City University of NY’s Baruch College was alive with excitement on September 17, 2019, as the site of the Latin Biz Today Spectrum of Success event. I participated by talking about how to achieve success in the restaurant business. It was a very upbeat experience in an atmosphere of optimism and with an embrace of the entrepreneurial spirit. No one could have predicted that just a few months later, a pandemic would begin to spread throughout the globe, and that it would affect our personal and business lives in profound ways.
For those of us in the fine dining segment of the restaurant industry, the immediate future is uncertain. It’s not just a question of economics. With new rules of engagement that limit the number of people we can serve, and the way we can serve them, it goes to the very essence of what makes a restaurant experience satisfying and meaningful.
At the Latin Biz Today event, I spoke about the spark of inspiration that led us to the restaurant business. As children, my brother, Drew, and I dined out frequently with our parents. When seated, we never faced a wall. We always looked out so that we could observe the action in the restaurant. We saw a buzz of activity. Guests were fully engaged in conversations, servers scurried around the room, carrying trays with culinary treasures that emitted enticing aromas. There was an atmosphere of excitement and theatricality. There were big groups, and small groups. There was intimacy. There was a commitment to excellence. We took it all in, and it inspired us. If you are interested in starting your own restaurant, you too, need this kind of spark of inspiration.
Our mentality has always been to strive for excellence. It is also important to find a point of differentiation which will allow a restaurant to stand out from the crowd. At Tribeca Grill, that means operating an eatery that embraces and transcends celebrity, with great food and a world class,
Grand Award-winning wine list. Montrachet offered superb French cuisine without stuffiness and pretense, at an accessible cost. Its successor, Bâtard, continues that tradition with a European flavor that earned the restaurant honors for Best New Restaurant in America (2015) at the James Beard Award. Nobu, the gold standard for new style Japanese cuisine, added Peruvian influences and brilliant ingenuity, to create its own unique niche. To be successful in the restaurant business, you need to develop a concept that will attract interest and fill a void. That gives you the opportunity to accomplish longevity.
It’s also important for you to have the “hospitality gene.” You’ll want to provide your guests with an exemplary experience that inspires them, as we were inspired as kids. At its best, there is magic in a restaurant. Guests convene with family, friends, and colleagues. Well-crafted food is served with warmth and pride. The problems of the world are suspended, as good food and drink provide an oasis for a two-hour mini-vacation.
It’s ironic that, at a time when we need a “hospitality hug” more than ever, an insidious pandemic has changed the rules of engagement with our guests. We understand that the precautions are warranted. Guests will be seated in small groups, spaced at least six feet from each other. They are, by request, and sometimes by law, wearing masks. The servers are also wearing masks and doing their best to keep their distance. Engagement with the guests is kept to a minimum. The restaurant is serving to a limited capacity. Everyone is happy to be out and about, but it’s not the most idyllic way to extend hospitality. And as a practical matter, it’s hard to be profitable if you’re serving a limited number of guests while paying 100% rent.
We want to reopen our restaurants. This is our life’s work, and we want to welcome back our family of colleagues who work so hard and with such integrity. Our greatest satisfaction is to serve our guests and provide them with happy memories that will give them many good reasons to return. It’s about providing an experience where all the standards of excellence can be met.
We want you to be inspired to open your restaurant as well. The uncertainty of current conditions makes that an uphill climb. While now may not be the best time for you to take a big risk, it is a good time to do your research and planning. When we finally get through this challenging time, the experience that restaurants offer will be valued more than ever. Better days are coming, and we’ll all look forward to dining in your restaurant.