Boston ‘Mom and Pop’ Shops-Introduction

By: Patrick Maguire

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 Patrick@servernotservant.com 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

By: Patrick Maguire

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 Patrick@servernotservant.com for a list of services I provide. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely-Patrick

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

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‘Napkin Lady’ at Per Se

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame

Posted: 01/15/2016

All I can think about is Napkin Lady.

  • Did she really ‘drop’, or as Mr. Wells delineated, ‘hurl’ her napkin to the floor?
  • Did she ‘drop’ it on purpose to elicit a response from the server, or to test the staff?
  • Was the napkin ‘drop’ staged by NYT restaurant critic, Peter Wells?
  • What kind of adult human throws a napkin on the floor in protest at any restaurant anywhere?
  • Is Napkin Lady a monster?
  • How did Napkin Lady’s dining companions respond to her?
  • Will she be invited to dinner with Mr. Wells again? If yes, is he a monster?

Per Se, on the Upper West Side in NYC, is one the most highly-regarded, expensive restaurants in the world. On Wednesday, New York Times restaurant critic, Peter Wells awarded Per Se two out of four stars in a predominantly scathing review. According to the NYT, two stars is “very good,” but Wells’ narrative was far from that. Menu items were described as droopy, rubbery and flavorless, gluey, mushy, dismal, random and purposeless, limp, dispirited, lame, and bouillon, “murky and appealing as bong water.” The negative comments about service included, haphazard, unobliging, oddly unaccommodating, and oblivious sleepwalking. And the experience was seen as a no-fun house, lame, disappointingly flat-footed, out of date, mediocre, and among the worst food deals in New York.

The two-star review was a significant departure from the four stars awarded by legendary NYT critic, Frank Bruni in September of 2004, and the four-star review by the NYT’s Sam Sifton in October of 2011. Mr. Sifton called Per Se, “… the best restaurant in New York City…”, and lauded, “It’s synthesis of culinary art and exquisite service is now complete.” “It represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant.”

Who cares, right? The restaurant geek world does. Most of us can’t afford to eat at places like Per Se, but following the news in and around restaurants has become a sport that consumes us. And the news about the two-star ‘demotion’ caught fire with many of those who play, enjoy, watch, and broadcast ‘the game’. The 1,000+ animated comments from the NYT website are a testament to the interest in a review of elite restaurants like Per Se.  A sampling of the reactions:

  • Is fine dining dead?
  • Are ‘celebrity’ chefs too cocky and complacent?
  • Does the critic have an entitled, narcissistic, personal agenda?
  • At the Per Se price point, shouldn’t one expect perfection?
  • Are servers and staff being exploited at the “best of the best” restaurants?
  • Who can even afford to eat at places like that?
  • Why don’t people spend money on helping others instead of lavish meals?
  • Finally, someone had the courage to speak the truth.
  • The first staff meeting following the review is really going to suck…

And I just can’t stop thinking about Napkin Lady…

The first two paragraphs of the review from Peter Wells:

The lady had dropped her napkin.

More accurately, she had hurled it to the floor in a fit of disillusionment, her small protest against the slow creep of mediocrity and missed cues during a four-hour dinner at Per Se that would cost the four of us close to $3,000. Some time later, a passing server picked up the napkin without pausing to see whose lap it was missing from, neatly embodying the oblivious sleepwalking that had pushed my guest to this point.

Shortly after the review went live, I posted the following on my Server Not Servant Facebook group:

Perhaps Mr. Wells’ dining companion was role-playing to test the staff as fodder for the review. Or, perhaps she’s a bitch who acted like a petulant child… Hard to imagine someone thinking it’s ok to “hurl” their napkin to the floor while eating and drinking at Per Se. That’s no “small protest,” it’s a bullshit, entitled, bitchy move, especially if it wasn’t on her dime. I’m also interested to know if Wells will ever invite the woman to dine with him again. If she wasn’t acting, and he does invite her back, it speaks volumes.

My friend, Chef Mark O’Leary replied to my tweet to Peter Wells, “That was my first question, how much entitled fervor must you have to throw a napkin on the floor as an adult?”

I emailed Peter Wells on Wednesday night and asked him:

  • Was throwing the napkin staged by your dining companion or you to test the server’s response, or was it a legitimate, out-of-control, hissy fit initiated without your prompting?
  • Was your inclusion of the ‘napkin drop’ hyperbole to add drama/color to the prose?
  • How did you and your other dining companions respond after she hurled the napkin to the floor?
  • Were you or anyone you were with embarrassed?
  • Did you or anyone at your table admonish her?
  • Did she apologize to you and your table and/or the server or any other workers?
  • Will you ever invite “Napkin Lady” to dine with you again?
  • Feel free to add anything else that you’d like me to include in my post.

Mr. Wells responded that he wouldn’t answer my questions because he makes it a policy not to comment on public reviews, especially negative ones, and finished with, ”Readers can draw their own conclusions about my words, just as they can draw their own conclusions about a post in which a woman is called a bitch twice in a short paragraph.”

I read hundreds of the comments following the review on the NYT website (sport/entertainment, right?), and I’ll leave you with one beauty:

“rk-Nashville”:

What happens now?

Can Per Se survive this? Does the entire staff get fired? Is the chef’s career ruined? Is the owner expected to publicly respond? Do they close for a month and reopen? Are they going to have to cut prices? Do they call in another ballerina? (Just joking about that last question. Sort of.)

More importantly, is Napkin Lady a monster???

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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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