Archive | July 2014

It All Starts at the Top

Welcome back to Soupfly


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It all starts at the top-the culture, the standards, the expectations and the execution or the lack of it.  It all begins with leadership. This is true of any business-Restaurant industry included.  How  engaged an owner is will determine how engaged his management is.  And in turn, that will inform and effect how engaged the staff will be.

Have you ever worked at a job where the owner and managers just didn’t really seem to care?  They’re  hardly ever around.  You always have to track them down when you need something?  How frustrating that can be for an employee.  Eventually, the staff takes on the same “I don’t care” attitude.  Others will either revolt or end up leaving.  How many talented, focused and driven individuals have moved on from a company because the owner/management were not engaging?  They didn’t engage their staff, their employees and they sure did not engage their customers.  How sad a situation that is.

It seems that often that is commonplace in the Restaurant Industry these days.  People think that if they put some money into a restaurant-Voila!  Automatically they are a restaurateur.  They treat the business like an investment-expecting a great return on their money and being completely disengaged from the business.   But a business, any business and especially the restaurant business requires a lot of love and attention and, as we mentioned last week-Passion.

If you turn on the TV and watch any of the restaurant rescue kind of shows-you’ll understand that I’m not just making this up. There’s a plethora of shows that feature owners who really don’t know what the heck they’re doing, they have no knowledge, experience or training in the Service and Hospitality side of the business, or they just plain have no passion for it  and they need HELP.

Restaurant Stakeout

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Shows like Restaurant Stakeout, Mystery Diners and Bar Rescue, to name a few, all portray the above scenario.  Willie Degel on Restaurant Stakeout says “You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know what it is”.  And you can’t know what’s going on when you’re not there unless you have cameras in the restaurant to catch your staff doing all the crazy shenanigans they do.  -Of course, I’m paraphrasing what he actually says.  But that’s the gist of it.  I know that these shows do help the owners very often.  But my question is-Why aren’t the owners involved enough or engaged enough in their business to know what’s actually going on?  What’s with needing all those cameras?

While I do enjoy watching said shows-it seems to me that there must be a better way.  Certainly, if the owners actually had a passion and a desire for this business, if they functioned as true leaders they wouldn’t be in the situation they find themselves in when they call Willie Degel, or Jon Taffer or Charles Stiles.  I mean, if you’ve ever watched any of these shows you’ll know see my point. It’s not uncommon for them to find rotten chicken in the kitchen, dead rats behind sofas in the bars, mold and fungus growing in the bar area or in the walk-in cooler.  These things don’t just happen overnight.  This is when there is no leadership, the owner doesn’t care, so the manager is not going to break their back trying to worry about things.  And ultimately, the staff follows suit.   These things just don’t happen when owners care and they create a culture of caring around them.  And when they establish certain standards of excellence for all their staff to ascribe to.  It all starts with leadership or the lack thereof.

Why does an owner have to have his restaurant outfitted with numerous surveillance cameras if he were actually involved and present in his own business.  If the owner acted like a true leader, setting examples for his staff/ his entire team, they wouldn’t have to call Restaurant Stakeout.  Sorry Willie.  I love the show but I think you get my point.

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I’ve certainly experienced the above.  I worked  at more than one job where the owner was so disengaged, they were completely unaware of what was going on in their business nor did they seem to care or want to know.  That atmosphere does not breed teamwork or pride in one’s work or any feeling of satisfaction.    Patrick Lencioni talks about this very thing in his business fable-THREE SIGNS OF A MISERABLE JOB.  At that point, employees will be coming to work  just for the money and doing only the very bare minimum required.

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I’ve also had the great privilege of working in establishments where the owner is a true servant leader.  He leads not by exerting authority but by influencing, motivating and inspiring his staff/employees.  One place that comes to mind is Vin de Set in Saint Louis, Missouria French Bistro with an American twist.  The Executive Chef/part-owner at the time I worked there was Ivy Magruder.  He personified the spirit of servant leadership.  He not only ran the kitchen.   He would often run the host stand and greet and seat guests.   He would walk the dining room floor asking us servers if we would like him to open a bottle of wine for our table if we were busy, or bring out our appetizers to a table.   He would often be found at the end of the evening assisting the dishwasher get caught up with dishes.  There was absolutely no job that was below him or that he was unwilling to do.  Not only that, but he was/is so completely passionate about the food, the wine and ensuring that each guest has a wonderful dining experience that anyone who worked with him-if they weren’t passionate about the same-they either caught it from him or they left.  Chefs and owners like Ivy show us what true Hospitality is all about.    I only worked with Ivy for a short period of time but I count it as one of my best work experiences and it was so refreshing compared to some other places I’ve worked.  I learned so much about both leadership and service.  They really go hand in hand.  Robert Greenleaf said “Good leaders must first become Good Servants.”

Currently Ivy is the Executive Chef at Panorama at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

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Recently, when my wife, Michelle and I were traveling  together with her daughter, Melissa, we met  some other owners who exemplified that same type of leadership and passion.



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First, a couple months ago we took a trip to the beautiful, Southern California coastal town of Santa Barbara.  While there were so many wonderful things we experienced on that trip-(and why not, for it’s Santa Barbara?) the dinner we had on our last night there was  absolutely Amazing.  It was a Saturday night, we had no reservation and we weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to eat.  We had a couple of choices in mind in the same vicinity, so we took a taxi and asked  to be dropped  off at Victoria street.


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We had Bouchon on our list, we saw the beautiful patio and decided we would eat there.  No reservation on a busy Saturday night and yet, within minutes the host had us seated.  The decor was beautiful-the patio was actually enclosed, not just a few tables strewn along the sidewalk as some restaurant’s patio seating is.    Bouchon sources fresh local ingredients and “prepares them with care” and with the local Santa Barbara wine accompaniments in mind.  They were doing what is now called “Farm to Table” long before that became a thing.

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As  bottled water was being poured, and bread being brought to our table, I noticed a gentleman in his late 40’s/early 50’s who was bussing tables, pouring wine and greeting tables.  I said to Melissa and my wife, “I bet that gentleman over there is the owner.”   And why did I think that?  Well, because he acted like it.  He acted the way I would if I owned my own restaurant.  He had such an enthusiasm and cheerfulness about him.  He truly seemed to care about every aspect of  every task he was doing and about each guest as he would approach a table.  He wasn’t necessarily engaging every guest-as in asking them how everything is.  In fact when he came to our table to assist in bringing out our first course, I was the one who engaged-asking him, “Are you the owner?”  Sure enough, I was correct.  Mitchell Sjevern has been the owner of Bouchon Santa Barbara for 16 years but he had the same passion and excitement of a brand new restaurateur starting out in this business.  He was operating as the director of an orchestra.   And guess what?  It wasn’t just Mitchell who exuded such passion.  Rather, every staff person who approached our table-whether the runner who brought out our food, or the server who guided us through the menu-(Michelle had the duck which she said was fantastic-she also raved about the blue cheese tart. Melissa loved the lamb and my Seabass was the best I ever had) and the wine list with wonderful suggestions, or the Sommelier, who,  when he wasn’t pouring wine for guests, was seating  and greeting and even clearing tables.

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From the moment the Host greeted us to the last  last drop of wine and everything in between-the Dinner, the Service-Everything was impeccable.  And we all said “Wow! That’s what it’s all about.  That’s how it’s supposed to be and the staff at Bouchon Santa Barbara show how it can be done.

I don’t know if Vin De Set had cameras while I was working there.  Nor do I know if Bouchon Santa Barbara does.  The point is that when you have engaged and involved owners and management they know what’s going on in their establishment.  They set standards, they lead by example and they create a culture where the staff are excited to come to work  and to create and provide exceptional dining experiences for their guests.  These type of Service Professionals are too busy serving their guests to know if what they do is being caught on camera.  And if it is let’s get the tape and show others how it should be done.

“If you are the owner, your job is to be so great at what you do that employees aspire to be just like you.  If you are the employee, your job is to be so great that customers mistake you for the owner!  Regardless of the size of your company, regardless of who you are or what you do, act like an owner!” (AMAZE EVERY CUSTOMER EVERY TIME by Shep Hyken)


As I write this thinking about my wife, Michelle, reading this later-she’ll surely ask me when we are planning to go back there again.  Soon.  Soon, my Love.




I recently had the privilege of interviewing Mitchell Sjevern for my upcoming best seller-GETTING TO WOW! First Class Restaurant Service for his insights on creating exceptional Wow! dining experiences.


To be continued…

Thank you so much for reading.  If you would like to receive an email when a new post of Soupfly is published please hit the Follow button below.

Also, I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, insights etc.  And as always, Thank you so much for Liking on Facebook and Sharing and Inviting your friends to do the same.

God bless you all,

Go have some soup.

Christoff J. Weihman

Aspire Enterprises

Las Vegas, NV








A Passion for Serving (Soup) and a Love for the Game

You must have passion in order to succeed. If success is to be yours, it will be yours while you are following your passion. You won’t succeed doing something you despise, you won’t even succeed doing something that you like doing, you will succeed when you do what you love, what you’re passionate about. Michael Jordan
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Welcome back to Soupfly.  So, what in the world does Michael Jordan have to do with Excellence in Service?  One word-PASSION.  What does it take to be an Exceptional Server? What does it mean to be the Best?  At the Top…The Cream of the Crop?  (First of all-I don’t know what “Crop” people are talking about when they say that.. Corn, beans?  I don’t know. Ok. Disregard that.)  Michael Jordan was the Best.  I know some of you will dispute this and say “No, Kobe Bryant is. Or Lebron James is.” I know some say Lebron is king but that must be with a small “k” because everybody knows that Elvis is the King

Well, according to Wikipedia: Many of Jordan’s contemporaries label Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time.[139] An ESPN survey of journalists, athletes and other sports figures ranked Jordan the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century, above icons such as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali.[144] Jordan placed second to Babe Ruth in the Associated Press‘s list of 20th century athletes.[145] In addition, the Associated Press voted him as the basketball player of the 20th century.[146] Jordan has also appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated a record 50 times.[147] In the September 1996 issue of Sport, which was the publication’s 50th anniversary issue, Jordan was named the greatest athlete of the past 50 years.[148]

I think most people will agree that Michael Jordan was indeed one of best athletes of all time. How long has it been since he’s played?  Nearly 20 years and yet to this day-he is the Standard by which other basketball players are judged.  You may think Kobe is better than Jordan was or that Lebron is better than Jordan was.  But the fact remains-Jordan is the one that everyone is compared to.  No one else.  The question is always, “Is he (fill in the blank) as good as Jordan was?”  

Although there are many factors, I believe one key ingredient that anyone, who wants to be at the top of their game, must have is Passion.  Or as Jordan called it “A love for the game.”   Jordan not only had it.  He exuded it.  He lived it.  He breathed it.   While he certainly had natural ability when it came to sports and specifically basketball-that alone was not enough to ensure him success.  In fact, when he  tried out for the varsity basketball team in high school as a Sophomore-he did not make the team.  So what did he do?  Did he quit?  No.  He played on the Junior Varsity team and became the star of the squad.  And during the summer he trained rigorously.  He became a student of the game.  He earned a spot on the Varsity squad the next year and the rest is.. well, you know…


“Love what you do and the do what you love.”  “Is the life you live the life you love?”  “Do what you love and the money will follow.”  These are pretty well known phrases and philosophies.  But does this mentality only apply to a sport, the arts or some other such pursuit?  Surely one can have passion for a sport, or for music but what about for Service?  

As I’ve been interviewing various individuals-from Servers and Bartenders, to Chefs, Restaurateurs and others for my book-GETTING TO WOW! First Class Restaurant Service-there is one recurring theme that always comes out-Passion.  It’s stated in many different ways by these individuals but every single one of them says something like-“As I was at culinary school, I really enjoyed the creativity I was able to express through food but when I began  working in the Front of the House-the dining room, I really fell in love with the Service side of the business.”  Or:   “In order to be successful in this industry you really have to have a Passion for people and for caring about their dining experience.”    And I completely agree with them.  

The actual original definition of “passion” is “to suffer”.  So, being passionate about something means “to be willing to suffer for what you love”. (from the book, Aspire, by Kevin Hall)   


If you are in this business-the Food and Hospitality World and you don’t love it-you ultimately will not be successful at it.  This is a really tough business in so many ways.  It is super high stress.  There are often long hours required.  Your life schedule becomes topsy turvy.  You don’t have control of your nights and your weekends.  

But on the flip side-if you do enjoy it and if you can find your passion in providing exceptional service and in creating memorable dining experiences for your guests-then the rewards you receive will be manifold.  Yes, you can make fantastic money working as a Server or Bartender but I’m not talking just about the money.  I’m talking about the satisfaction, the gratification, the feeling of fulfillment when you bring happiness to someone.  When a group of guests walk into your restaurant and maybe they have an idea of what to expect or maybe they don’t but after 1 1/2 or 2 hours or more of being your dining guests, they walk out not just fully satiated but completely content beaming with happiness and gratitude.  It’s really an amazing feeling to experience that.

It’s really pretty easy to tell if a person-a Server, is doing this just for the money or if they truly have a Passion for this business.  It’s evident to you, if you’re their co-worker and their only focus is seeing how much money they can squeeze out of/make off each guest.  If they have a guest who is just ordering the bare minimum-maybe a glass of wine rather than a bottle, an entree but no appetizer-no salad, does that Server’s attitude and focus and level of attention begin to slide because they know they are not going to make that big of a tip off that table?  The guest certainly becomes aware of it as well.  Is there a pleasant happy greeting by the Server to the table of 6 but all of sudden the original upbeat positive attitude turns sour when all but 2 of the 6 guests say, “I’ll just have water.”?  What happened to that cheerful guy who said he was here to “take care of us”?

We know that sometimes there will be guests that don’t tip well, don’t order much of a meal and really maybe don’t know what it means to dine out or to have a dining experience.  And there will be some people who just can not be satisfied no matter what is done for them.  But those guests are few and far between.  Most people that come to your dining establishment, where ever that may be-want to be your guests and want to experience the great food and ambience and service that you and your establishment have to offer.

 I interviewed a friend of mine yesterday, Greg DaLuz who currently works at the newest  restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip-Giada-the namesake of Celebrity Chef-Giada De Laurentiis.    images

 He told me that he considers himself more than images (4)a Server and in fact he views his job as to ‘Host your dinner party’ at Giada.  He says he is a “Dining Experience Coordinator”   I love that phrase that he coined.  But more important than the phrase, is the attitude behind what is said.  That makes me want to take my wife out to dinner at Giada all the more.   Greg, obviously, is someone who has a Passion for this business. And a genuine care and concern for his guests.  His enthusiasm is uncontainable when he talks about food and wine-whether he’s serving his guests or he is recounting his own experience of enjoying being a  guest himself.  

When one has Passion or “a Love for the Game”, to quote Jordan, it will lead to becoming a student of the game.  If you are in this Food and Hospitality Industry, are you a student of your game, your craft, your industry?   Do you study and practice your craft?  Or do you just show up for your shift each day hoping that the day or the night goes well for you?  Have you been in this business for so long that you feel that there really is nothing left for you to learn or to practice?

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Anyone who wants to excel and be their best will be willing to do whatever it takes to reach that level.  Yes, your management should provide ongoing training and education for you but if they don’t, you should take it upon yourself to study and learn more.  The more knowledgeable you become the more helpful you can be for your guests.  I’m not talking about knocking your guests over the head touting your superior food and wine knowledge . But being able to share insights and information with them at the appropriate time is often welcomed.

The more you learn about your industry, the food and wine that you serve and the skills of great service and hospitality-the better you will feel about your job.  And that, in turn will rub off, resonate or vibrate with your guests in a positive manner, causing them to be happy and have a more enjoyable dining experience.  They, in turn, will compensate you with a more generous tip (most of the time) (*PLEASE NOTE-THIS IS NOT A GUARANTEE-THERE ACTUALLY WILL BE SOME TIMES WHEN YOU PROVIDE OUTSTANDING SERVICE AND YOUR GUESTS, FOR WHATEVER REASON, WILL NOT PERCEIVE IT AS SUCH  OR WILL BUT JUST WON’T TIP YOU ACCORDINGLY.  Please do not hold me responsible)   They will also, often, commend you to your management and recommend you to their friends and family to ask for you when they come in.  Which in due time they could become your regulars.  Not a bad cycle to begin, right?

Am I saying that everyone who works in this business must have a burning passion for the Food and Hospitality industry from day one?  No, not at all.  And yes it is true-every manager, owner, chef and restaurateur that I have interviewed has told me- “I can teach and educate my staff on points of service, on the food, the wine, etc but one thing I can’t teach them is how to truly genuinely care for their guests.”

Passion cannot be taught nor bought.  But I do believe it can be caught.  If you surround yourself with people that have that burning desire, that passion, then either you’ll catch what they’re sending out or you will not want to be around them anymore.  So take heart, if you don’t have a passion for this business and you are just biding your time until you’re finished with college or until you get what you consider ” a real job” I would recommend that you connect with someone who obviously does have the Passion and ask them what is it about this business that they love so much.  And maybe you too will catch the flame.

Michael Jordan said he had “a love for the game“.  To me that means exactly that-the game.  I don’t know if he loved practicing hundreds of free-throws everyday, or doing wind sprints or other conditioning exercises.  He didn’t say he loved the “Practice”.  But one has to go through the hours and days of the tough stuff, the grueling practices to get to “The Game”/Game Day. That’s where “being willing to suffer for what you love” comes into play.


Likewise, in this business, I’m not sure if my friend Greg (that’s not him in the picture), ‘loves” polishing silverware, or wine glasses or folding hundreds of napkins or doing any number of the myriad of “practice activities’/sidework that is required and must be done every day in every restaurant.  But they are necessary for the restaurant’s success.   

I used to do some acting when I lived in LA a few years back. I have a friend, Carey Dunn who writes, directs and produces his own plays.  He has a Passion for theater.  He’d do it if he made money or not.  


When I was doing plays back then with Carey,  I don’t recall any of my co-actors saying how much they “love” memorizing lines over and over again.  They have a Passion for acting-a love of the game.  But in order to be ready for the stage, one has to spend hours practicing their craft, honing their skill, sharpening their reflexes.  You have to put in the work, they say. 

But finally, after all the memorizing and getting into character, after all the free-throws and strength conditioning, after all the sidework and silverware polishing, now comes Game Day. Now comes the Performance. Up goes the curtain and  Dinner Service begins.  The guests are your fans, your audience. And your role tonight is that of a Dining Experience Coordinator, The Creator of an Exceptional Dining Experience for your guests.  The tips they give  and the Smiles on their faces as they leave are their applause to you for giving a good show, a great performance.  BRAVO! BRAVO!

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A Greeting, A Seating and Setting the Tone


Welcome back to another serving of Soupfly


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In order to create an exceptional dining experience all the time, everywhere for everyone, there are so many factors that must work in harmony with each other.  Every component is so vital and so important that if even one, seemingly small part, is missing, it’s like listening to the music of a beautiful orchestra with just one obo out of tune and  hitting a flat note.  That one part being out of sync can turn what potentially is a very wonderful experience into something less than pleasant.  That one instrument, that one musician is messing up the entire concert.  The very first notes of the symphony literally and otherwise,  SET THE TONE  for the entire experience to follow.

So it is in the Restaurant Business.  The importance of the Host, Hostess or Maitre D (henceforth I may refer to them as HHM) performing their responsibilities in an excellent manner cannot be overstated.  And yet so many times it is the one position that is so undervalued, under recognized and certainly, often under compensated in the Service Industry.

I’m sure you may have experienced something similar to the following:  Upon arriving at a restaurant whether with my wife or a group of friends, we are often greeted by the Host or Hostess at a restaurant with a one word question, “Two?” ; “Four?” Or if they feel like going all out they may say something to the effect of: “Is there four?”  “Will there be four?”

To which I, with my bit of sarcasm-sorry-might reply; “Four what?”  And to that, their response is often, “Are there four of you?” OR “Four people?”

No “Hi”.  NO “Hello, Good evening,”  NO “Welcome, sir, ma’am,  to ABC Bistro.”   Why oh why is this such a common occurrence?

If I may, let me address all the Hosts, Hostesses and Maitre’ D’s out there.  Your job is so very important.  You may not feel it or believe it sometimes.   You may never have really been told so.   But it truly is vital to the success of your establishment.  The manner in which a guest is greeted as they enter a restaurant truly Sets the Tone for  their entire dining experience.  We’ve all heard and been taught that “First impressions are lasting impressions.”  And “You only get one chance to create a first impression.”  These are not just cliches but they are absolutely 100% true statements.

When a guest walks into an establishment and they have to wait to even be greeted or acknowledged-that’s not good.  Or if they are only greeted with a grunt of “Two?”  Or they are greeted by a host or hostess that has a less than pleasant attitude, or is chewing gum, or eating, or more focused on their cell phone than on their patrons standing in front of them-that doesn’t set a great tone for how this dining experience is going to be.  It doesn’t set  a high bar for their expectations.

A guest needs to be welcomed warmly and made to feel welcome as they enter your establishment and feel happy as they are exiting.  Whether one is a “regular” at the place or a first time guest-every one who walks in the door should be made to feel special.  They need to feel like you’ve been expecting them all along and that you are so glad that they are here.

How do you feel when you go to your best friend’s house?  Or better yet, your Grandmother’s house?  Think back to when you were a kid and you were going to visit your Grandma.  How did you feel?  I’ll bet pretty great, right?   She always knew how to make you feel like you were the absolute most important person in the world.  Right?  Why is that?  Well, because to your Grandma-you were.    I know I was.  Or at least I felt that way. Maybe some of you still are.  That’s how you need to make your guests feel who come into your restaurant and it begins with the Host, Hostess, Maitre DHHM).   Your position is crucial to the success of the entire operation.

Imagine this: A guest or group of guests comes to your restaurant and not only do you greet them warmly  and welcome them with a pleasant smile and a cheerful upbeat-“Good evening, Welcome to ABC Bistro.  How are you all this evening?”, But you even go one step further and one or two of you on the HHM team actually Opens the Door for the guests!  This may be perceived by some to be a very small gesture but it carries such a great impact.  And what do you think might be going through the mind of those guests?  Maybe something like; “Wow! We’ve barely stepped foot inside the restaurant and we already have a feeling that this is going to be a great dining experience.”  


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Next, as the guests are being escorted to their table, the hostess is not walking twenty feet in front of them racing to put the menus down on the table.  Rather, she is walking  just slightly ahead of the group of guests and looking back at them engaging them in conversation.  “How has your day been so far?, she asks one of the group.  Next, she says; “What are you celebrating tonight?” She then tells them that she heard in the meeting that they just got in some freshly harvested Morels and says, “I don’t know if you all are fond of mushrooms but the chef has a few specials featuring fresh Morels tonight.  Be sure to ask your server about them. Especially the Morel mushroom soup.”


Put yourself in the place of those patrons.  Now that you have been welcomed, greeted, escorted and seated by an enthusiastic, pleasant and upbeat HHM, the Tone Has Been Set.  When  the server arrives a few moments later at the table, you are in  a pleasant mood and you are confidently expecting a wonderful dining experience.  And that is all due to the HHM doing more than the all too common; “Two? Ok.  Follow me. Enjoy” routine.

The Server, now picks up the baton of Excellent Service that the HHM has handed off to him.  I’m not saying that  the responsibility of setting the tone and setting the expectations of the guest lies solely with the HHM team.  It absolutely does not.  And it really is incumbent upon that server to carry on and capitalize on what was begun by the effective HHM.  Heck, his job is already half done for him.  (Don’t tell any server, I said that.)    However, you (HHM) are on the front, front lines.  You are the first ones that the guests interact with.  It all begins with you.


The Restaurant business is certainly not the  only industry that has  an HHM type position.  What we are really talking about here is any public facing, customer interacting, front lines position in any business.   Whether you work as a host or hostess at a restaurant, a front desk clerk in a hotel, a receptionist at a doctor’s office, law firm or  car dealership, a customer service representative  or a clerk at the DMV-YOU  are the one who creates the first impression and the customer perception of that business.  I saw a plaque on a receptionist’s desk at a huge fortune 500 company one time that read: Director of First Impressions.    And that- each of you in those and similar positions absolutely and truly are as well.

 And if ever the misfortune of a Soupfly does happen, there is a greater chance of a strong and positive recovery happening because then it’s just a mistake that can be remedied because the Director of First Impressions (YOU)  did their job properly and effectively.

*****NOTE-There is so much more that I could mention about the various responsibilities that an effective HHM has in the Restaurant business and I’ll be covering that and many more topics  in depth in my soon to be published Best SellerGETTING TO WOW!! First Class Restaurant Service



Thank you so much for reading.  Please be Sociable and Share


Christoff J. Weihman

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2014. 3 Comments

When the World brings you soup and there’s a fly in it-Part 2

Continued from part 1


Welcome back to another serving of Soupfly.   As we discussed previously, the Soupfly, as well as being an actual literal event, (the soup with a fly in it) it more often is a metaphor  for what could go wrong in restaurant service.

The restaurant business is filled with so many variables and unforeseen and oftentimes uncontrollable circumstances.  Circumstances that the server often feels powerless to have any effect over.  The Restaurant Business/Food and Beverage industry seems to be unlike any other.  You’re not selling a car,  a tailored suit, a Starbucks coffee or even a set of Encyclopaedias.  In any one of those examples, you the seller and they, the buyer, pretty much know what to expect.  If you sell someone a Honda Accord-that’s what they’ll get.  And they get to actually test drive the vehicle and see the actual product before  taking ownership of it.  They don’t have to wonder if they’ll get a Honda with an Anaconda in it.  Unless they’re buying one in the Republic of Myanmar (Burma).

If you are in retail, same situation-your customers actually see and even try on what they’re buying as they select it.  There’s no mystery in what they’re going to get- well maybe in online shopping.   Yes, I know this is all very basic.   We all know this.  I’m just saying this to make my point.  In this business, however, your guests at the restaurant do not get to try it before they buy it. Nor do they have the privilege of test driving a bunch of different samples.  “I’ll try some of the nachos, the fried calamari and the sliders.  They all sound very good.  Let me just taste of few of each, then I’ll let you know which one I’m actually going to decide to buy.”  Of course that’s not gonna happen.  That would be ludicrous.  My point?  Sometimes there’s going to be a Soupfly-Steak not done to  guest’s specifications, Risotto is waaaay too salty, The server brings you soup and there’s no fly in it but he does spill it all over your lap.  Ow!

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There’s a myriad of things that can happen and do happen.  Mishaps, accidents and mistakes.  Human error and otherwise.  Circumstances that are less than pleasant.  Some avoidable, some maybe not.  Some even painful.

The question is how do you respond when a Soupfly happens?  Do you fly off the handle?  (Ok maybe a bit of a pun there. Sorry.)  Do you blame the kitchen staff or look for others to point at?  Do you become defensive and make it about you?  Do you empathize with your guest and show true care and concern?  Or do you argue with the guest or someone else about who really is at fault?  Do you ignore the guest complaint and just act as if it didn’t even happen?   Do you suddenly go on a smoke break and disappear so you don’t have to “deal with it”?

Unfortunately, I’ve either witnessed or personally experienced  co-workers, managers and even owners respond to Soupflies in all of the above ways.   Perhaps sometimes when something as unpleasant as a Soupfly happens, the server may think that now this guest’s dining experience is ruined and that they’re bound to leave here-the restaurant-upset, angry and bad-mouthing the establishment.  It’s a foregone conclusion.

Well, I don’t believe that.  Why?  Because  it has also been my experience that the exact opposite is absolutely possible.  Any Soupfly incident, I believe, can be turned around  and the end result  the guest leaves having had a Wow! dining experience.  Is it easy to do?  No, but it is entirely possible.  You may think that the odds are not in your favor but I actually believe that they are.

Steps for Responding to a Soupfly situation:




1.  Apologize and Accept Responsibility for whatever the incident is-mistaken food brought out, improperly prepared, a spill, a miscommunication.  It doesn’t matter what the incident is.   Apologize sincerely.  But don’t say things like “I’m sorry you don’t know what a medium rare rib-eye steak is supposed to look and taste like, sir.”  It does not matter who caused it or how it came about.  You are on the frontlines.  Don’t blame the kitchen.  And Do Not Make Excuses.  Your guests do not care, nor do they need to know that you are understaffed tonight, that it’s the cook’s first night on the job, etc.  Excuses do not make your guest feel comforted.

2.  Be Humble and Don’t be Argumentative   By following these first two steps alone, oftentimes the intensity of the situation can be diffused.  It’s like letting the opening the valve and letting the steam out.  If you say to your guest, “Sir, Ma’am, I am so very sorry that this happened.  It is my fault. Please forgive me. We are going to fix this right away.”  They most likely are going to forgive you.  How can you argue with someone who is offering no resistance?  You really can’t.

However, it seems that often what happens instead, is that the server,  or the manager offer a half-hearted, feebly spoken, “I’m sorry”.  But that’s never followed with  “please forgive me”.  “I’m sorry” is just the first half of an apology.”  Without saying “Please forgive me”, it’s incomplete.  

3.  Communicate Immediately with your Supervisor/Manager/Chef/Owner-whomever is in chargedirectly above you  They must be made aware of the situation.  You should never, ever just keep the incident to yourself-no matter how seemingly insignificant the situation may appear to you to be.  You spilled some wine on the guest but it was white wine and it didnt’ really leave a stain.  And they said not to worry about it.  It actually may be no big deal but your manager must be told so that they can address the situation, offer them compensation  and not be surprised at the end of the evening when the guest complains as they’re walking out the door.  As long as the guest is still inside the restaurant and preferrably still seated, there’s always opportunity to make a Recovery.

4.  Recovery Mode  This is now where the opportunity to woo your guest back and Wow! them takes full affect.  How do you do this?  There’s really no cut and dry method but I believe it begins with maintaining that humble attitude and communicating your desire to still make this an excellent dining experience for your guest.  You may even state that to them, saying something to the effect of: “Sir, Ma’am, Mr So and So,  My friends, (however you address them)  I know we dropped the ball at the beginning but it’s still my desire to make sure you leave here happy that you came to dine here with us tonight.”  

Don’t ever ask your guest what they want you to do to make up for the Soupfly.  You must offer and make suggestions.  If their food was prepared improperly or it’s too salty or cold or whatever the case may be you-the server (and sometimes the manager) must make decisions and take the proper action that will make the situation right.  Do not put your guest in the uncomfortable situation of them having  decide what should be done.  They are the guest.  Make them feel welcome and put them at ease.

Next, it’s time for action. Fix the problem.  Refire the proper food.  Help clean up a spill.  Tell them the restaurant will take care of the drycleaning bill, etc.   One other reason it’s so important that you communicate with your manager about the Fly in the Soup is that now you can enlist them and the kitchen’s help to win your guest back.  A special appetizer, another specialty cocktail or bottle of champagne.  There are so many things that can be done to let your guests feel special.  Accidents happen.  People make mistakes.  Even chefs.  Now we move on.

I wouldn’t recommend reiterating or commenting on the Soupfly incident repeatedly over the course of the rest of the evening.  What’s done is done.  Now you focus on providing exceptional service and you have the opportunity to  Wow! them.  Be Creative.  Don’t just say “We’ll just take it off the bill.”  This happens all too often and that is Definitely NOT providing excellent service.  That is the absolute bare minimum that should be done.

A Soupfly is an Opportunity.  They will happen.  Be ready, be prepared and believe that you can turn the situation around.

One last thought-First impressions are so important in every business.  But maybe even more so in the restaurant business.  How a guest is greeted and seated, how the server approaches a table, and a host (I know-another pun) of other factors  all work together in setting the tone for a guests dining experience.  Perhaps if the right tone is set from the beginning-then, if a Soupfly does unfortunately occur-it is much easier to get to a successful Recovery.  Next post we’ll examine exactly that: SETTING THE TONE


I would love to hear about your personal Soupfly experiences-preferably the positive ones.  Either when you were the guest and a Soupfly was turned into a positive experience or you were the server, manager or owner and you successfully turned the situation around to Wow! your guests in spite of the Soupfly.  Please share your stories and experiences in the Comments.

Thank you

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When the World brings you soup and there’s a fly in it


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I’m in the process of writing-well, actually, finishing a book about restaurant service entitled, Getting to Wow! First Class Restaurant Service

So, why wouldn’t my blog be the same title as my book?  Good question.  For one, I think it’s catchy-“Soupfly”.  But beyond that, since my book is about Service-and First Class Restaurant Service- I wanted a title that would be memorable.  Of course, I could call my blog-“Excellent Restaurant Service”.  But then you’d be compelled to remember-wait, was it “Restaurant Service Excellence”? or “Excellence in Restaurant Service”? or… you get the idea.

So… -yep, Soupfly, it is.  Yes, I’ve made it a compound noun.   That’s right-Soupfly.  No, it’s not in the dictionary.  But someday it may be.

Now to be forthright-I hate when people say-“to be honest with you”.  Well, what have you been until now?  Less than honest?  But I digest.  Digress.

Actually, in all my years of working in the service industry-I have never seen a fly in someone’s soup, ever.   We’ve all heard Alannis Morisette sing of “a black fly in your Chardonnay”.   And that may make more sense and be more realistic, perhaps, but it certainly is not  quick and easy to type.  Nor is it short and sweet and a great name for a blog.   A BLACK FLY IN YOUR CHARDONNAY.  More likely, it would be a fruitfly in your Chardonnay.  But this is my blog and I like my title so, hence it is now and ever shall be called SOUPFLY.  Unless I decide to change it.

Aside from all the above drivel, (or is it drivvel?), let’s be serious for a moment.  The concept of Soupfly is actually the antithesis of Excellent Restaurant Service and it presents an opportunity to respond in a way that allows you to provide exceptional customer service.  Now, granted, I am currently not working as a server today but if I were, I would not necessarily hope for but I am quite certain that I would welcome a Soupfly.  For such an event is rich with possibilities.

So, let’s consider: If there were a fly in my guest’s soup, how would I respond?

First, I believe it’s important to clarify-Is the fly floating visibly on top of the soup or does our diner discover it as he spoons a bit and is about to bring it to his mouth?

If indeed, the fly is floating on top of the soup as if it were enjoying a mid-afternoon summer day on an inflatable raft, sunning itself and enjoying an adult beverage while in the soup, then shame on me, the server, for not paying closer attention while picking up said bowl.  In this case the lesson of the Soupfly is: we must pay attention to details.  If you as a server walk into the kitchen, chef says order up and you grab the bowl of soup and don’t really look at it, inspect it before you leave the kitchen, then I would say you’re not really a very conscientious server.

There is a principle that states “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.’”  You must be aware of and know what you are bringing to your guest.  Is it what they ordered?  Is it prepared correctly?-Any requested modifications, ie. sauce on the side, no bacon etc., done as ordered?  Do not blame the kitchen or your chef if a Soupfly is just floating comfortably on the surface of the soup and you don’t notice it until after you’ve served it to your guest.  If it’s visible, then you my friend are responsible.  You may have not placed it there but it’s on you if you bring it to your guest.

Next scenario-You serve your guest the soup, no visible Soupfly.  You’ve carefully perused the surface of the soup, nothing visible but the soup itself and steam coming off of it.  A few moments later, however, your guest flags you over to witness that indeed there is a fly in their soup, or a hair in their pasta or a fingernail in their gumbo or even a band-aid in their chili.

{Side note-in my opinion, none of the above are very catchy blog titles-“gumbo fingernail”, “pasta hair”,  etc.}

The difference, however, is that though a Soupfly would most likely be visible on top of soup, a hair in the pasta or the other two examples would not be.  So, if said foreign object is immersed, hidden, folded in or tossed together and not visible in the food, then of course you cannot be held responsible for unknowingly bringing it to your guest.  At this point, it really is irrelevant how it got there, the only thing that matters is how will you respond?

I have seen servers actually stand there and argue with the guest as to whether the foreign object came from the kitchen or whether it was planted there.  They say things like, “Sir, there was no fly in your soup when I brought it out to you. I know your type, always trying to get something for free.  Well, I’m not buying it.”

Others might say something to the effect of, “Look sir, I didn’t make your soup, I can’t control what goes on back in that kitchen. I’m just a server.  Do you want me to get you something else?”

Others will completely shirk any responsibility and simply say, “Do you want to talk to a manager?”

So, back to the title-“Soupfly” Soupfly brings out in a person whatever is already intrinsically there.  If I served a guest soup and they told me there was a Soupfly in it,  my response would be very different from any of the above.  Rather, I would first apologize profusely.  Second, I would ensure them that this Has Never Happened Before.  And if it were now clearly visible on the surface of the soup, I would say, “Shame on me.  I thought I looked.   It is absolutely my fault and I am so very sorry that I missed it.   We are going to remedy this situation immediately.”

Now, if what you ordered was your absolute favorite, say, an amazing bouillabaisse-if you are like most people, you probably don’t want a new, freshly made, clean bowl of the same sans  the Soupfly.  Just the sight of the same dish still conjures up repulsive memories and an emotional gut response that certainly doesn’t entice one to attempt it again.  You’ve lost your appetite (and your faith in humanity} Well, maybe not the latter.  If it were me  all I could think of doing is cringeing and saying




To Be Continued…

This entry was posted on July 8, 2014. 1 Comment