Should Training periods be inviolate?
Posted 14 January 2003 - 09:55 AM
Posted 15 January 2003 - 02:56 PM
Here's my view: we always try to hire people who are first, wonderful human beings, and second, experienced professionals. If you're going to apply to Union Square Cafe, Tabla, Gramercy Tavern or Eleven Madison Park, you've got to have a pretty high degree of food, wine and service knowledge coming into the game.
I (perhaps mistakenly) looked at Blue Smoke as an opportunity to hire really nice folks who may not have had much fine dining experience, hoping that a barbecue joint would be forgiving of their learning curve. Each week, throughout all of our restaurants, we meet so many wonderful people who want to work for us, and sadly have to say "sorry" to most of them -- mainly for lack of experience. I had hoped that Blue Smoke might be an excellenct place to use as a "farm system" -- a place where we could hire and then patiently train great folks to one day become great servers. My hope was that at a lower price point (Blue Smoke's dinner check average is about $35 vs. Gramercy Tavern's @ about $100), guests would be a bit more forgiving of "green" mistakes.
We had a lot to correct, because we learned that our reputation is a powerful one. At any price point, our guests expect excellence and hospitality, and in those early days we were falling short in each category. Many of our original servers are still with us. Many others aren't. At nine months old, the service is better than ever, but it's still far from its potential. The fact remains that the world's best server is going to want to earn 20% of a $100 tab more readily than 20% of a $35 tab. So a lot of this will take time. But Blue Smoke is busy enough that our team is getting lots of practice, and they're also beginning to make good money. So we're getting stronger applicants all the time and that's the key to making substantive improvements.
Two final notes: our dining room management staffmembers are veterans of Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, and they do understand the standards we're shooting for. It would be wrong-headed to strive for refined elegance at Blue Smoke, but it's never wrong to work towards stronger product knowledge and warmer hospitality.