Raising a Glass to Ryan McGrale, a Bartender’s Bartender

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 11/17/2015

The Boston bar and restaurant industry is reeling from the devastating news of the sudden death of esteemed barman, Ryan McGrale over the weekend. Ryan was an ebullient professional whose life touched thousands far beyond the Boston and NYC restaurant communities where he worked. The outpouring of love and support for Ryan’s family, friends, and co-workers on social media has been incredibly inspirational. Based on the volume of those posts, the magnitude of McGrale was far, deep, and wide.

Ryan McGrale lived up to the hype.

I met Ryan at No. 9 Park in Boston, one of my favorite restaurant bars in the city several years ago. Whenever I walked in and saw the dynamic duo of Ryan and John Gertsen behind the bar, I knew I was in for an awesome experience. If I stood for too long chatting at the host stand, Ryan would often whip up a Pear Martini, come out from behind, and start asking loudly, “Who ordered the girly drink?” while walking through the crowd, and eventually taunting/embarrassing me when he handed it to me. His pranks and antics are legendary.

Ryan’s service and hospitality were impeccable. He was unfailingly polite, extremely gracious, respectful, and had a remarkable talent for consistently making me and whoever I was with know that we were in great hands. He was extremely knowledgeable, took great pride in what he did, and he worked very, very hard. He was effusive and genuine, fast, friendly, feisty, and funny. His mechanics, charm, and showmanship were a treat to witness. And man, did he ever have the gift of gab. His bar was always entertaining. He wasn’t a big guy, but he was a force who had full command of the bar with his expertise, confidence, hustle, and humility.

Ryan McGrale was a bartender’s bartender. He took pride in being and calling himself a bartender, not some elitist, manufactured name for the trade that he plied so well. Many industry brothers and sisters spent time with him to brainstorm about everything from cocktails to career choices. He was smart and wise beyond his 36 years. He was well-respected and a trusted colleague, and good friend to scores of folks in the industry.

Deepest condolences to Ryan’s family, friends, co-workers, industry peers, and customers trying to grasp the shock of his death. Many of us are struggling to find the words. To that end, I will repeat what I posted on facebook a few hours after I heard the news. Ryan was the quintessential “life of the party,” with tremendous, infectious levels of energy, spirit, and enthusiasm. I’ll never forget the early days at No. 9 Park with Ryan and John together behind the bar, and how good they were at their jobs. Ryan was extremely talented and elevated the game in Boston, NYC and well beyond. He was a gentleman, a showman, a character, and a great ball of fucking fire. This cuts to the core. “Good people” gone way too soon.

In closing, I’ll rely on the help of a few friends from their public comments:

Louis DiBiccari, co-owner of Tavern Road, Ryan’s employer:

Ryan is gone and the pain right now seems insurmountable. I know I’m struggling real hard with it. But I also know that he left us so much to remember him. It can be seen, felt, and experienced through his family at TavernRoad and amongst his peers throughout this great community. You will find reminders of him through Ray Guerin, Will Tomlinson, Steve Schnelwar, and for generations to come. There are names in this city that we recite within our training methods. People who taught us what we know and we speak of them often when we’re explaining how and why in context to our trade. Ryan McGrale is amongst those names. The people we mention when we speak of the great ones and what made them special. He’s a hall of famer. First ballot. May his spirit live on in each of us for the rest of our days.

Lou Saban, veteran Boston barman:

What an unbelievable week of loss.  Beirut, Paris, and now one that hits very close to home.  Ryan McGrale and I only shared a few conversations but it’s always sad to lose someone who dedicated their lives to making people feel like they belong somewhere.  The only comfort you can take in this situation is the endless amount of pictures and videos of him living life to the fullest and making people’s hearts burst with those positive feelings that we spend our whole lives searching for.  What a fucking success of a life. Just keep this week in mind when you wake up tomorrow.  Everyone goes at some point but its more important than anything to live your life in a way that if you went tomorrow everyone would be talking about the times when you MADE THEIR LIFE WORTH LIVING.  Take a look at some of pictures of Ryan and follow his lead.  Live a remarkable life.  Life is a balance and the only reason we feel this terrible is because people like him made us feel so awesome when they were around.  You can be a total, unmitigated success, just like Ryan.

Ryan Brown, Boston DJ and industry friend in a tribute to McGrale:

You were absolutely tireless in your professionalism.  You built something lasting out of things that don’t last. You created. You gave so much energy.  You cared. You engaged. You mentored.  You learned. You broke rules and you made rules.  I sat at your bar countless times, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, but there was a reason why I was sitting at your bar, and it definitely wasn’t because of all the Nelly. There is something spectacular about watching someone with so much skill do their job.  And I’m not just talking about all the technical cocktail knowledge that I know barely anything about, but I’m talking about how you talked to people, how you navigated, how you moved. Above all else though, you made me feel at home, and on those days when you are trying to wrap your head around where home is or what home even is or means, making someone feel at home is a gift. And I thank you for always giving that selflessly. Literally always.

Ashley Stanley, founder of Lovin’ Spoonfuls Food Rescue non-profit:

My heart is heavy for so many industry friends today. Boston lost a truly good guy, so many hearts are breaking all last night and this morning.

There’s been too much turmoil and sadness in the early weeks + months of the season that is supposed to represent gratitude. Maybe the message here is that every day we have a chance to grab the people we love, tell them that they matter – and not wait. Maybe we ought to say too much instead of not enough. Even when it is overwhelming – imagine if we flooded each other and the world with acknowledgment, gratitude and love instead of holding it in and waiting for the ‘right’ moments. Somebody might need to hear it. You might need to say it.

Love loud and often, friends. Let’s not leave anything on the bar.

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“Italian Foodie” Schools Chef of Italian Restaurant

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 09/1/2015

This is just too good not to share.

Example #7,662 why restaurant owners and staff loathe amateur restaurant ‘”reviewers.”

 A friend invited me and my wife… to try XYZ restaurant. This friend knows I’m a foodie and hard on restaurants in general, Italian restaurants in particular (I am Italian)…

The chef obviously does not how to perform the maneuver for blending pasta with an oil (or butter) based seasoning that, in Italian, is referred to as “mantecare.” The idea is that you drain the pasta early and you finish it off in a pan with the seasoning so that starch shed from the pasta blends with the fat and binds the dish together. Having a puddle of grease at the bottom of a plate of fettuccine that is anything more than a slight slick is a major fail (maybe the chef should travel to Alfredo Alla Scrofa in Rome to learn; the place has become touristy but they still complete this key step table-side so he could watch them do it.

Kudos to the restaurant for serving a truly prime cut of beef. It was delicious. BUT…. in this day of accurate thermometers it’s unacceptable to flub the temperature. A medium rare steak should be RED and WARM throughout. Mine came PINK in the middle, with extended sections of BROWN. Call it medium (areas medium-well). I sent it back. It came back RED (good) and COLD (not medium rare). I ate it because at that point I did not want to send it back again and I’d rather eat meat too raw than too cooked. But this is unacceptable, all it takes is a thermometer to get it right and if you can’t even do that right, a $200 immersion circulator will allow you to cook meat to the perfect temperature every time; a propane torch will add that perfect sear. Disappointing. But, again, the cut of meat was outstanding, so some credit for not skimping on ingredients.

The sides were abundant but did not impress. The rolled up eggplant bits were average. The eggplant was tasty but I don’t know what they’d done to the ricotta to make it so tough. The corn tasted like it was out of a can.

The gelato…did not have the smoothness of gelato and I suspect the chef did not follow the proper gelato process (which is not easy — I grant, but if you can’t do it, give it up).

Wine list was extensive and reasonably priced — a plus. I would have liked some more Southern Italian wines, but that’s me and I don’t hold it against them.

Portions are absurd but this is a neutral…The fettuccine half portion looked to be about 100g-120g of pasta; a portion of dry pasta should be about 100g and a portion of egg past should be about 80g by Italian standards. If what I got was truly a half portion, the implication is that a full portion is 200g-240g — that’s insane (I am a 1.82m tall and weigh 80 Kg and it was too much for me). The tenderloin looked to be 500g of meat or so. I could not finish any of the dishes. Again, I don’t hold it against the restaurant, but beware when you order.

Service good. Ambiance a little dark for my taste but good. Location excellent.

I go to restaurants for food and this was a fail.

[As I've stated before, imagine living or working with people like this every day??? At least we can get rid of them at the end of the meal.]

Join #ServerNotServant on Facebook here, and on Twitter and Instagram @PatrickMBoston.


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Boston Server’s Restaurant Family Steps up to Support Him

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 07/8/2015

I don’t share fundraising initiatives too often here. When I do, I prefer that they be small, private, non-corporate, low admin fee initiatives. Here is one that I fully support, especially because I know and like Fernando and his co-workers helping him a lot. No one is exempt from life-changing events. Please help and share if the spirit moves you. Thank you.

From the GoFundMe page:

Many of you know our loving & happy-go-lucky coworker, Fernando Moraes. He has been a dedicated part of BL Gruppo’s Sportello Restaurant for 4+ years, working as a server and making his mark as part of “Team Wine”. He is also a loving husband and father of an 8-month old daughter, Norah.

2 weeks ago, “Fern” was riding his bike home from work and was stuck by another vehicle. He suffered a broken & fractured arm, broken wrist and 2 broken hands. Honestly, he is very lucky to be alive..

In hopes to maintain his spirit and optimism, and to relieve some financial burden, we have chosen to set up this fundraiser page. Fern’s recovery process will possibly take upwards of 3 months, during which time he will be out of work. As his arms and hands play a vital role in his working enviornment, the quality of his recovery will be extrememly important.

7/8/2015 update from my friend and Fernando’s co-worker, Haley Fortier:

WOW!!! What a push!! We are over half way there in 2 days already!! THANK YOU to everyone who has donated to this cause. It is a really testament to our industry, our clientele, friends, family & to our community in Fort Point!! I am humbled by the response and very much appreciate all of your efforts. We are almost there!!! Keep spreading the word….and again, THANK YOU!!!

More details here.  Again, thank you-Patrick

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Service Industries: “No Escape from Reality” + Entitled Customers

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 07/1/2015

Yes, this is the “real life,” and it’s not “just fantasy.” A lot of humans just plain suck.

It’s no fun being the Fun Police. I’ve been a member of the brigade often. And no matter how hard you try, it’s rare to confront a group of “fun” people who completely “get it” when you ask them to consider the circumstances, their volume and actions, and everyone else around them. When you add alcohol to the mix, it often doesn’t end well.

Today’s post comes with permission via KC, owner of KC’s Rib Shack in Manchester, NH via their facebook page:

Open letter to an OBNOXIOUS Self Entitled Customer: ( I have always come from the school of “The customer is always right” and many of you who know me and have been customers of KC’s for many many years know I will bend over backwards for my customers.) That being said, there are times I need to say what needs to be said. Which is what follows [after Joyce's 'review'].

Joyce — 1 star • KC’s Ribs Shack WAS one of our favorite places to eat HOWEVER we just left there very unhappy. We had a party of twenty for a birthday party. We were all seated in the bar. We were having fun singing along with the radio when the OWNER came over to the table and very RUDELY told us to keep quiet others were trying to eat. Now mind you there were about 10 others in the bar and they were all laughing and having fun with us including the bartender and wait staff. When we confronted owner about him being rude he said he didn’t care! Let it be know We will NEVER EAT THERE AGAIN!!! We had a 500 dollar bill they have now lost our business! And I now will never recommend this place to anyone!!! I will never go again!!! ‪#‎KCRIBSHACK‬ ‪#‎THEYSUCK‬ ‪#‎ownersanASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎boycott‬

KC’s response:

Dear Joyce, I sincerely apologize that you mistakenly thought my restaurant was a karaoke bar.

We are a family restaurant not a bar. I realize you felt as though everybody in the entire restaurant was rejoicing in the painful rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody you and your self entitled friends were performing, yet that was not the case.

Although sometimes it is tough to walk the line between being the fun police and allowing our customers to enjoy themselves to their fullest. We have to draw the line when it becomes a nuisance to other customers in the restaurant at the time. Two tables asked to be moved to other areas of the restaurant even after your group was asked to stop singing. You probably missed out on that because it is clearly all about you. I’m glad you and your inconsiderate friends have vowed to “Never Eat There Again” and to #Boycott KC’s Rib Shack. Go ahead and continue your social media crusade on Yelp and facebook. I think you may have forgot Tripadviser as well. Thanks again for your feedback. We will let you know if we decide to become a karaoke bar in the future. ‪#‎IMKC‬ ‪#‎IMTHEASSHOLE‬ ‪#‎ISUCK‬ ‪#‎DON‬TNEEDINCONCIDERATECUSTOMERS

“Easy Come, Easy Go” -Freddy Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody)

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Managing Restaurant Employees in the Age of Online Amatuer Reviews

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 06/10/2015

Today’s guest post was submitted by Joshua Sperber, doctoral candidate at CUNY Graduate Center.

I worked, mostly as a host and cashier, in three Los Angeles restaurants during the mid-1990s. In each restaurant, whether it was a mom and pop or part of a national chain, management made the same complaint: my refusal to greet customers with a warm smile was bad for business and, by implication, my job security. One owner even referred to a national study that demonstrated that – as is in fact the case – worker unfriendliness is the main reason that customers don’t return to a restaurant.

While my managers sometimes seemed embarrassed, or even apologetic, to be lecturing their mostly un-tipped, minimum-wage-earning employee on the importance of appearing happy, there was one time when management became deadly serious about its “smile or else” policy. I had been written up by a Mystery Shopper for not smiling while hosting at Coco’s. Seeming to forget that the Mystery Shopper was in fact a company employee applying criteria that the company had invented in the first place, my managers acted as if I had grievously harmed someone. Indeed, management ordering me to smile was one thing, but a customer – even a fake one – ordering me to smile was something else. My only comfort was knowing that because Mystery Shoppers were said to visit infrequently, I wouldn’t have to worry about being spied on by one for a long time.

The website Yelp has changed the way many restaurants manage their staffs. Numerous restaurants, especially chains, still utilize Mystery Shoppers, but these restaurants also supplement their internal reviews with Yelp’s online reviews. And smaller establishments (which are more affected by negative Yelp reviews) that don’t employ Mystery Shoppers generally do rely on Yelp as an informal, albeit unreliable, customer-subsidized “Mystery Shopper.” If I were working at Coco’s today, my occasional anxiety about a potential Mystery Shopper would likely be replaced by perpetual concern that every customer could be a Yelp reviewer. I might even start smiling, not out of happiness or general well-being but out of fear.

I have talked to over two dozen New York City managers who have punished (for instance, through loss of shifts) and even fired employees who had been identified in negative Yelp reviews. Some managers also use Yelp reviews to provide positive feedback. For instance, one chain posts on a bulletin board reviews that praise employees (while still confronting employees about negative reviews, of course). And one manager, according to his employee, even puts his staff to work writing positive Yelp reviews whenever a negative one appears. In short, managers – while maintaining a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward Yelp – have found numerous ways to incorporate online customer feedback into their management of workers.

I am currently writing my dissertation on the ways in which customer-based websites are being used to manage employees. While I have had no trouble interviewing dozens of Yelp reviewers and restaurant managers, it’s been trickier to interview servers (I can’t go into a restaurant and spend 25 minutes talking to a server with the manager watching). I therefore wanted to ask any servers or bartenders reading this to please contact me if you have any experiences with or thoughts on how Yelp has affected your workplace. I’d like to hear from you whether your experiences are good, bad, or neutral, and all interviews will be anonymous.

Thank you very much- Joshua Sperberjsperber@gradcenter.cuny.edu

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