Ashley Tedesco and her husband Sal own Paluca Trattoria, an Italian restaurant at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, California. Their location puts them right in the middle of the busiest part of the city, which means there are many options for tourists to choose from. But their restaurant isn’t like the others.
“We really attempt to create an environment and a place within the tourist atmosphere that’s not so touristy,” Ashley said. “There are certainly people that come to Monterey and the Central Coast to have a much more relaxed, casual, less hectic experience.”
Eating Italian food and sipping wine on an outdoor patio overlooking Monterey Bay, in full view of sea lions—what could be more relaxing than that? The draw of Paluca Trattoria goes beyond its location, however. The owners help set the tone for a good customer experience through the use of convenient tools, team training, and more.
Below are three tips that have helped Ashley and Sal make a lasting impression on visitors to Monterey for more than two decades (including Big Little Lies director Jean-Marc Vallée!)
1. Use all the tools available to you
Yelp’s waitlist technology allows customers to add themselves to a restaurant’s waitlist remotely, without standing around or making reservations they can’t keep. This is especially helpful in a popular tourist spot like Fisherman’s Wharf, where wait times can add up.
Yelp reviewer Valerie A. and her husband, who came to Monterey to escape the California wildfires last year, found Paluca Trattoria on Yelp while searching for a relaxing dinner spot. “I was looking around to try to get reservations, and everything was booked. So I liked the fact that I could check in on the waitlist,” Valerie said. Once added to the queue, they were seated immediately.
Beyond improving the customer experience, Yelp’s Waitlist feature can also add value for the restaurant. Ashley and Sal have found that using Waitlist instead of reservations can reduce the risk of latecomers and no-shows. Ashley said: “We [used to have] a huge rate of no shows or people that were very late. The conundrum was we’d have all these tables booked out for reservations. We’re holding these tables while we’ve got other people physically standing there saying, ‘Why are all those tables empty?’”
Now, during the restaurant’s busiest months and on weekends, Paluca Trattoria offers Yelp Waitlist exclusively. “It became an absolute game changer for us,” Ashley said. “What that allowed folks to do is as they’re approaching and getting closer, they could time it out, being more realistic about when they could show up and then hop on the waitlist.”
2. Model the customer service you want from your employees
At Paluca Trattoria, stand-out employees create and maintain an approachable atmosphere—so much so that Valerie A. mentioned an employee by name in her Yelp review: “Our server Rosemary was really friendly and accommodating, and we had a lovely evening,” she wrote.
According to Ashley, this is an expectation that she and Sal, along with seasoned staff like Rosemary, model for the rest of the team: “We’re all working to make sure that everyone’s having a good experience. I think that comes off to visitors, and I actually have had quite a few people stop me and comment on that—that they appreciate the fact that it’s obvious we’re all in that together.”
Successful employees can almost always be traced back to the way they are managed, and one of the best ways to encourage positive behavior is to model it yourself as the business owner. That’s something Ashley and Sal believe in wholeheartedly—especially in a town like Monterey, where guests often have questions about how to spend their visit.
“You really have to model… how you want [your team] to be and how you want them to interact with your customers,” she said. “You’ll find myself and someone like Rosemary and Sal helping people find hotels. We’ll give them ideas about what to do while they’re in town. We want to create an atmosphere where we feel like people are getting a lot of personalized attention and care.”
3. Play to your strengths, especially in a crowd
Successful businesses play to their strengths. What can your business give customers that your competition can’t? For Paluca Trattoria, it’s all about how they use their proximity to the bay and its relaxed atmosphere—as well as some of its friendly inhabitants.
“On any given day, we have our regular visitors, the sea lions,” Ashley said. “They’re swimming in the water right underneath people who sit at the railing… It’s really amazing for people to come and be able to sit and eat and see all that going on—pelicans and the seagulls and that type of thing.”
The restaurant’s patio seating overlooks a cove filled with sailboats and marine life. On colder, windy days, the restaurant warms guests with heat lamps and tries to block them from the breeze. This became especially important during the pandemic, when Paluca Trattoria could not offer indoor seating.
But even now, Ashley said many diners find it worth it to bundle up in hopes of meeting one of the restaurant’s special guests: “They’ve become accustomed to wearing layers or being prepared for any type of weather conditions. So we’re finding even on days that are slightly chilly, our patio—all the tiers—are full.”
Interviews by Emily Washcovick and editorial contributions from Holly Hanchey
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Elizabeth, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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