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Reservations and Regulars at Momos and


Fat Guy
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But there's a difference between "a little bit of favoritism" and effectively closing the doors of your restaurant to the general public.

If Chang doesn't want Ko to turn into the EV Rao's -- a place you simply can't get into if you don't have connections -- I think that's only to be applauded.

Just to be clear: "a little bit of favoritism" is exactly what I'm in favor of when it comes to reservations; I hope you don't think I'm in favor of turning every restaurant into Rao's. Indeed, that business model wouldn't work for most restaurants. Most businesses -- and pretty much every restaurant except Rao's -- needs a mix of repeat business and new business in order to succeed. A little bit of favoritism, where repeat clients are rewarded while new clients can still have access (albeit with higher barriers to entry), makes sense. Anybody with the means and the determination can still become a regular. Plus it's not likely that Ko will stay at 12 seats forever if the concept is wildly successful. Eventually, like Jose Andres's 6-seat Minibar in Washington, DC, we could expect it to expand to meet demand.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It is Chang's business and he is entitled to choose how he allocates seats on any given night.

Sure. He's entitled (there's that dirty word again) to select any lawful system of allocation. So there's no "can" part of the discussion. There's still a discussion to be had about the "should" and the "will" of it, though. Is it a good system, and will it be applied consistently in practice?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Just to be clear: "a little bit of favoritism" is exactly what I'm in favor of when it comes to reservations; I hope you don't think I'm in favor of turning every restaurant into Rao's. Indeed, that business model wouldn't work for most restaurants. Most businesses -- and pretty much every restaurant except Rao's -- needs a mix of repeat business and new business in order to succeed. A little bit of favoritism, where repeat clients are rewarded while new clients can still have access (albeit with higher barriers to entry), makes sense. Anybody with the means and the determination can still become a regular. Plus it's not likely that Ko will stay at 12 seats forever if the concept is wildly successful. Eventually, like Jose Andres's 6-seat Minibar in Washington, DC, we could expect it to expand to meet demand.

But FG, if Ko expands this whole discussion becomes moot.

This discussion is about what's appropriate at a 12-seat restaurant. A 40-seat restaurant would be a whole other story.

Also, given that this is a 12-seat restaurant, you're talking about A LOT of favoritism, not "a little." If all the people who are given special treatment as regulars at the other Momorestos get preferred seating at Ko, Ko is effectively closed to the pubic.

(I'm not denying that there may be SOME people who are given preferred reservations at Ko. Only that as the number of seats in a place goes down, the number of people who can "expect" such treatment goes down also. It's no longer part of the standard set of perks you can expect as a regular.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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The size of the restaurant doesn't prevent anything. I've already described how it would be a simple matter to have a preferred (or a couple of tiers of preferred) level of access for regulars. It's no big deal: if the restaurant has 24 covers, set 8 of them aside or whatever. (I'm not prescribing that number, I'm simply saying why I think you're wrong when you imply that it's impossible to use that system in an especially small restaurant). No, you can't guarantee that every request by every regular will be accommodated -- no restaurant can, for example, magically produce an eight-top on a Friday night with no warning.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The easiest way to give preference to certain parties in this situation would be to make it discretely known to a small number of people that they can reserve seats in advance of the date when those seats actually become available (e.g., bu sending someone on the team an email). If the seats are still going so quickly, no one would think about it one way or another if they logged on to the reservations site at 10AM and saw that 4 seats were already taken. Maybe those seats were "pre-reserved" in the system . . . maybe four people beat you to the reservations interface by half a second. No way lf knowing.

This would be an easy way to give a small amount of preferential consideration without having to set aside a certain number of covers after the reservation date.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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The size of the restaurant doesn't prevent anything. I've already described how it would be a simple matter to have a preferred (or a couple of tiers of preferred) level of access for regulars.....

Here lies the bone of our contention, Ko is an entirely separate entity and does not have regulars.

Just because Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar is your regular haunt it doesn't mean special reservation perks carry over to a new venture. I understand the disappointment with Momo regulars at not being able to procure a reservation immediately, I just do not understand the "ire" that you say is reportedly felt on the part of some folks. If a Ssam bar regular somehow loses some of the privileges that was bestowed upon him in the past upon his next dinner visit, then by all means he has a right to be pissed and should give Chang the business the next time he sees him. But until Chang decides to sell VIP membership across the Momofuku chain that same person should pipe down use their rage for more productive endeavors. They will eventually get their chance like the rest of us.

Edited by Anthony A (log)
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Just on this one point: Anthony, I would say that it's pretty commonplace that a "regular" or "VIP" at most any restaurant would receive some version of special consideration at other restaurants under the same management. I would expect a Gramercy Tavern regular to get some special treatment at The Modern; I would expect a Landmarc TriBeCa regular to get some special treatment at Landmarc TWC; I would even expect an Ardour regular to get some special treatment at Louis XV in Monaco.

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Here lies the bone of our contention, Ko is an entirely separate entity and does not have regulars.

Sorry, but that's a little silly. Who do you think was filling the "Friends & Family" seats? Why, Noodle & Ssam Bar regulars, that's who.

Want to find the Ko website? You get there from the same place as the other two establishments: momofuku.com.

But in any case, the comment is red herring. Even if Ko were entirely separate, FG's comment would remain valid, because he is describing what all ultimately successful restaurants do. Even those that are truly new eventually find ways to attract and cultivate their regulars. Maybe Ko will break that paradigm...and maybe not.

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Is one able to choose drinks and wines at Momofuku Ko.. I wonder if a customer that was known to purchase crazy expensive bottles of wine would get special treatment.. That would make sense in my book.. But a 12 person restaurant, I really enjoy this new concept.. Not because it is sticking it to the Elite Entitled Snobs or whatever that angry poster said but, its just something new..

Edited by Daniel (log)
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Here lies the bone of our contention, Ko is an entirely separate entity and does not have regulars.

Just because Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar is your regular haunt it doesn't mean special reservation perks carry over to a new venture. I understand the disappointment with Momo regulars at not being able to procure a reservation immediately, I just do not understand the "ire" that you say is reportedly felt on the part of some folks. If a Ssam bar regular somehow loses some of the privileges that was bestowed upon him in the past upon his next dinner visit, then by all means he has a right to be pissed and should give Chang the business the next time he sees him. But until Chang decides to sell VIP membership across the Momofuku chain  that same person should pipe down use their rage for more productive endeavors. They will eventually get their chance like the rest of us.

What others said about your first sentence, that it is not an "entirely separate entity," I would have to agree with.

I also don't necessarily see "ire" and "rage." What I see is a heated discussion, by various posters with strong opinions about lots of things, about being a "regular" and mostly how it relates to the newly opened Ko.

I myself never said I was enraged by the practice of the egalitarian reservation system at Ko (or trying to make a reservation at Babbo) - I just choose not to participate in it for the time being. I find it silly and sometimes wonder if by creating such a system, leaving many frustrated, it doesn't actually draw even more people to wanting to eat at the restaurant (my emperor's new clothes theory), when, as mentioned above, there are plenty of tables available on at Saturday night at 8 PM, even at some damn good restaurants (why anyone wants to eat out on a Saturday at 8 is another discussion).

To go back to the concert analogy, every hot show is a "sellout." Yet it's amazing how many tickets become available in the days leading up to the actual event.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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That said, and as I mentioned above, the Momofuku restaurants are already quite nontraditional with respect to perks for regulars. I'm not suggesting that there aren't perks for regulars or advantages to being a regular at a Momofuku restaurant, but it's not the same as the advantages and perks associated with being a regular at restaurants operating under a more traditional paradigm.

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I have no axe to grind, I have not "built a career" on preferential reservations for regulars, and if you persist in accusing me of having ulterior motives I'll have little choice but to ignore your subsequent comments.

I'll be first to acknowledge I'm not choosing my words as diplomatically as I could here, so apologies for occasionally going over the top with the hyperbole.

I think there are three true statements that can be made:

1. An author has written a book and teaches seminars about how to get special treatment by establishing yourself as a regular at restaurants.

2. A new restaurant has opened and part of its philosophy is no special access to reservations by virtue of being a regular.

3. The author is vehemently opposed to the restaurant applying such a model, believes it won't work and suggests that such a commitment by the restaurant is disengenuous.

So I'll change the terminology a bit and simply say you have a bias. You have a body of work and, it seems, a coherent philosophy of the relationship between diner and restaurant on which some (maybe even a lot? I don't know well enough to say) of that work is based. Everything you are saying here is consistent with that philosophy, and that philosophy seems central to at least some significant piece of what you have written and what you teach at your seminars. We all carry baggage ... we all have pet issues and pet peeves. I certainly do, and there are food issues (mostly service related) where I could easily and probably justifiably be accused of having an axe to grind.

I think the relationship between your avocation and your occupation provide legitimate context for your comments on an issue like this one. And to my eye, they provide especially useful context when there don't seem to be any actual momo regulars reporting that they feel alienated. Maybe I missed it but I haven't heard anyone say "I'm a ssam bar regular and I think Ko should hold two seats a night back for regulars" ... If one did, I would at least understand where they were coming from, although I'd still disagree with them. But then I'm not a regular so of course I'd disagree with them.

I am hearing momo regulars saying that the fact that Chiang has the cojones to do this is just one more reason they are glad he's part of this restaurant scene. And that maybe he'll succeed and maybe he'll fail with this experiment, but good on him for giving it a shot! I don't think very many people here have already concluded that he's going to cheat though.

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Agree completely that a regular of Ssam should have that "status" carried over to another restaurant in the enterprise. If I'm a regular at GT, then I would expect similar priviliges at EMP or Modern or Tabla.

How far do you take it? Should that "status get you to the front of the line at shake shack?

Didn't I read once that at Shake Shack even Danny Meyer's wife has to wait in line? Or is that urban myth.

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Didn't I read once that at Shake Shack even Danny Meyer's wife has to wait in line? Or is that urban myth.

I served rang up his wife at Shake Shack once and she waited on line like everyone else.

She was with their children. Really sweet family.

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. . . I think there are three true statements that can be made:

1. An author has written a book and teaches seminars about how to get special treatment by establishing yourself as a regular at restaurants. . .

Um. . . No, I wouldn't say that this accurately describes the topic of the book, or even a particularly substantial percentage thereof. Among the many topics covered in the book, it acknowledges that regulars often get special treatment, encourages one to become a regular at a restaurant or two, and offers some strategies for getting an enhanced "regular-like" restaurant experience at a restaurant where you are not a regular. Did you read the book?

Didn't I read once that at Shake Shack even Danny Meyer's wife has to wait in line? Or is that urban myth.

I served rang up his wife at Shake Shack once and she waited on line like everyone else.

This is a fundamentally different kind of business. I have a hard time even calling it a "restaurant." Other than letting certain customers jump the line (which would be a horrible idea and could potentially create lots of problems with those in the line) what other kind of perks could be offered?

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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. . . I think there are three true statements that can be made:

1. An author has written a book and teaches seminars about how to get special treatment by establishing yourself as a regular at restaurants. . .

Um. . . No, I wouldn't say that this accurately describes the topic of the book, or even a particularly substantial percentage thereof. Among the many topics covered in the book, it acknowledges that regulars often get special treatment, encourages one to become a regular at a restaurant or two, and offers some strategies for getting an enhanced "regular-like" restaurant experience at a restaurant where you are not a regular. Did you read the book?

I didn't - I inferred the above from his post earlier today which he said was from one of his seminars and based on his book.

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Here lies the bone of our contention, Ko is an entirely separate entity and does not have regulars.

Sorry, but that's a little silly. Who do you think was filling the "Friends & Family" seats? Why, Noodle & Ssam Bar regulars, that's who.

Want to find the Ko website? You get there from the same place as the other two establishments: momofuku.com.

But in any case, the comment is red herring. Even if Ko were entirely separate, FG's comment would remain valid, because he is describing what all ultimately successful restaurants do. Even those that are truly new eventually find ways to attract and cultivate their regulars. Maybe Ko will break that paradigm...and maybe not.

Silly eh!

So you feel that there is no distinction that should be made between a soft opening which are private affairs by nature and serve as an aid to a restaurant in working out it's kinks and a hard opening to the public at large?

Now who is being silly?

If Chang wanted to extend a special courtesy to Momofuku diehards that is great. It doesn't mean that those folks have to move to the head of the line for a hard opening if he doesn't see fit. Given the limited number of seats it is pretty easy to see how this place can evolve into a defacto supper club, and if that were indeed his vision for this restaurant it would be perfectly fine with me, but evidently he has another "paradigm" in mind, and if the interest with disgruntled Momo regulars collide with his own vision, he needs to ignore the din of the crowd in this instance and pursue his objectives until it it is deemed a failure. Then he can reassess at a later time if need be, just like he did with Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar.

Also, thanks for letting me know where the Ko website is.. I would have never have thought to look there!

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Just on this one point:  Anthony, I would say that it's pretty commonplace that a "regular" or "VIP" at most any restaurant would receive some version of special consideration at other restaurants under the same management.  I would expect a Gramercy Tavern regular to get some special treatment at The Modern; I would expect a Landmarc TriBeCa regular to get some special treatment at Landmarc TWC; I would even expect an Ardour regular to get some special treatment at Louis XV in Monaco.

I respect your knoweldge and opinions. I just feel that Ko is a slightly different animal and that Chang is correct in addressing this opening in a manner that differs from the other brands that you refer to above.

As for the Ardour to Louis XV scenario, I would be pretty amazed if my status as a regular at Ardour conferred VIP treatment at Louis XV, but by the same token I would not be angry in the slightest If I had to work a little to land the reservation at Louis XV given the 2 places have totally different missions.

But if you say that is standard policy I will not argue.

Thanks

Edited by Anthony A (log)
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I've been following this intense discussion and I wanted to wait and give it some thought before I responded.

I will tell you off the bat that I support Steven's arguments in terms of what we, the customers, should expect when making a reservation at a restaurant. Furthermore, I support his declaration that as a regular customer of a restaurant he has every right to expect preferential treatment. And yes, that can all be achieved at a restaurant with a limited number of seats like Momofuku Ko.

I don't need to defend Steven's arguments, he clearly outlined the defense of his case. But what I can do is share my opinions as a professional in the customer service business to give you a bit of a different perspective from what has already been shared on these pages.

First, I'll start with my thoughts on the reservation system. I am often surprised that talented chefs and their staffs don't apply the same amount of dedication to the reservations system that they do to the efforts in the kitchen.

As a customer, I expect that the reservation system that is put in place functions properly on day one. I expect the staff to have chosen the right system for their restaurant-whether that's at Open Table, their own internal site, or an old-fashioned system where you call and speak to a real person. And that system should have been tested and the bugs worked out before opening day. Of course the system is then continually fine-tuned and updated as the restaurant settles in.

If the system is too burdensome and it prevents the customer from quickly making a reservation, I think they will go elsewhere. "I don't want to be handicapped by a system that doesn't give me the ability to quickly book a table, I'll go elsewhere," is the thought that comes to mind.

Another simple example of the negative effect on the customer when the right system isn't in place would be when I go into a bakery at 11am and expect them to still have fresh onion bagels.

I don't expect them to tell me that "we're all out." If they are watching the front of the store as much as the ovens in the back, then they'll accomodate for the fact that they sell onion bagels all day. I expect them to meet that demand-whether I come in for a bagel at 7am or at 3pm. Likewise, I expect the restaurant has designed a reservations system that meets the needs of all of their customers and I expect the bakery case to be open, (my ability to book a table), whenever I visit the restaurant website. That is basic fundamental customer service.

Now speaking to this issue of customer loyalty is a subject that is quite near and dear to my heart. I have worked in customer service for 29 years, the past 20 in the Airline Industry so I speak with a bit of experience.

I have a respect for the traditions and history of good customer service, yet sadly, I find the overall expectations of today's consumer to be falling. As Steven mentioned, we should all demand better from the people we are paying for services. Whether it's the checker at the grocery store who gossips over your head with the checker at the next podium instead of focusing on you, or the waiter who brings your appetizer at the same time the entrees are served, we too often shrug it off as poor customer service without expecting better. The businesses that still adhere to that old-fashioned customer service ethic are the businesses that survive in the long run.

That leads to my next point about this issue of the "regular" customer. I am a firm believer that a frequent customer has every right to expect that their loyalty will be recognized with rewards that are not offered to the one-time only customer.

As Steven pointed out earlier, a restaurant rewarding a regular customer is no different than an airline frequent flyer program that gives a number of rewards, or perks as they are more commonly known, to their best customers. Since the airline business is my business, I'll give a few examples of how we reward our frequent flyers. And while you may argue that I am comparing apples to oranges, I don't think I am. Comparing customer loyalty in the restaurant business to customer loyalty in the airline industry is really no different-it's like comparing a Golden Delicious Apple to Granny Smith-both apples, both fall from an apple tree.

Our frequent flyers, we call them MVP's and MVP Golds, are incredibly valuable to our business. While they make up less than 20% of our overall passengers, they are responsible for contributing to over 75% of our revenue. Those are just basic figures, but you can see how a small portion of our frequent customers contribute such a large portion of our revenue. The figures for Chang's empire are probably different, but my guess is that the basic premise is the same for a restaurant-a small percentage of your regular customers are responsible for contributing the largest percentage of your revenue. Secondly, those regular customers tend to stick with your business over the long run.

These two examples demonstrate why it is critical that we reward our regular customers-it simply has to happen-whether it's in my business or in the restaurant business. It can happen at a 12-seat sushi bar or a 100 seat grand hotel dining room.

Here's a practical example of how we reward our frequent customers. (You are probably already bored, but stay with me as my examples speak to supporting this issue of a restaurant rewarding a frequent customer).

I fly twice a day, five days a week, to commute to my job in Seattle. While I would like to think of myself as having the upper status of our most frequent flyers, because I am employed by the airline I don't have the satisfaction of being called an MVP Gold. Yet I am in this lonely category of being one of the few people in this country who is both an airline employee and a frequent flyer. I see both sides.

Last week on a short flight an MVP Gold was sitting behind me in the far most reaches of the aft coach cabin. He hadn't been able to upgrade to first class. When the flight attendant approached him she called him by name and offered him a complimentary beer, apologizing that his upgrade didn't go through, but thanking him for being a "regular" customer. She didn't offer me a beer or any of the other "less-frequent" customers a beer. This gentleman clearly deserved the compliments he was being given and the rest of us had no problem with the flight attendant obliging this passenger. The passenger was quite pleased and profusely thanked the flight attendant for recognizing his status as an MVP Gold. I was proud as an employee to hear the conversation between a fellow employee and one of our customers.

That's an example of the payback we see in rewarding customer loyalty and why restaurants should follow our example. Many great restaurants have established the same sense of customer loyalty that we exhibit at our company. My advice is for the new kids on the block to follow suit.

If you are a loyal customer of Chang's restaurants, that loyalty should be rewarded at any new restaurant Chef Chang opens.

And yes, it can be done at a restaurant with just 12 seats at a counter or a grand hotel dining room seating 100. In this case, size does not matter. You can instill a system that serves all your customers, including rewards and special touches that are only given to your best customers. You just have to find the right balance between rewarding the best customers, serving your new customers, and keeping a mind on the bottom line. It can and should work.

The smallest aircraft our company flies is a 37 passenger prop airplane. We set aside specific seats at row 1 and the exit rows for our best customers, our loyal MVP Gold passengers. They are given a number of other "perks" like priority on our standy list for earlier flights and preferential treatment on a later flight if their flight is cancelled. Yet, ALL our customers are "served" the same inflight service, including complimentary wine and micro-brews even on flights as short as 35 minutes. Yes, we serve everyone a superior product, but our loyal customers are given additional rewards for their frequent business.

In the case of Momofuku Ko, only time will give us some answers to these questions.

By the way Fat Guy, I believe that succulent dish of crow is still roasting in the oven. It should be delicious once it is ready. This particular crow fed on a natural diet of carrion so I think the meat will taste of what the bird has been eating. It may take time before the crow is ready, but I can't wait to serve our guests.

Should I carve or do you want the pleasure?

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huh?

:wacko: If the question is "huh?" to my entire post above, I failed miserably in getting my points across. If the question "huh?" is regarding the last words I wrote about eating crow, I'll let that sit for a bit before answering.

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