Ingredients are vital for a restaurant´s success. Coolers filled with produce, storage rooms stacked with product, liquor lockers piled high with cases of future frivolity all combine to make a customer´s experience enjoyable. The main ingredient, however, that often is overlooked by kitchen staff, dining room staff and owner´s is fresh, just-picked, enthusiasm.
That, I believe, has to do with the perception the restaurant business is one long, smooth, sailboat ride on a glassy, sun-soaked sea. Nothing could be further from the actuality that exists in the hospitality business.
I have developed a sense, over years of observation, enabling me to spot the owner of the restaurant where I am dining. In many cases, they are either the most excited or depressed. Seldom will an owner´s outward attitude be on the same level as the staff´s. They will either hover a notch above, or a few below depending on how things are going and what is shaping up for the week ahead.
I had the pleasure last week of meeting Ray Tang, when I stopped by his new eatery, The Presidio Social Club in San Francisco. The restaurant, located inside The Presidio, is set in a beautiful, century-old Building 563, one of only four remaining structures in the Army´s East Cantonment, and at one time home barracks for the famed Buffalo Soldiers. The simple frame and clapboard structure has been completely rehabilitated to emphasize the restaurant´s timeless, welcoming atmosphere and elegant simplicity. The design respects the building´s wide expanse of windows, abundance of natural light and charming views, creating a comfortable ambience within a National Park setting.
The greatest view of all, though, was to see Tang’s overflowing enthusiasm for his new project. The space is a casually elegant rendition of an officers club on steroids. Tang, and his wife and partner in the venture, Shawn Kearney-Tang, spared no expense on the design. From the glow of the flame from the kitchen´s wood burning oven, to glistening of the panoramic view setting windows, everything in the restaurant sparkles. Including Tang´s vision.
Although just a quick introduction on a Friday afternoon before a busy night, Tang made time to talk about his road to The Presidio. He is a veteran. The Presidio Social Club represents the second restaurant opening by the husband/wife team. Prior to the Presidio Social Club, Tang served as executive chef at the couple´s highly acclaimed Mariposa restaurant, in Windsor. The duo gained valuable experience working with acclaimed chefs (Gray Kunz, Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud) and at heralded restaurants (Postrio and Globe) in the food capitals of San Francisco and New York.
The fresh, crisp attitude that Tang projects, is an ingredient that every restaurateur needs to continue to add to every aspect of the business.
More importantly, enthusiasm needs to become contagious. An unenthused staff, whether in the kitchen or the dining room, is completely noticeable by the customer. Whether reflected on the plate, or on the server´s face, the customer will catch on that the ingredient is lacking.
The enthusiasm factor is a complicated ingredient to keep on the shelf. Especially when months are slow and things don´t seem bright. Nevertheless, remember, if you are not enthusiastic, and your staff is a bit down, fake it. Some ingredients you can run out of. Enthusiasm isn´t one of them. Restaurants are merely theater. Your customer´s deserve your enthusiasm.
Think of this, Valentine´s Day is just a month away. And, today is the longest day of the year, so far.