“The customer’s perception is your reality.”
–Kate Zabriskie, author of How May I Help You
When running a restaurant, trying to understand your diner’s perception is not always easy. If you’ve been open for years and years, then the customer is constantly changing. That means their perceptions are constantly changing, too. Each customer that walks through your door has different needs, and connecting with them on an individual level is crucial to making their experience one to remember. This concept is one of the top priorities for Charlotte Randolph, the talented Beverage Director and Owner of Californios in San Francisco, California.
Randolph has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and at only 28 she is revolutionizing the dining experience in San Francisco. I first met Charlotte when I visited Californios for my birthday last year. It was such an unforgettable dinner—and not just because it was my birthday.
I left that dinner having watched Californios nail every part of what a fine dining restaurant needs to deliver for its diners: refined but also over-the-top delicious food, beautiful décor and atmosphere, and stellar customer service from beginning to end.
A month later, they received their first Michelin star. I just had to know what recipe led to such success so fast. So, I met up with Charlotte to get the inside scoop on how she built a Michelin-starred restaurant in less than 12 months.
We chatted for a while and I pulled out five of the best pieces of advice she had to give.
- Understand what you’re working towards.
“We’re working towards refinement and luxury, and I know what that means in a physical sense and in a service sense. If I could push in everyone’s chair when they’re up, I would. If I could get a brand new napkin for every person that moves, I would.”
2. Don’t change the menu like you change your undies.
“The flavors have to be there. They’re very well understood in our kitchen. On the plate they come across familiar, and our flavors are well thought out. We don’t change the menu just to change it. We’re not going to be the first restaurant with broccoli on the menu—we will be the first restaurants to have a broccoli dish that kills it.”
3. Understand your guests’ emotional needs.
“Knowing if the guest wants to hear it [dish and wine descriptions] or not. How dialed up does the guest want to be? Knowing if I need to be more refined at this table or more relaxed. How is it going to make them feel in the end? No matter how relaxed a guest can be, they still want to feel like they are being taken care of.”
4. Create a great working environment for your staff.
“I can’t say enough how lucky I am for the team that I have. They are all so enthusiastic and competitive. I try to encourage them to stay competitive to keep the night fun. Right now the front of house is having a dress-off. I didn’t even start this competition and it made me think as an owner, ‘How awesome is that?!’ It’s a good feeling and it’s something that not a lot of restaurants have. Restaurants have a lot of turnover right now. We’re all understanding of each other’s goals and we stay competitive and ambitious. People here are young and motivated, and we understand each other. It all has to do with attitude when I’m hiring.”
5. Be realistic, not optimistic.
“That’s a hard thing to face because you’re pursuing your dreams, so you’re being optimistic, but we’ve taken small steps for a reason. That’s why we chose SeatMe; I don’t want to sign contracts because we don’t know if we are going to be here in a year. We started at five courses and we’ve done a whole renovation of the space. We don’t have investors; it’s me, Carolyn, and Val trying to figure it out.”
Seems like they figured it out so far.
Bonus material: Randolph let it slip that she made her own cider a few years back and it’s sitting in the back of her fridge. I’m just waiting for her to get that on the tasting menu just for one night… One can only hope!
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