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I own a restaurant in a tourist town just outside of Denver. I read your blog last week about Tom Douglas´ restaurants in Seattle. It sounds as though you don´t like restaurants that cater to tourists, is that right? Since many restaurants are geared towards the tourist what to you propose we do?
Delighted With Tourists
I propose you never forget this story:
Act One: One cold damp, January evening in Carmel a well dressed couple came to my restaurant, The Fish Ranch and asked for a table. At 7:30 on a Friday night this was a monumental moment since I had overbooked the restaurant. There was a line at the door and it was AT&T weekend- the largest tourist weekend on the Monterey Peninsula. Couple that with the fact that there was a good possibility we wouldn´t pack the house again until mid March due to the rain-this particular bail-out weekend was huge. Everyone for 100 miles was counting on doing enough business to pay the old bills and get enough credit to run up some new ones. Charles Chrietzberg, President of Monterey County Bank graced my dining room, hoping that I would be the busiest guy in town.
Kranston found me in the dining room, explained the situation and we decided to offer the couple a fireside table in the bar. They were ecstatic. A bit close to the trio playing Sinatra, but the atmosphere was romantic lodge and the action in the room was peaking that evening. It was one of those magical nights. The flicker from the fire added a seductive glow that only a profitable night can compete with and we were on track. The kitchen had perfected its rhythm early on. The dining room was in stride. The bartender was bantering and buying drinks calming customers who moments earlier were getting anxious. The restaurant had become a social event this particular evening. It had reached the top rung.
After dinner I was summoned by the waiter and told the customer who we had seated wanted to see me. I assumed a complaint would follow so I prepared for the charm card and a few excuses that I could offer. Tableside, the gentleman told me he had enjoyed the evening and appreciated my hospitality. He explained that he had reservations at The Rio Grill but even with reservations he would have had to wait an hour. The fact that I accommodated him quickly, without breaking stride, impressed him. I thanked him for coming, and although he hadn´t introduced himself I made sure Kranston acknowledged them on the way out.
The following evening, at 7:30, the nice couple showed up again requesting a table in the overflowing, overbooked, too-busy-to accommodate-anyone restaurant that proved to be the catalyst for the daily questioning of my sanity.
Act Two: Kranston hurriedly saunters to the main dining room, finds me tableside probably boring the guests and explains the most current dilemma. The nice couple enjoyed the evening so much previously they decided to show up, without reservations, again. Assuming she was kidding, I paid little attention and introduce her to the guests I was boring. She assertively told me she´s wasn´t kidding and that accommodating them would be suicide since we have a fifty minute wait. As I look to the host stand I can´t believe it. Amongst the sea of people – locals, tourists, and tourists hoping to be locals – I see the stout, bearded customer from the evening before accompanied by his stunning wife. We shared the humor of the man´s moxie and decided to give them a table that will soon become available on the patio. Although the night air was chilled his Harris Tweed would keep him warm and the heater would do the same for her.
After dinner I was again requested tableside.
"John, we had another wonderful evening. Can you do a party here for 80 people in March?" he asked, introducing himself.
"Of course I can." I said.
"I will have my secretary, Diane, give you a call. Each year I bring the team down for a golf match and have a few celebrities join us. This year I am having Alan Shepherd, Cargill Macmillan and President Ford at the tournament. I was going to have the party at The Rio Grill but I think I would rather have it here. And thanks again for a great evening."
The man was Peter Pocklington. The team, the Edmonton Oilers.
Five weeks later, President Ford and the other dignitaries were enjoying roasted tenderloin and salmon in The Fish Ranch dining room. That party made the month. And Peter Pocklington and his lovely wife once again solidified my belief that whether local or visitor, all need to be treated like friends and clients. We can never differentiate.
I love tourist restaurants. As long as they are run, maintained, and presented as though they are filled with locals. And that should be every operator´s goal.