DRINKING LIKE DEAR OLD DAD

The Liquid Father’s Day Phenomenon I Never Had
By Francine Cohen

Photo courtesy of Rum Renaissance

Photo courtesy of Rum Renaissance

The phone rang today as I stood in the greeting card aisle of the drugstore. It was an industry pal on the end of the line, calling with a potential opportunity to work together. Normally, I’d be all business and, when asked the standard beginning of a phone call “Hi, how are you?” question would respond with the universally acceptable, “Great, how are you?” but this time I couldn’t. I was too moved by the fact that here I was, standing in front of all of these Father’s Day cards decorated with images of tools and cars and liquor bottles and sports paraphernalia and littered with sentiments such as “you’re the glue that held our family together” and “I always admired you and am glad to know you more each day” and none of them seemed right for the situation, which was picking out a Father’s Day card for my father-in-law who has little interest in sports and cars or liquor or fixing things. Frankly, I was flummoxed. And said so.

Of course the situation was probably compounded by the fact that my own father died when I was little and my memories of him are minimal and mostly tied to food and entertaining. So today’s shopping expedition was a double whammy – I had absolutely no point of reference for those made for television movie fathers who toss a ball around in the yard and teach you how to drink scotch neat. Those are skills I learned on my own with a little help from my high school boyfriend and men’s magazines.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great role model in my stepfather, who came along during my teenage years. I credit him with instilling great, strong character traits which I rely upon this day and I value his love and respect greatly. But, much like my father-in-law, he’s not a drinker. Though he is VERY handy around the house.

So, after finally finding just the right card for my father-in-law that shared a warm sentiment but didn’t Read the full article here »

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

August 15, 2012

At the risk of misleading you and coming off sounding very booze and NYC centric, this letter from the Editor opens with the random stream of consciousness thought that NYC in August has always been the month devoid of therapists (because they’re all on vacation) and, if there was ever a time to want someone to talk things through with, this post-Tales of the Cocktail month is the time.

No, I’m not having issues with my alcohol consumption but I am thinking about how much others consume and the impact it has on their personal life and professional growth. Nor am I distraught with personal challenges, but I know that others are; some intensely personal and some precipitated by business moves. Tales of the Cocktail is always a time for a one-two punch of business planning and business reflection. This year, something else entered into the mix, and that’s a sense of appreciation.

Prior to Tales kicking off Pernod Ricard sent out a note asking all attending Tales to drink responsibly; to appreciate the fact that the business trip before us was better suited to be a marathon than a sprint. How many of you appreciated their words and took them to heart? Do you share my appreciation for the life we lead, being fortunate to focus our careers on the hospitality industry? Have you taken time lately to show your appreciation for people like Ann Tuennerman and Lesley Townsend who have built spirited cocktail events such as Tales of the Cocktail and Manhattan Cocktail Classic, guys like Lee Schrager of the South Beach and Aspen Food & Wine events, not to mention the folks toiling behind the scenes at these and other thriving food & beverage events around the country that offer us the chance to us to embrace and study the subject that makes us tick and do it in the bosom of those we hold dear? How DO you express appreciation for those colleagues you’re in the trenches with every day?

Every day is, for any of you reading this, an opportunity to ask yourself those questions and shape your business practices and personal life accordingly. While unfortunate tragedy struck the spirits industry over the last couple of months, ending some promising young professionals’ lives, I’m hoping that their passing will serve to make us all take a moment to look around at what we do and who we do it with and give thanks that we’re still able to pursue our dreams. Their marked absence from our community should also serve to remind us that every day is another opportunity to do something right and treat others the way we’d like to be treated; hospitably.

London’s sense of hospitality is worth emulating as they got through the Olympics with hardly a significant black eye marring the games (though that electric baby in the opening ceremony was a little creepy). Their gracious hospitality can serve as a great reminder that fun and professionalism can go hand in hand. Sometimes fun is more top of mind and that’s fine – you’ll find a perfect example of just how much foodie fun one can have in England in our story Culinary World Champions (insidefandb.com/2012/08/culinary-world-champions).

There are many champions out there; brands like Pierre Ferrand which won the best new product category at the Tales of the Cocktail Awards and Lillet Rose which was up in the same category (and we’ve featured here – www.insidefandb.com/2012/07/dont-miss-lillet-rose/), folks like Joaquin Simo who is taking his Best American Bartender award and putting it on the shelf in his own new venture (see a bit on him here: www.insidefandb.com/2012/08/rocks-stars-tales-style-joaquin-simo), and managers who know when to have their employees’ backs (www.insidefandb.com/2012/08/lets-play-a-little-game/) . Want to be a champ too? Make sure you’ve got just the right photo to win you your next job (see tips here: www.insidefandb.com/2012/08/you-want-a-winning-picture/).

Enjoy the end of August, survive the dog days of summer, and plan, like we are, to take a moment to take stock of what’s around you and maximize its potential for the future.

Thank you, as always, for being part of INSIDE F&B!

Best,
Francine

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Inside the minds of many of this country’s best chefs and bartenders in 2011
By Francine Cohen

At the end of 2010 as people began to post their holiday wishes and new year’s resolutions on their Facebook walls one trend emerged…2011 was going to be their big year. The year they broke the mold, started a successful business, went off on their own. In essence, 2010 was the launching pad for a whole new (or new and improved) “me” in 2011; and watch out world!

But did it work? “Watch out world, here I come” is a wonderful way to approach life and far be it from us at INSIDE F&B to stomp on anyone’s dreams (if anything, we do all we can to facilitate them), but in all this rush to success we caution you to take a cue from those who take a moment to take a deep breath (thank you Gary Regan, Dushan Zaric, and Aisha Sharpe for reminding us of this) and spend some quiet time with yourself and your thoughts, centering yourself and your intentions and exploring how your goals impact others, and thereby, yourself in the long run.

Throughout 2011 we heard a lot of common themes come up in conversation repeatedly; “why me?”, “why not me?”, “what’s he/she got that I don’t?”, “bro”- representing camaraderie and appreciation for the brotherhood and sisterhood feeling fostered by all toiling together in the trenches of the hospitality industry, “friends vs. colleagues”, and general customer service and good will towards your fellow man, whether he be another service industry pal or acquaintance or a guest.

Sadly a lot of this was conveyed to us sotto voce; with pain behind the words and, even in a couple of cases, accompanied by tears.

While we STRONGLY feel that these kinds of off the record conversations are necessary for the healthy growth of the hospitality industry and we intend to continue to have them and keep confidences (i.e. names remain secret to protect the innocent), there was just enough of a warning sign here that we felt it important to bring this all to light.

And we’re not the only ones. While some folks prefer to stay anonymous with their observations; like the fact that some operators offer up one very pleasant and welcoming face to the customer but that same level of professionalism and civility isn’t extended to suppliers/salesmen, etc. (and that bothers the heck out of them) some, like Bootlegger Vodka brand owner Brian Facquet, are willing to go on the record as saying, “I dislike rude people.”

For every anonymous chef who pulls us aside to wonder why their efforts aren’t getting noticed despite the outstanding food they put out daily there are bartender scribes out there, like Sean Kenyon, who have been banging the drum for a much needed shift from seeing the drinks world through mixology goggles to adopting a service/guest appreciation mindset. There’s also Michael Neff who continues to educate consumers about ways to create and enjoy a better going out experience, and Naren Young’s ongoing effort to break down what he sees as bad behavior and create a more open minded, detail oriented, well versed, and thoughtful hospitality environment. The ultimate “I call bs, this is the Emperor’s New Clothes” voice of them all comes equally from both Anthony Bourdain and Alan Richman. They are wise. Heed them.

Heeding that level of thoughtfulness permeates how we live and breathe. Embracing a new level of consideration can make our grueling workdays seem to skip by like one of those clocks in a movie where the hands go round and round rapidly to embody the passage of time.

After hearing what we heard in the last year, and witnessing the growing pains that accompany the rise of a burgeoning industry, we implore you to take a moment to think about the words you choose when speaking with your vendors, consider your actions when you happily take on a product because the bottle landing on your back bar comes with a nice account spend but then you do little to promote it, and wonder how you’d like to be treated by colleagues and bosses and then treat everyone around you, up and down the line, that way.

While you may not have the money to engage a powerful PR machine to help you sell your message and create the image you feel you need create in order to succeed, remember success comes from within.

You want 2012 to be your big year? Go for it! Just take note of what transpired in 2011 and improve upon that.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

By Michael Neff

Hospitality as a business is unique, in that anyone who throws a decent dinner-party or mixes cocktails in their kitchen thinks at some point that they have what it takes to work enter the field as a fully-formed professional. I love to cook, and all my friends think I should open a restaurant. Oh, yeah? I can use a calculator, but that doesn’t mean you want me keeping your books.

Building a meal, and running a profitable establishment are two very different beasts. Of all the skills necessary to run a restaurant or bar, the hardest to learn and most important to eventual success is effective management. A good manager is worth her weight in gold, and can be the difference between a fulfilled staff who knows their business, and a sign in the window that reads, “Restaurant for Lease.”

There are many paths that can lead you in to the service business. You can start from the bottom and work your way up. You can go to a school of some sort, which only really works for back-of-house, as I know of no “Waiting Table School” and the bartending schools I’ve seen aren’t worth the time it takes to retrain its graduates. These days, you can apprentice, an option that didn’t really exist until fairly recently.

Or you can do what I did, and lie.

After many years in the business, I don’t recommend the latter course for most people. You’re almost always found out, and end up in a less favorable position than if you had been honest from the beginning and fessed up that you don’t know what you’re doing. Waiting tables takes a lot of skill, as does effectively bussing, hosting, and bartending. It’s very difficult to fake your way through the early stages of these jobs without causing yourself, your bar, and your clientele a fair amount of grief.

I am now not only established as a career bartender, but I own two bars of my own; one of which boasts a fifty-seat dining room. While I had worked for years to perfect the craft of tending bar, when my partners and I opened our first place over two years ago, I realized that the biggest aspect of the hospitality business that I had neglected was management. Sure, I could run a bar, write a schedule, order for the week, and make sure that the lights are turned on and off at the appropriate time, but there was always a point where a problem occurred that required the voice of someone in a higher pay-grade.

Now we are the ones getting phone calls at 3 am when half the power goes out. We have to figure out what to do when the sixty-person party on a Friday night becomes seventy-five. There is no higher pay-grade, so we are called to deal with everything from accountants to plumbers to event-planning. It’s difficult and stressful, and I now have a lot more compassion for Read the full article here »

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN…

How to Handle a Flash Crisis? Or…Forming a Crisis Response Strategy
By Adele R. Cehrs

Imagine this… your restaurant receives a bad health grade inspection and people start to blog about it. A tweet by a bartender who didn’t know what was appropriate ‘goes rogue’. An exchange between a new manager and a disgruntled patron gets posted all over Yelp. Or worse. Experience any one of these scenarios and you could have a flash crisis™ on your hands. Fortunately, knowing how to respond to these issues can be the difference between a public relations opportunity and business loss.

A flash crisis™ happens when a negative post, comment or blog goes viral and the winds of chatter whip it into a firestorm. With more than 3.5 billion pieces of content shared each week on Facebook, 234 million websites, and 126 million bloggers blogging, it makes tracking online conversations tricky.

According to a recent study by PR Week, only 9% of staff monitoring social media has any previous experience in communications. This leaves many businesses vulnerable to flash crisis™ situations they may not be prepared to handle.

Well in advance of any one of these situations, it is advisable that restaurateurs create a crisis action team and process for responding. The process begins with fact finding, identifying whether the issue is in fact a crisis and assembling the appropriate stakeholders to discuss how to respond or not respond.

DON’T JUST STICK YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND – Monitor social media regularly by setting up Google Alerts, Yelp and Trip Advisor. Experts recommend monitoring each channel at least three times a day, so understand the man hours required to do social media well. You must know what people are saying about the establishment and respond when necessary.

CREATE A COMMAND CENTRAL – Just like you plan for a busy Saturday night in the kitchen or bar, planning for a crisis situation requires an organized approach. Gather the appropriate parties like PR/marketing, management, and (if necessary) legal to decide on a response strategy. Depending on the magnitude of the issues, you may want to create a place on the company’s website or blog to address issues as quickly as possible via a Q&A document. Also consider providing appropriate information via the company’s Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn accounts etc.

SET STANDARDS – Many times crisis situations happen because management is hoping for the best and when the worst happens they have no idea how to deal with it. If this sounds familiar, setting social media policies and standards is an important step for your organization. Have a policy on what is appropriate including representing the brand on a personal profile to responding to negative reviews. Without knowing what is accepted practice, staff will do what is personally right for them, not the brand. The good news is many top brands have social media policies you can review and tailor to meet your needs.

TO RESPOND OR NOT TO RESPOND – Not only must there be a place where patrons can ask questions and get answers about their concerns, but the management team should determine which questions, complaints or issues can and will get answered. Determine these responses ahead of time without the emotion of being “under attack” including what types of issues or comments you’ll respond to such as misinformation, distorted facts, or when you know you were wrong and the customer was right. Don’t let a small issue snowball into an avalanche. Look at the negative conversations on Yelp, Facebook, or blogs to see what people are really thinking, evaluate the level of the problem, then respond accordingly.

BE TRANSPARENT, BUT DON’T BE THE INVISIBLE MAN – Crisis communications is a time where leadership and a straightforward approach are paramount. If you’ve decided a response is necessary, use positive language. Do not repeat negative words or phrases and update the response regularly – use language that pushes the conversation in a different direction instead of focusing on the negative. Say something. Don’t let the social media audience rule the conversation. If needed, be transparent about not being able to answer at the time of the crisis and ensure key stakeholders that more information will be provided at a later time.

USE OF TRADITIONAL MEDIA – Don’t forget that traditional media outlets (television/radio/newspapers) will tune into an establishment’s social media presence as soon as a crisis breaks to get a sense of what others are feeling at the moment. And, they can and will use that information in a story or as your comment on the incident. Get back to the basics – social media isn’t just another tool – it is an extension of a brand’s story.
Be sure you are the one telling it.

The bottom line is to use a commonsense approach to responding to social media issues. Use the same customer service principles with online customers as patrons in your establishment and every guest encounter becomes a positive public relations opportunity.

Adele R. Cehrs is president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Epic PR Group, which specializes in crisis communications. For more information visit www.epicprgroup.com or via email: adele@epicprgroup.com

ABOVE ALL ELSE, BE A BARTENDER

The Mixfits Manifesto

The Mixfits is a band of like-minded bartenders that believe very strongly in using quality and fresh ingredients, proper technique and methodology. We honor our craft daily and will fight against the ego that has overcome our profession. In the process we will put the focus back on hospitality and guest service. As well, we are dedicated to giving back to our communities through charity events and outreach.
The following open letter to bartenders pretty much sums it up:

Dear Mr. or Ms. Bartender,
I respect that you have talent. But, please wait until I ask about it before you start talking about how many bitters or tinctures you make (I may not ask) before you expound on it in extreme detail…Get off of your mixological high horse and be a bartender first.

Donning a vest will not make you a great bartender; it’s the heart and soul behind the vest that will define you. Reading cocktail books (though it doesn’t hurt) will not make you a great bartender, reading people will. Entertain. Smile. Make me and your other guests smile. Know about current events, sports, etc. Be a great conversationalist. Pour a great drink with fresh and quality ingredients, but don’t boast about it (that’s like patting yourself on the back for waking up in the morning. It’s what we are supposed to do).

The show is not about us bartenders, but about our guests. In the last few years the industry focus has put the spotlight on us, we need to return that spotlight to our guests or this amazing emergence that our craft has enjoyed will become a short lived fad. The nobility in our profession derives from the fact that we take great pride in serving people for a living. So, do it well. Honor our craft.

We, The Mixfits, will be your police, your regulators, the ones who will hold you accountable and make you feel like a fool for thinking yourself a rock star. We will make sure that we and our craft move forward; with or without you.

Truly, we prefer that you buy in to what we are saying, we need you all on board…

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

So much has happened in the world at large since our last newsletter. Some events, like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, were monumental, tragic and have the potential to touch our food supply and impact society for we don’t know how long. Others, like the uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and now the unnerving cry for a third intifada, have all been fueled by the power of social media.

That social media is a very powerful tool. And these recent events simply reinforce what Dushan Zaric of NYC’s Macao Trading Company and Employees Only has been saying for a while now (and I paraphrase)- “A good experience happens and you share it with one or two people, something is bothering you about how you’ve been treated and you are out there telling the world.”

While you contemplate your image and how you’re perceived by the world take a moment to see what you’ve done to create that image. What is your approach? Chase LeBlanc offers up some perspective to managers in his INSIDE F&B debut article Rough Riders http://insidefandb.com/2011/04/rough-riders/.

Ride out beyond your immediate environment as you consider what you’re doing to give back to the community. Throughout the past twelve months folks in the F&B industry have continued to extend their hospitality to neighboring communities and those afar afflicted by tragedy, illness, and economic circumstance. There were events like DonQ’s charity concert last summer at Tipitina’s that raised over $10,000 for Gulf Coast Relief and featured Cowboy Mouth and New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band; the spirit industry’s Hearts for Haiti benefit in Brooklyn, NY to raise money for that country’s rebuilding efforts; an ad hoc pig roast in a New Orleans park coordinated by a group of caring bartenders intent on providing assistance to the residents of New Orleans who were impacted by Katrina; the recent USBG NY Cocktail Jam that raised about $6,000 for tsunami relief and health care costs for USBG members who may not have coverage, and the chefs who have stepped up with donations of an entire evening or even an entire week’s worth of proceeds going to help those struck by the devastation in Japan. These are just a few of the special opportunities to make a difference. Even when there’s not a specific tragedy to point to the F&B industry is still trying to make a difference. They do this via ongoing contributions from the country’s most accomplished chefs and bartenders who annually support Share Our Strength’s efforts to end hunger in the US and participate in the annual grand tasting event in their city called Taste of the Nation; brands like Partida tequila who commit their executive’s personal time to charities near and dear to their hearts, and hoteliers like Kimpton who have a strong commitment to social action and create ongoing charitable giving programs that involve both guests and employees.

All of this matters, in times of tragedy and prosperity. How do you want to be perceived? How do you want your business to succeed? Give some thought to your image; how to craft it and how to protect it. See the story When Media is the Message insidefandb.com/2011/04/when-media-is-the-message/to pick up some tips on handling a crisis.

Your sales number could be reaching a crisis point if you’re not managing your relationships well. Check out what John Henry is reporting in from the street in March Madness 2011insidefandb.com/2011/04/march-madness-2011/.

We think it’s madness that few guests expect healthy food to be great tasting gourmet fare; they’re satisfied with blandness and boredom on their plate. But here’s some inspiration to change that – take a look at Clare Langan’s review of The Simple Art of Eating Wellinsidefandb.com/2011/04/brain-food-9/, one of the James Beard Foundation Award’s nominees for best Healthy Focus book.

Whether your idea of eating healthy is cutting back on servings of caviar, or swapping out regular margaritas for glasses of Beam Global’s newest acquisition – the Skinny Girl Margarita, we hope you have a delicious month ahead.

Thanks for reading INSIDE F&B.

Best,
Francine

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

It’s been months of traveling for us at INSIDE F&B. We’ve been bouncing around the globe searching out f&b stories for you – we’ve been to Mexico, New Orleans and more. And the one thing we’ve seen is that service standards are so variable. Some places good, some, well…not so much. And not necessarily where you’d expect it to be good or bad (though kudos to Echo in Palm Beach, Florida – www.echopalmbeach.com - where everything was absolutely on point but of course, given who’s running the show there, we expected nothing but excellence. And they delivered.).

So, it got us to thinking that there’s a whole lot of opportunity out there for you as hospitality industry professionals to punch up your game and really impress your guests and, dare we say it, even see more revenue because of it. Yup, treat your guests with the utmost attention and expect that your staff is knowledgeable and articulate and you’ll benefit. Ignore the little things (e.g., telling a guest that you don’t use sour mix in your cocktails as you’re putting a gimlet in front of them rather than having that discussion before you make it, or ensuring that there aren’t any allergic people at the dinner table before you bring out an amuse bouche) and it impacts your bottom line in a negative way. Pay attention to details and you may see bigger checks, bigger tips, and have in one fell swoop created a committed ambassador who goes about and spreads the good word about your establishment.

In an effort to shake up the cocktail establishment just a little bit and open some eyes to what’s happening on the retail side of things, John Henry of Pipeline presents his street report on what’s keeping the cash registers ringing – http://insidefandb.com/2010/08/front-line-report-from-the-cash-register/.

The music that’s ringing in your ears night after night, shift after shift may grate on your nerves since you’ve
heard that tune over and over again. But how’s it impacting your guests? Are they getting into the groove, understanding the concept and embracing your menu all thanks to the soundtrack playing in your bar or restaurant? Pat O’Neill explores the importance of creating the right aural ambiance in his piece insidefandb.com/2010/08/meal-music.

Nature’s created some of the best fruit we could possibly want to put in our desserts and planted them right in our backyards. So why buy something that’s out of season and possibly flavorless? Don’t! That’s what pastry chef Ryan Butler of Double Crown says in insidefandb.com/2010/08/the-seasons-of-cooking.

These are just some of the stories we hope you’ll enjoy in this month’s issue of INSIDE F&B’s newsletter. Of course we hope you’re checking in every day or so to see what else we’re talking about.

And, we want to hear from you. What’s on your mind? What’s happening in your kitchen and behind your bar and in your dining room? What’s making you happy? What could you do without? What equipment do you plan to buy, or will you just fix the stuff you have and make do? And where are you going next?

Let us know. And thanks for being with us at INSIDE F&B,

Francine