Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
Two previous Server Not Servant blog posts, 64 Suggestions for Restaurant Customers, and 64 Suggestions for Bar Customers, resulted in the some of largest volume of traffic to this site. The posts were in response to Bruce Buschel’s list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do published in the New York Times, You’re the Boss Blog (The Art of Running a Small Business). Bruce was building his first restaurant, Southfork Kitchen in the Hamptons when he published the posts, before hiring any servers.
These “Suggestions for Bartenders” are intended to add some balance, insight, perspective and fuel to the ongoing conversations between workers and guests.
Inspiration for the following list came from responses to the posts mentioned above, and dining out at bars countless times over 4 decades. Some are obvious, but I omitted often repeated, no-brainers like “Don’t steal or get shitfaced,” and others that have been beaten into submission on every listicle ever created for bartenders.
I realize the job can be extremely hectic, and that “when time permits” could be added before many of the items listed. And yes, I know there are some redundancies. (The magic number is 64…)
Many of the suggestions for bartenders below were gleaned from from my experience behind the bar and other restaurant work, questionnaire responses from 200+ bartenders/servers for Server Not Servant, and countless conversations with customers and restaurant industry professionals. Thank you to everyone who contributed, especially SNS Facebook Group members.
The final, forthcoming lists in this series are, “64 Suggestions for Restaurant Servers,” and “64 Suggestions for Restaurant Owners and Managers.” Please email me your suggestions.
64 Suggestions for Bartenders
- Don’t call yourself a mixologist.
- Greet and welcome every guest in a timely fashion, even if you’re slammed and can’t serve them immediately. “I’ll be right with you,” or at least eye contact and a nod, buys you time with reasonable people, and let’s them know you’re aware and hustling.
- Strike a balance between having fun with your friends/regulars/co-workers and welcoming and tending to first-time guests. No one wants to feel like an outsider in your house. Pay attention to the “odd person out.” Include everyone in the party–they’re all watching, listening, and noticing.
- Use “Welcome” frequently when greeting guests, especially with new people you haven’t seen before. (I included this no-brainer because “No one made us feel welcome” is one of the most frequent complaints from customers.)
- Introduce yourself if it feels right and time allows. Many guests will appreciate being able to refer to you by name instead of, “Excuse me.” (Yes, some will incessantly exploit knowing it.)
- Engage. Convert customers from guests to ambassadors. If you don’t recognize a guest, break the ice w/something in your own style to welcome them. “Welcome, have you been in/joined us before?”, and “How did you hear about us?” work well. I’ll never forget Ted Kilpatrick at No. 9 Park in Boston asking me, “Did you bring inspiration tonight, or would you like to see a cocktail list?” I knew exactly what I wanted, and appreciated cutting to the chase. (Credit: Jeff Toister-”The 5 Question Technique”)
- Offer a taste of a beer, wine, or spirit when someone is unfamiliar with a product, or on the fence about committing.
- Don’t pass the buck, if you make a mistake own up and resolve the situation, don’t blame the chef, barback, owner, food runner, or anyone else. Most customers will understand if you explain what went wrong and how you’re going to make it right. (Credit: Bruce Buschel)
- Use ‘We’ not ‘They’ when discussing policies of your restaurant/bar. Don’t deflect responsibility and throw your team or ownership under the bus, own it. (Credit: Jeff Toister)
- Don’t drag your team down, the job is hard enough without excessive negativity. Leave your drama and baggage at the door. Your co-workers and customers don’t want to hear your whining and negativity.
- Set up personal accounts and follow all social media platforms of your restaurant. Before each shift, review your restaurant’s social media posts since your last shift. There’s no excuse for not being informed about social media posts from your restaurant, professional reviews and news, especially when guests broach the topics.
- Occasionally retweet your restaurant’s tweets, share Facebook posts, and repost or comment on IG posts, and add a personal endorsement inviting friends in when inspired and comfortable doing so. Today’s technology makes building and cultivating a following much easier than it used to be.
- Don’t be an asshole on your personal social media platforms. You could be fired. (Amazing how many people rant about how they hate their job, co-workers, customers, etc. on public platforms.)
- Subscribe to your restaurant’s newsletter.
- “Keep alert, scan your guests, and anticipate their needs. For example, offer or give them things before they ask, whether it be a refill on their low water, or delivering a sharper knife when they are having problems cutting with the regular one. Listen and overhear what they are talking to their dining or drinking companions about to know whether you can be of assistance or suggest something in that realm — people are always surprised when you are picking up on their needs before they directly ask you.” (Credit: Fred Yarm @cocktailvirgin)
- Control what you can control. Be prepared. The job is hard enough dealing with the inevitable shitshow coming your way. Be sure you have back-ups of everything, and if you don’t, know ahead of time so you don’t leave a slammed bar looking for a bottle of wine, booze, beer, or anything you don’t have.
- Checklists for opening and closing are critical. And everyone needs to use them and sign-off on them before and after every shift. “Prior, proper planning prevents…”
- If your guests congratulate you on a positive, professional review or media mention, respond with humility and gratitude. Sincerely acknowledge how fortunate the restaurant is, and share the credit with those who contributed to your success; your team, guests, purveyors, etc.
- Clean the bar with sanitizer mix between guests leaving and new guests arriving. On approach, new guests can see rings on the bar and greasy schmutz from the previous guest that a bartender often can’t see. A quick, dry wipe doesn’t instill any confidence in a new guest that the bar is clean.
- Don’t try to hide issues that could blow up on you. If you serve someone you find out later has been day-drinking for 6 hours, (and hid it well before you served them), communicate with your team so you’re all on the same page about shutting them off, making sure they’re not driving, and that they have an escort and/or a way to get home safely. Too many bartenders have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and just want to get “over-served” people out the door. You and the bar/restaurant are liable for their consumption and safety.
- Read amateur reviews of your restaurant/bar even if management doesn’t bring them to your attention. You can always pick up on recurring themes or learn something specific that can be improved upon, especially if the sample size is large enough.
- Understand the significant difference between service and hospitality. Indifferent ‘service’ is one of the most frequent complaints from restaurant/bar customers. Great service is execution. Great hospitality is about meaningful and memorable connections with guests.
- “Don’t be condescending if someone asks for a ‘lower-level’ cocktail or beer. For example, if they ask for a Bud and you don’t have it, don’t give them a smug look and/or ridicule them on social media.” (Credit: Marc Hurwitz, Founder, Boston’s Hidden Restaurants)
- Try like hell not to smoke during your shift, even on your own time if you get a break. No matter how much you wash your hands, gargle, brush, suck on mints, or chew gum, guests can smell the residual effect. Most won’t say anything, but many will notice and hate it.
- Don’t chew gum, unless Nicorette is the only way to keep you from smoking…. (RIP, Maryanne Hooley-Olives Restaurant-Charlestown, MA)
- Show up in advance of your shift. Allow enough time to change, eat, use the facilities, read the employee bulletin board, study new menu and drink specials, and prepare for your shift. When you ask/expect preferential scheduling/treatment you’ll get it because you’ve acknowledged that respect is a 2-way street, and earned.
- Write down the details of lengthy orders with multiple modifications if you’re not entering them into the POS while a guest is ordering. No one wants to be interrupted (especially multiple times) to clarify something you forgot because you didn’t write it down.
- Think like an owner. Be proactive about recommending improvements to your bar manager, GM, or owner. Bitching to your colleagues (about colleagues) not following procedures over shift drinks at 4am is not going to fix the problem. Make specific recommendations about how your team and restaurant can improve, and volunteer to make change happen. If your repeated recommendations to improve the quality of life for you and your co-workers, save money for the company, and/or improve business falls on deaf ears, move on.
- Every shift is similar to the curtain being drawn before a play. You have a choice about how (most of) the performance is going to go. If you’re prepared, positive, friendly, and focused, your co-workers and guests will feed off the energy you put out. “Have fun while you are back there and realize that you are the emcee of a show. You have the power to make people very happy…use it.” (Credit: Roy Binbuffalony-Pearl Street Grill & Brewery-Buffalo, New York)
- Serve red wine by-the-glass at an appropriate temperature. Hot, red wine essentially says, “We’re not trying.” (I realize you might not have enough designated reach-ins for reds, but there’s almost always a creative solution.)
- Don’t appease a small group of pushy, obnoxious people (turning up the TV volume during a sporting event) at the expense of other guests or the mission/culture of your restaurant.
- Be confident and firm with assholes. Don’t let them ruin your night or ruin the experience of your other guests. Address loud, obnoxious people who are ruining the experience of guests around them. Resolve a potential problem before the situation escalates. (This includes oblivious, detestable, loud cellphone humans.) Most offended guests are reluctant to speak up but will fault you and your team for tolerating boorish behavior at their expense.
- Read/sense your guest’s desired level of engagement. Be attentive without being intrusive. If they ask questions about the restaurant, the neighborhood, etc., provide them with an experience that demonstrates that you genuinely care. Recommend other restaurants/bars, and whatever else people are looking for, especially out-of-town guests.
- “Focus on the guests and less on distractions like cell phones, the servers at the pass, the television, etc. This includes drinking on the job. While I am not offended by witnessing a little camaraderie especially later at night, there is no way that a bartender can do as good of a job after a drink or two. Sure, the bartender can probably pour beers just as well, but the awareness of the guests and the financial transactions can drop to the point that serious mistakes are made.” (Credit: Fred Yarm @cocktailvirgin)
- It’s not all about you. There’s a big difference between confidence and arrogance. No one likes a know-it-all. “You don’t know everything. Check your ego at the door.” (Credit: @Lissa3243)
- Stay on top of water refills. (This is one of the things that amateur ‘reviewers’ have been complaining about the most on Yelp and amateur sites for years.) If a guest just finished a road race and is chugging a glass of water every few minutes, leave them a pitcher. It’s more efficient for you, and serves the guest better.
- Maintain a wait list/queue for barstools if possible. Civilized humans appreciate avoiding the scrum when barstools open up.
- “Keep clean and tidy. Everything from the bar space to the bartender’s hygiene matters when it comes to food and drink that will be ingested into the guest’s body. Sticky bar tops, straws and napkins on the mats below the bartender’s feet, and unpolished glassware matter just as much as whether the bartender is touching their face or hair, grabbing glassware by the lip, and not washing their hands. Perception of space and delivery does indeed affect the enjoyment of food and drink.” (Credit: Fred Yarm @cocktailvirgin)
- Use “We” not “They” when dealing with a potential negative with a guest. “We don’t carry ‘The Captain’ (Morgan), but we do have Sailor Jerry, which I like better,” is more effective than, “They don’t have that here.” (Credit: Jeff Toister)
- When a guest asks for extra or a side of something (sauce, guacamole, condiments), let them know if there’s a charge before you bring it. (Especially in a casual, less-expensive restaurant.)
- Know the menu and inform guests about unique characteristics of the food and drink that aren’t described on the menu. Some details are purposefully omitted because there’s not enough room on the menu or to encourage verbal descriptions and engagement. Forgetting to explain the detail (Spice/heat level, temperature, portion size, etc.) can be costly and erode trust with a guest.
- “Never bitch about ‘only making $150 tonight’ within earshot of the kitchen crew.” (Credit: Roy Binbuffalony)
- If your shift ends when you’re in the middle of serving a guest, explain that you’re leaving, and introduce them to your replacement when possible. Leaving without acknowledging the transition is inhospitable.
- Be consistent with hospitality. You never know who is sitting at your bar. Every guest has the potential to be a regular, professional reviewer, or word-of-mouth ambassador. Many life-changing personal and business relationships begin in, or over, a bar.
- Be a great resource for your co-workers. If time allows, offer to speak to your server’s guests if they’re interested in agave and you’re the resident expert. And call on your colleagues for help if they know more about beer than you do. Guests will appreciate the teamwork and depth of knowledge you collectively share.
- Pitch in to help on the floor or wherever needed when it’s slow and you’re caught up, especially when another bartender is on. Deliver drinks that are sitting at the service bar, run bus buckets, replenish service station, etc. (Yes, servers should offer to help you when you’re slammed and they’re slow.)
- Be aware that guests can often hear your conversations with co-workers at the service end of the bar. (The barstool closest to the service station is often a wealth of information.)
- Don’t eat in front of guests.
- Be a connector. Great bartenders are resourceful and introduce guests to each other when appropriate.
- “A great bartender remembers where a guest left off last time they were in. Anything from what drinks they prefer to following up on asking about their travel plans. Showing a guest that despite dealings with hundreds more that they are indeed important and valued. Especially when the last visit was more than a year ago.” (Credit: Fred Yarm @cocktailvirgin)
- “Absolutely,” “My pleasure,” or “You’re welcome” are more effective than,”No problem.” (Credit:Bruce Buschel)
- When you shut someone off and serve them water, serve it to them in a plastic cup, especially if they’re combative. (Hurled plastic hurts less than glass…)
- Be mindful of interrupting conversations. Be patient and use eye contact to get the attention of your guests.
- Get out from behind the bar and circulate when time allows. Check in w/guests at a table who had a drink at the bar before dinner. Check in with your FOH and BOH teams. View the bar and restaurant from a guest’s perspective, and be sure the bar looks good to new guests approaching it.
- When you “check back” with a guest after a few bites or sips, listen carefully to their response after asking how they’re enjoying something. Don’t do a drive-by, nodding in approval while stating, “It’s good right?!?” Let them tell you if it’s good, and if it’s not, make it right.
- If you’re an intense craft cocktail, beer, or wine geek, awesome, but be sure your guests want to hear the sermon before preaching…
- Always be hustling.
- “Leave your bar (after shift) the way you would expect to walk into the next shift.” (Credit: Marvin Cohen-SNS Facebook Group)
- Be thoughtful, polite, respectful, and kind to your “work family.” We often spend more time with, and are closer to, those we work with than our biological families.
- “Be proud of your work. You, as a server, hostess, chef, bartender, busser are an important and integral part of your customers’ life. You can make or break their day with the simplest of gestures. As someone that can easily count how many times she’s cooked in the last 8-12 month, my life literally revolves around this industry and meals and cocktails and the people presenting them to me can brighten up a stressful day. Value yourself for having such an impact.” (Credit: Blogger and pro customer, Markeya Williams)
- Vet the owners, management, and culture of a bar/restaurant before accepting a job. Smart employers do their homework on prospects, so should you. Speak with current and former employees, review the restaurant’s website, the history of all social media platforms, all pro and amateur reviews, and every story/feature on the place.
- Don’t be a job hopper to the newest/hottest restaurant/bar every few months. (The “greener grass” is often the same set of issues with a different cast of characters.) You’ll damage your reputation and make future, prospective employers wary of hiring you.
- Demonstrate genuine gratitude/appreciation (in your own style) before guests leave. And invite them back. “…they will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Take care of yourself. Don’t get caught up in the after-hours vortex too often, it can kill you.
Ok, your turn. Please add your personal ”Do’s” and “Don’ts” for bartenders in the comments. Comments are screened before being approved. Feel free to give a shout-out to some of your favorite bartenders, the watering holes they work at, and what you love about how they operate. And please consider sharing this post. Thank you.
PS- There is a new tab on the right side of this blog under the “Server Snapshots” to support this project and expedite publication of the Server Not Servant book. As always, feel free to reach me privately at Patrick@servernotservant.com. Thank you-Patrick
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
So many times we walk or drive by. We may empathize and sometimes get involved, but many of us don’t often do enough.
This simple story is too important not to share, and so refreshing in light of all the negativity we’ve been barraged with. The picture and accompanying story were shared on the Massachusetts State Police Facebook Page on 5/17/16.
A Selfless Meal, and Conversation, for Two
We were shown this picture from a third-party who had not taken the photo, nor knew anything about it, other than they thought it was taken in Fall River. After a little digging, we were able to locate the citizen who had taken the photo. The citizen said the well-dressed Trooper in a suit appeared to be having lunch with a panhandler on Davol Street in Fall River. The citizen was struck by what he saw, snapped the photo, and posted it to a Facebook group in Fall River, captioned “And they say chivalry is dead…….Much respect.” We are grateful to that person, who thought to take the photo and share it.
After a little more digging, we found out the trooper is Luke Bonin, who is assigned to the State Police Dartmouth Barracks. After reaching out to Trooper Bonin, he was a bit surprised that someone had taken his photo, stating that he wasn’t seeking or expecting any publicity for it. But we pressed him, and he very reluctantly told us how he ended up sitting on his cruiser’s bumper that day sharing lunch with a stranger.
Trooper Bonin had just left court when he drove by the woman, who appeared down on her luck. She was holding a sign and asking for help from anyone who would pay attention. Trooper Bonin continued to drive on – directly to a local establishment, where he ordered two meals. He returned to the woman, pulled up, and exited his cruiser. Thinking he was there to remove her from the side of the road, she immediately stated to him that she would leave, that she knew she shouldn’t be there with her sign. But Trooper Bonin told her, “I’m not here to kick you out.” He then extended the two meals and told her to pick one.
They then sat, shared a meal, and a conversation.
Yes, Trooper Bonin, we know you do not want or expect publicity. We know you didn’t want to be noticed, but you were, and the job is proud of you. We commend you for your selfless act, and for “doing the right thing” for someone less fortunate than most people.
We have extraordinary troopers on the Massachusetts State Police who conduct themselves honorably, and perform selfless acts, every day. Most times, it goes unnoticed. But not this day.
[All text below picture courtesy of Massachusetts State Police Facebook Page.]
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
This series, introduced in a blog post on 1/30/16, celebrates ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area, and soon beyond. These blog posts are dedicated to owners of restaurants and small businesses who respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experiences of owning, working, and operating a business together.
All italicized comments were furnished by the owners of the business.
Olive Connection, at 1426 Beacon Street in Brookline, MA, is a retail specialty food store with olive oils and vinegars from around the world along with everything associated with olives. We specialize in the tastes and flavors of food, and customers can taste and select what they enjoy. With great ingredients one can make a simple meal delicious. We want our customers to always find something new with seasonal products and new offerings. Sometimes we’ll offer the unexpected for a wow experience. The store is owned and operated by the Sapoznik family of Brookline. (Husband and wife, Carol and Morry, and son, CJ)
Carol is the Big Cheese…the CFO-advertising.
Morry is the Salesman Extraordinaire and janitor.
Charles (CJ) is the General Manager, keeps us in inventory, schedules all of us and the employees, and is the muscle in the schlepping of the packages, and salesman. We all have our hand in selection of the products, but CJ is largely responsible for this area.
Server Not Servant (SNS): Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Boston?
As a family we have lived in Brookline for 28 years. CJ went to school in Brookline and Morry was an educator in the school system in Brookline before retiring.
SNS: Any education (or other) degrees, awards or certifications you care to share?
Carol is a retailer, graduated college with a retailing degree and had a 45 year professional career, 42 years at Crate & Barrel before retiring. Managing store personnel and operations and merchandising made up most of her experience.
Morry has a Masters in Education and was an assistant principal at Lawrence Elementary School in Brookline.
CJ has a culinary degree and has been working in restaurants and resorts in Colorado before moving back to Brookline.
SNS: Have you worked together before your current business?
We have never worked together as a family, so this is the first. When we started our journey of exploration to plan, we said that at any time if one of the 3 of us did not want to do this we would not go ahead. To be together in this venture was the point of it all.
SNS: How many hours a week do each of you work?
We are open 7 days a week, and most times there are 2 of us together. Occasionally, all 3 of us are there together but we all have our different roles.
SNS: Did anyone give you any advice before you started working together?
Yes- try to keep on schedule with business meetings. And gave us a name of a shrink that specializes in business relationships. We thought that was odd…and funny…at the time! We have not called on him yet.
Do your homework before you start looking for a space. We had lots of business advice from other small family business owners.
SNS: How would you describe you’re working relationship?
Carol- Most of the time, 95% it is good. There are the moments where it is shaky and we have to have a cooling off period. I think I drive my family crazy. I talk too much and want to talk things through and that bugs them. When I treat my son as a son and not a business partner he gets angry. My fault. I think he would say the same.
Morry- The business relationship works because of the solid relationship we have had many years as a couple. You have to have trust and enjoy each other’s company.
CJ always says we have to chill and take it one day at a time and not get too ahead of ourselves. Take time to enjoy the success.
SNS: Is it harder or easier than you anticipated?
Not harder…we were realistic about what it takes.
SNS: What do you like the most about working together?
We are talking to each other every day about something…it is nice…short and sweet. No surprises…keeping each other informed is key.
SNS: How have you avoided killing each other?
Carol- We need our space…and quiet…and being in the store by ourselves…too much togetherness is also not so good. Give each person the freedom to do their work.
Morry- Keeping a sense of humor. If that does not work…take a walk.
SNS: What do you rely on your partners to do in the shop that you’d hate doing?
Morry is the neat freak with cleanliness and keeps us all in line. When he is gone for a few days we have to fill in and realize all he does.
SNS: What qualities do you value most in employees?
Morry- They have to be a good person, have a positive personality, enjoy working with people.
Carol- They have to be fully engaged, and have ideas and love to help customers.
SNS: What do you enjoy doing most when you’re away from the business?
We all enjoy traveling, so we are taking trips this year to far away places, either together or separately…one person left behind to run the store. The trips all involve food and finding new resources. The food trade shows are one way but that is a given, we all need to share new ideas and what others are doing that we could learn and take back to the store.
SNS: Do you cook at home?
We all love to cook for recreation, entertain, experiment for new tastes. Read cookbooks as novels. All our meetings revolve around the table eating and talking about food and sports.
SNS: What are some of your favorite Boston area restaurants?
Locally in Brookline we love La Morra, Taberna de Haro, both of which we go to weekly. Washington Square Tavern, Fairstead Kitchen, Pomodoro, just to name more favorites. We love to try new spots.
SNS: Any dreams\fantasies about opening a restaurant completely different than your current shop?
We have to evolve our one location to have seasonal offerings, changes for interest, and keep our one-time customer coming back. So we have to keep our head down and concentrate on making it better and better. There is so much to do. The gift business is huge and we are just tapping the surface. Social media, and how to connect to our customers and respect their privacy is tricky.
SNS: What characterizes your favorite type of customers?
We love all our customers and the diversity of Brookline and surrounding areas is a key to success. Some beginning cooks, some developed chefs. There is something for everyone. The young children are lovers of food and enjoy tasting too.
SNS: What are you most proud of about your shop?
That we have customers that like our stuff…that is the report card. They think the environment is comfortable and warm and that we are friendly and helpful and appreciate them. They have told us that. We have items they cannot find anywhere else.
SNS: Any upcoming events you’d like to share?
We are partnering with our Greek Olive Oil producer for a Greek night on March 23rd. We are also partnering with La Morra Restaurant and our Sicilian Olive Oil producer for a Sicilian night on April 5th. We have free demonstrations every Friday with Sweet Rose Bakes and planning 4 Saturdays of how to make a great salad dressing. And more to come…so education and having fun in the store is key.
SNS: Any advice for couples thinking about working together in a restaurant/small biz?
Morry- Make sure you enjoy the other person’s company, have a sense of humor, respect each other for what they can bring to the mix. Trust them like a friend, not like a spouse or son.
Carol- This has brought us closer as a family…so what else would we be doing?…we are never bored, that’s for sure.
Keep asking yourself…are we still having fun?…because that is the point. Being together, having fun, and not taking ourselves too seriously. The mood of our family transfers to the customers and to our staff. Make it light and keep laughing.
Our customers want a local business to succeed…are always asking…how are you doing?
That is very rewarding. Providing something unique is appreciated buy all. It’s an exciting challenge.
If you’d like to participate in this series, please email Patrick@servernotservant.com. And please forward this blog post to ‘Mom and Pop’ Shop business owners who might enjoy sharing their stories. I’m also seeking a Boston media partner to share these posts. Thank you.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was exchanged between Olive Connection and Patrick Maguire/Server Not Servant in exchange for publication of this post. Sharing of this post by Carol, Morry and CJ Sapoznik and affiliates via social media is anticipated but not required. Thank you.
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
This is too inspirational and important not to share.
Sarah Livesey exemplifies genuine hospitality in a seemingly effortless manner. Moments after meeting her at Blue Dragon in Boston, I was very impressed by how she handled our group, simultaneously giving us direction and comfort that we were being taken care of. Subsequent interactions confirmed the ease with which this consummate pro takes care of her guests, staff, and the house. Yes, ‘I remember more about how she made me feel than what she said’.
After a serendipitous, life-changing diagnosis, and in the midst of treatment, Sarah embarked upon a project that was intended to be ”a visual representation of all the love and support that I [Sarah] have in my life.” She collaborated with artist, Ari Hauben to tell her story through a work of art accompanied by a moving short film.
“The intention of this piece of art is to create a visual representation of all of the love and support that manifests through the healing journey. To highlight one’s ability to choose perspective and outlook on all things. To activate deeper levels of consciousness, by tapping into creative power. To use challenge as a platform for growth and inspiration. To access now for strength in the process and later as a reminder of this moment. To superimpose an image of what comes next, to help me, and others to heal.” – Sarah Livesey
Sarah, thank you for sharing your grace, gratitude, and story with all of us.
Please take a moment to view the short film and share if the spirit moves you. Thank you.
[Shared with permission of Sarah and Ari.]
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
This series, introduced in a blog post on 1/30/16, celebrates ‘Mom and Pop’ shops in the Boston area, and possibly beyond. These blog posts are dedicated to owners of restaurants and small businesses who respond to a questionnaire designed to capture their experiences of owning, working, and operating a business together.
Vee Vee is a 35-seat neighborhood restaurant opened in 2008 by Kristen and Dan Valachovic at 763 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, MA. Thanks to Kristen and Dan for their insight and experiences. If you’d like details about the “Reiki session gone awry,” you’ll have to visit their restaurant…
SNS: Please provide a very brief description of your restaurant and mission.
Kristen & Dan: Our goal is to create a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with simple, tasty food for both vegetarians and omnivores, featuring local beers and a small, but excellent selection of wines.
What are your individual titles, roles, and responsibilities?
Kristen: I’m a server and host, also in charge of bookkeeping, payroll and pretty much all admin stuff. Dan tends bar, hosts, and is in charge of the physical plant. He also knows where every single thing in the restaurant is. If you can’t find it, just ask — he knows.
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Boston?
K: I was born and raised in Dedham, MA, spent a few years in Brookline, and moved to JP in 1994.
Dan: I grew up in upstate NY. I had a rock band with some high school friends and we came to Boston in 1991 to make a go of it. I moved to JP in 1994 as well, when the band thing was fizzling out.
As a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you “grew up?”
K: I thought I would be an artist — whatever that means.
D: A rock musician.
What other jobs have you worked besides restaurants?
K: For many years I had a “real job” in the design field; first as an interior designer, then in graphics. I continued to work part-time at my old firm through the first year we were open. I remember on the restaurant’s opening day I had a deadline at my design job. It was stressful doing both, but I had to make sure we had some reliable income.
D: Sadly, nothing too interesting. My first job was at the bottle return counter in the local Grand Union. My next job was slightly cooler– clerk at Strawberries Records and Tapes. After that, all of my jobs were restaurant-related.
K: Dan always forgets, but there was a period of about a few years in there where Dan worked landscaping. He took a step back from restaurant work for a breather, and I must have as well because that was the only time in our 18years together that we had “normal” schedules. We both got up in the morning, went to work, came home and had dinner together every night. We had weekends off, too. It was weird. Not terrible, but ultimately not for us…
What was your first restaurant-related job and where was it?
K: There’s a tiny restaurant in Endicott Circle in the Dedham called Fisherman’s Restaurant. I worked there for one day in junior high school until they fired me. Then it was on to a multi-year stint at Mister Donut on Route 1 in Westwood. This was in the 80′s, when it was apparently acceptable to have a teen-aged girl or two working alone at a donut shop on the side of the highway.
D: I worked for a summer as a delivery driver at a steak delivery spot called “Steak Out”. I wish I still had that hat…
How did you meet?
K: In 1998 when Centre Street Cafe moved to its current location, owner Felicia Sanchez turned the old spot (current home of Ten Tables) into a little Mexican place called Mi Casita. I lived around the corner and was a regular customer, so Felicia hired me to design the sign and asked me to coordinate with Mi Casita’s manager, Dan. I set up a meeting to discuss the sign with him, and he didn’t show up.
D: I had a lot going on…
K: I wasn’t impressed. He seemed entirely uninterested in talking to me, and I had no romantic interest in him. But then, we found ourselves finding excuses to be together. We never had a proper date and have been solid since then.
How long have you worked together?
K: I ended up working weekends at Mi Casita in order to be close to him; it was a small place: a cook, a server, and a dishwasher. Later our friends opened Zon’s, and we were both on the opening staff, Dan as manager, me as a server (I was still working full time in design).
How many hours a week do each of you work at your place of business?
K: Dan is actually there more than I am, he likes to putz around. I’m probably there officially 30 hours a week, but I’m in and out of the office, plus doing things from home. We work on the floor together on Friday and Saturday nights, plus whenever else we need to.
Did anyone give you any advice before you started working together?
K&D: Well, everyone said it would ruin our relationship. It hasn’t.
How would you describe your working relationship?
K&D: “Good cop/bad cop?” Maybe a little of that, but also, in day to day operations we trust each other enough to go with something if one of us feels strongly about it. We pick our battles for small stuff, but for bigger things we always have to be on the same page.
Is working together harder or easier than you anticipated?
K: Easier. We came about our division of labor organically and it seems to work well. I can’t imagine doing this solo, though!
What do you like the most about working together?
K: Seeing our hopes come to fruition, but also having Dan’s perspective instead of just my own. He often sees things I miss and vice versa.
What do you like the least about working together?
J&D: Difficulty in stepping away from work, from thinking about it and talking about it 24/7/365.
How have you avoided killing each other?
K: Dan is very calm and patient, that’s why he hasn’t killed me yet. We defer to each other’s strengths.
What do you rely on your partner to do in the restaurant that you’d hate doing?
K: Taking care of broken equipment. I don’t speak the language and I’m not especially handy.
D: Paying the bills
What qualities do you value most in employees?
K&D: Commitment to our vision, loyalty, respect.
What is the wildest thing that’s ever happened at your restaurant?
K&D: A Reiki session gone awry, at a table, on a jamming Friday night. It was shocking and gross, let’s just leave it at that.
What do you enjoy doing most when you’re away from the restaurant/business?
K&D: Heading to the outer cape, definitely. It’s our happy place. We don’t have a house there, but aspire to someday. We also love a good road trip to experience other restaurants and bars. Portland, Maine is a favorite.
Any issues you care deeply about that you want to share?
K&D: We love our JP neighborhood. When we decided we wanted our own place, we never considered looking anywhere else. It’s like a small town in the big city.
Do you cook at home?
K&D: We had our kitchen redone last year, so, yes, finally we can cook at home. We have 2 nights off together, one we go out, one we eat in. Often we’ll have overly ambitious cooking plans but then end up doing something simple like spaghetti carbonara.
Do you schedule ‘date nights’?
K&D: We’re good about having date nights, pretty much every Monday. We really try to stay connected in a way that doesn’t involve working. Once upon a time we had things to talk about besides the restaurant, and we don’t want to forget that. Our last date was a big one — a 6-day trip to the Caribbean, very relaxing.
What are some of your favorite Boston area restaurants?
K&D: So many restaurants, so little time! We love other Mom & Pops like Seven Stars Street Bistro and Brewer’s Fork, although we don’t get to Charlestown nearly as often as we should. We also love Neptune Oyster, Toro and eating at the bar at Mistral.
Any dreams\fantasies about opening a restaurant completely different than Vee Vee?
K&D: All the time! Sometimes we look around and think maybe we should have done this or that differently, and wonder what it would be like to start all over.
What characterizes your favorite type of customers?
K&D: We have an excellent group of regulars and it often feels like an ongoing conversation with old friends. We just continue where we left off the last time they were in. We love that. But we also love when someone comes in for the first time and tells us how comfortable they feel, like they’re a guest in our home. That’s the best.
What are you most proud of about your restaurant?
K&D: We’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I’m thrilled that we we’ve been able to create the neighborhood spot we envisioned, with wonderful customers and an outstanding Vee Vee family. We couldn’t ask for better people around us.
Any advice for couples thinking about opening a joint, or working together in a restaurant/small biz?
K&D: Figure out where your partner excels and let them run with it. Trust your guts. If something feels wrong to either of you, it probably is.
K: If you’re thinking about opening a place, have a firm vision. It can be tempting to try to be everything to everyone, but the sooner you realize you can’t, the better. That said, a bit of flexibility can be necessary, too. There’s a balance in there somewhere. Also, your relationship with each other should always be more important than the business.
D: Choose the name very carefully. You’d be amazed how often people mistakenly assume that we are a vegetarian or vegan restaurant just because of our name.
If you’d like to participate in this series, please email Patrick@servernotservant.com. And please forward this blog post to ‘Mom and Pop’ Shop business owners who might enjoy sharing their stories. I’m also seeking a Boston media partner to share these posts. Thank you.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. No compensation was exchanged between Vee Vee and Patrick Maguire/Server Not Servant in exchange for publication of this post. Sharing of this post by Kristen and Dan Valachovic, Vee Vee and affiliates via social media is anticipated but not required. Thank you.