The Quarter Creole Cuisine has the trappings of a fine-dining experience: Golden chandeliers, thoughtfully plated dishes, and live music flood the space with the sounds and sights of New Orleans. But when customers walk in and smell the food, owner Norm Theard wants them to feel right at home.
That’s because The Quarter—serving up Creole food in the suburbs of Los Angeles—is truly a piece of home for Norm. “The restaurant is a tribute to my mom and our cuisine,” he said. “It’s Creole food. We’re all Creole folks. Mom and Dad were born and raised in New Orleans, and food’s really important to us.”
The recipes on The Quarter’s menu are the same dishes that five generations of Theard women served at home in New Orleans. To preserve the flavors of Creole culture and the importance of connecting over food, Norm has let his family be his guide as owner and executive chef of the restaurant.
“It’s all about trying to keep it true to what my mom cooked and what my grandmother cooked and what my great-grandmother cooked,” he said. “I’m not going to ever bring any ingredients into our kitchen that my mom couldn’t get her hands on. So I’ll come up with new dishes often, but it’s something that my mom could have come up with. That’s what keeps it true. And it keeps the smells together when you walk in. So I can tell people it’s Creole, and it is Creole.”
This feeling of home informs more than just the menu, however. Norm also immerses his staff in Creole cuisine—encouraging them to try everything before they get on the floor—so they can share a familiar, genuine love of the food with customers. “[The servers] walk you through the experience and make it easy for you—you know, like you’re at their house,” Norm said.
As a result, a recommendation from an employee at The Quarter feels like personalized guidance from a friend or family member, who’s found the perfect dish for you. According to Yelp reviewer Steff B., that easy-going, familiar atmosphere made her entire dining experience more memorable—even when her server’s recommendation fell flat.
“Our waiter was on point with bringing not just our courses but also our plethora of dishes out in perfectly timed waves,” Steff wrote in her review. “His service was thoughtful, well-paced, and well-executed. He also recommended a drink to me which ended up not being to my taste. I ordered something else and, very unexpectedly, we weren’t charged for the recommended drink in the end.”
Norm is very intentional about training employees to provide this level of customer service. He encourages them to connect with the food and form their own opinions—but most importantly, he allows them to bring their authentic selves to work. “I don’t give them a script,” he said. “We’ve probably all experienced that server who had a script… and it just feels so fake and makes them uneasy and they never really connect with you, the diner.”
Norm added: “So I tell them the exact opposite: ‘I want you to do your thing and want you to say it the way you want to say it. I want you to tell [customers] whatever you’re most passionate about—tell them that.’ And it comes across to people like Steff, because it’s true. It’s real. It’s impossible to act that out.”
Allowing staff to speak off-script gives them a sense of confidence and ownership in their work. That, in turn, translates to customers like Steff, who leave feeling invested in the restaurant’s success. “I think something that’s very special is that food is communal and it is a shared experience,” she said.
Steff uses Yelp reviews to document those communal experiences and share them with a larger community. She describes her audience as her future self—and any others who might need help making decisions about how to spend their time and money.
However, Yelp reviews also reach another audience: the business owner. Reviews are a great way for small business owners to get more information about what they do well and why customers love them.
For Norm, customer feedback of any form—even if he doesn’t agree with it—is a learning opportunity. “My sous chef Ian and I will always taste whatever is returned to the kitchen,” he said. “Even if you stuck your fork in it, we’re going to taste it, just to make sure that there’s nothing wrong with it.”
When it comes to reviews, Norm tends not to respond, preferring to give the mic to the customer: “I just let [the review] stand on its own. Like a piano, you know, it’s going to be either in sync and in harmony with the rest of it, or [my response is] going to be the one dissonant note over there that’s just a little different.”
Norm has his reasons for letting the reviewer’s opinion stand alone. But there’s immense value in responding to both positive and negative reviews publicly. To learn more about the importance of responding to reviews, Yelp’s dos and don’ts can help you show potential diners that you’re committed to providing a great customer experience.
The following insights have helped The Quarter deliver a dining experience worthy of five generations of Creole home cooking:
- Be genuine. Authenticity can make your business stand out and is important for team building and success with customers.
- Learn from your mistakes. Look at mistakes as opportunities for growth, learning, and familiarization with your food, service, and customer base.
- Put people first. Running your business with people in mind, particularly staff and customers, will help you create a complete, positive restaurant experience.
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Norm and Steff, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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