Human-to-Human Service

Boston ‘Mom and Pop’ Shops-Introduction

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 01/30/2016

Many of us lament the demise of ‘Mom and Pop’ shops, especially when they give way to soulless, ‘plastic’, national chains like those prevalent in Boston’s emerging Seaport District.

‘Mom and Pop’ shop as defined by Investopedia:

A colloquial term for a small, independent, family-owned business. Unlike franchises and large corporations, which have multiple operations in various locations, mom and pop shops usually have a single location that often occupies a physically small space. The “shop” could be any type of business, such as an auto repair garage, bookstore or restaurant.

To me, ‘Mom and Pop’ shops are about people who keep their heads down and grind out a living every day without a lot of fanfare. This blog post launches a series celebrating ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area. It was inspired by Sharon and Chad Burns, co-owners of Farmstead Table in Newton, MA, and clients of my consulting business. Sharon is the pastry chef, and Chad is the executive chef, and both have multiple responsibilities beyond those titles. After meeting with them weekly over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know what their roles are, and what they rely on each other for.

I love supporting small businesses and good people, and that’s what this series is about. Some very popular restaurants and food trucks in Boston, Erbaluce, Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, Select Oyster, Brewer’s ForkDeuxave, Blue Ox, Moonshine 152, Trina’s, Steel & Rye, Stoked Pizza, Villa Mexico Cafe, Trade, Nebo, and State Park mentioned in my 10/22/15 facebook post and thread, are all owned by couples who work together in their restaurants. Over the next several months I will be dedicating blog posts to owners of Boston area restaurants and small businesses who contact me and respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experience of owning, working, and operating a business together.

Send an email to if you’re interested in receiving a questionnaire and being featured in a future blog post. Media inquiries to same email, please. This is an opportunity for ‘Mom and Pop’ shops to tell their story and create content for their social media platforms. Please forward this post to anyone who might be interested in participating. Thank you.

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Boston Restaurant and Small Business Owners

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 01/30/2016

Interrupting regularly scheduled programming to promote my PR, Social Media & Hospitality Consulting business for restaurants and small businesses in the Boston area. Stay tuned for another SNS blog post soon. Thank you.

Be humble about your success. Luck, timing, and a lot of other people played a significant role in it.

This advice from Donald Wharton, Plymouth State College president, was included in the shortest graduation speech I ever heard while attending my brother’s graduation from Plymouth State in 1997.

I think about those words often when observing the social media posts from individual chefs and their restaurants. The ill-advised, obnoxious, “look-at-me” marketing that a handful of chef/owners employ can actually undermine their personal ‘brands’ and can be detrimental to their business. Many employees and customers find it off-putting, and can see right through a chef/owner trying too hard to be a “badass,” and not trying hard enough to keep their eye on the ball, mind the store, and do what’s right for their employees, customers, and long-term for their business. Personal chef or staff ‘brands’ impact perception of a business, and impact some diner’s decisions to support or avoid restaurants.

So why do they do it? Ego. And their publicists, PR agencies, marketing firms, (often detached, soulless corporate entities) don’t have the courage, or the perspective and knowledge to tell them it’s a bad strategy. Instead, they are enabling them to ensure they will continue to be paid ridiculous amounts of money. Too many restaurants are paying exorbitant, unnecessary monthly fees to individuals and companies delivering ‘fluff’ instead of strategic, candid, blunt advice. I get the ‘big picture’ strategy, but many of those fees are a huge gamble, and in most cases, a waste of money.

We’ve been very fortunate to have dodged a bullet so far this winter in terms of the weather. Fortunately, the current 10-day forecast has NO SNOW in it, and even calls for a high temperature of 56-degrees on Wednesday! (Fuckin’ A, or fuckin’ oath as my Aussie friends would say.) We’re far from out of the woods, but hopefully Boston area restaurant business will not be hit hard like it was last year. I realize that many of you have been preparing for difficult months financially during the slower winter months. If you’re doing a little better than you thought, and have a little more time, now is the perfect time to re-examine your PR, social media and marketing strategies without spending a lot of money. You will be better positioned to capture even more business during the busier months if you invest the time and effort now to tighten up your game plan.

The strategies that I recommend are the antithesis of the over-priced, over-hyped, “agencies.” Rather than trying to win national popularity contests, I recommend the organic, grass-roots, real strategies that worked for our team during the early years at jm Curley. We gained national attention because of our consistent, sustained effort locally, as we built and nurtured relationships with our employees, customers, neighbors, vendors, community, and industry peers via social media and in-person. No one knows or cares about your business more than you do. Detached, 3rd party, ‘corporate’ entities cannot capture and communicate the spirit, personality, soul, and mission of your restaurant the way you and your staff can. I can work with you and your team to implement effective strategies at a very reasonable cost.

There’s a sweet spot between the extreme of paying a national media firm and spending no money and doing very little social media marketing on you your own. For those of you doing nothing or not enough with social media, can you really afford to ignore the potential benefits to your business? There are so many restaurants that aren’t even in the conversation when customers are deciding on where to dine because the restaurant does nothing to remain current and relevant. They’re not even benefitting from ‘passive’ marketing because they don’t even have active Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for customers to promote them on. And they’re stuck because they feel it’s a daunting task to get in ‘the game’ at all. If you’re willing to invest the time, it’s really not too difficult.

I’m taking on a few more customers immediately, and welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the possibility of working together. Please email me at for a list of services I provide. Thank you for your consideration.


PS-Please feel free to forward this to anyone who could benefit. Thank you.

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

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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Boston Server’s Restaurant Family Steps up to Support Him

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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Managing Restaurant Employees in the Age of Online Amatuer Reviews

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

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