while in the room the entire time, only feet from where we sat, he missed the dirty plates, the lagging course, the empty glasses–and 90 minutes of opportunity to direct better service, or to stop by our table to check in. Or any table. Just to say “Hey, how’s things?” What he didn’t miss was the Red Sox game. It was not busy–a golden opportunity to romance the guests, to insure return visits. It is brave to “compete” in attempting to curate a Capital Grille like experience–to play on a field where an average check approaches $100 per person. Flank fell short–though maybe good enough for Waltham. Time will tell.
I write this blog with proper concern that my own managers remember to stop by each and every table, to insure proper service and food, to be present to properly correct errors, to train and support the young and inexperienced staff, and above all else, to perform hospitality and welcome above all others.
Survival of the fittest. We MUST be great.