Just last week we opened a new restaurant and hotel in Chicago. I love openings- it reminds me of the theatre. We hold casting calls of a sort, with big hiring fairs. Waiters, bartenders, and cooks come in from all over the city and we build the team. Then 20 days of training follow. They get fit for uniforms; the kitchen prepares the food over and over again perfecting the recipes. Throughout this period, I and the other trainers stay in the yet to open hotel.
It is an odd thing to stay in a hotel knowing that you are the first person to use everything in the room: towels, sheets, bed, hairdryer. One day the room gets cleaned three times as the house keeping staff train and other days it doesn’t at all.
The whole place is fragrant with the smell of new carpet, paint, and anticipation. The floors in the lobby get polished, art is hung, and staff is trained. Boy are they trained. During the opening the omnipresent sound of an orchestra warming up rings in my ears. We are gearing up for a great performance and from the minute the doors open to the public we want to get it right.
The wine training is a highlight of this time. The staff always comes to me after food tasting. Their stomachs are full and their heads are bursting with information. It is crucial to keep it lively and fun. I now include Champagne Sabering in all of my training class. Nothing gets people’s attention like a big sword. They taste through dozens of wines, with spitting carefully enforced. I love the art of service. I’ve always believed that good service can save a bad food experience, but nothing can save a bad service experience.
Going out to eat is not just serving the function of being fed; it is also about the theater of dining. On opening night I always get a thrill watching the show unfold. Uniforms are all crisp and new, the smells of great food replace the construction aromas, the dining room buzzes with excited conversation, and the performance is underway.