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Video: A no-holds-barred look at the restaurant business

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    >>> we are back now at 8:38. joe bastianich is best known here at "today" as our resident wine expert. he's also the owner of an empire of restaurants. in his new book restaurant man he opens up about his rise from a lowly bus boy in queens to the top of his industry. joe, it's always good to see you.

    >> nice to see you, matt. starting off with a little sip of some juice.

    >> you cannot ply me with wine. restaurant man is a term your dad used.

    >> he did.

    >> he was an old world restaurateur and you started working in the family business and hated it.

    >> i hated it.

    >> why did you go back?

    >> i grew up the son of italian i78 grants in queens in what was a workaday business . i was embarrassed to tell my friends that my parents owned a restaurant . it was a blue collar job and a hard-working job and my dad said if you want to be a restaurant man you have to do this.

    >> after going off into wall street for a little while you got back, and you took to it a lot better the second time?

    >> i kind of went back to italy to my ethnicity and refound my soul in italy and the journey in italy . we discovered food and wine. it was something that was really cathartic for me.

    >> you have not just written the book about the industry in a generic sense. i know you about the suave and debonair guy about hospital and restaurants. and joe you fire some shots in this book.

    >> the stories of wine lords who trade wine on intimidation or food critics who trade free meals for reviews, or landlords in new york, these are the stories of my life.

    >> but are you settling scores in this book?

    >> absolutely not.

    >> because it seems as if you are.

    >> i am telling the stories of my life in a true way.

    >> you call one chef a withering d-bag a short, and then you use part of the male anatomy napoleonic curse word . you call a wine buyer a pro-tension tool.

    >> i'm from queens that's the way we talk. it's how i was brought up. yes, i may seem a little bit more eloquent now but back in the day we called it like it was. we called a spade a spade . these are the stories of my life. this is what i grew up with. the book is truthful and honest.

    >> you say that a well-known italian restaurant chain is quote, teaching america bad habits by serving the blank, four-letter word olive oid and balsamic vinegar for dipping sauce for your bread.

    >> this is true. i think the accountability of all restaurants at every level to serve truthful quality products, even at a low-level meal, wherever it is in this country, you go to an italian restaurant they should be serving real olive oil , not fake olive oil and real butter.

    >> but it's about dollars and cents at that point and you even describe yourself as a cheap guy. you and your partner mario batali own 25 traunts and you say we are cheap guys.

    >> the truth of the matter is at the end of the day if you want to open a restaurant you need to read this book. because the restaurant business is a nickel and dime business . we save money to reinvest in you the customer to make a better experience for you. that is the point.

    >> which brings up a criticism. one of the reasons i was so surprised that you took so many shots at others in this book is because you were right for criticism, as well. you recently settled a lawsuit.

    >> we did.

    >> class action suit where employees of yours were saying you were sketching their tip money.

    >> which was not true. it's a scourge in our business and we settled a class action suit , it's a business decision so we could move on and it's throughout our industry and an unfortunate thing. we made a business decision and are moving ahead.

    >> you write about different roles that employees in a restaurant play and on the maitre d ' you say this, quote, his skills, which i guess could be a her, also -- you're drinking here -- are the same skills as a hooker has.

    >> yes.

    >> to please the client.

    >> right.

    >> to make them feel take they're the own one, extract as much money as you can. he's selling real estate and i know he's on the take. it's part of the job description.

    >> matt, you go to a restaurant , you other people, you walk in, you do a little air kiss you get brought to the best table in the house as everyone else watches. matt lauer , it's a beautiful thing. for everybody else there's a price, 50 bucks. gets you noticed. it's a relationship between you and the restaurant .

    >> why do you want customers to know that?

    >> because ultimately --

    >> maitre d ' is on the take?

    >> ultimately if you're going to be a better restaurant customer you want to enjoy your restaurant experience more, read the book. it explains how restaurants tip, who does what, what goes on in a restaurant . it will make you a better restaurant customer, will make you enjoy restaurants more.

    >> you make wine now as part of your empire and i've had it. it's good wine. you tell people they should know, no bottle of wine costs more than $5 to produce.

    >> right.

    >> what do you charge for this bottle?

    >> this retails for $30. and $5 to produce at the winery. essentially wines are fermented grape juice . so i'm trying to make the point that the wine world is about scores, and marketing and kind of creating a scarce resource where they don't really exist. and that's just truth be told. because, you can enjoy a $15 bottle of wine as much as you can enjoy a $100 bottle of wine. and that's why we're in the business . to save bad wine from happening to good people like you, matt.

    >> the book is called " restaurant man" and if people are looking for a sanitized version of the restaurant industry, it's not this book.

    >> it's the one you need to read if you want to enjoy restaurants more. or open your own restaurant , matt.

    >> joe bastianich , good to see you.

    >> thank you.

TODAY books
updated 5/1/2012 8:58:21 AM ET 2012-05-01T12:58:21

In his new memoir, restaurateur Joe Bastianich shares an inside look at what it takes to successfully run a restaurant. Learn insider secrets and the hard work behind the success in "Restaurant Man". Here's an excerpt.

Selling wine is all about sizing people up, and it takes a certain amount of chutzpah. The tableside bottle sell is a very funny thing — you take a look at the guy’s blazer, what kind of shoes he’s wearing, what kind of broad he’s with. Is he trying to be a hero? Is he a cheap f--k? Who does he want to impress? Maybe he wants it to seem like he’s spending a lot but he’s actually cheap, or maybe he actually wants to spend a lot of money but doesn’t give a s--t what he’s drinking.

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Does he need to impress the table? Is he a boss, is he a date, is he f--king around on his wife? There’s all sorts of variables you have to size up, because these people have come here to part with their money and your job is to take it and turn it into a great experience for them.

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So now you’re the customer. You’re fortyish with a pretty girl your age, sharing the first two plates and having separate entrées — that’s pretty good. I’m guessing based on the way you dressed — you bothered to put on a jacket, but obviously you don’t do that every night; you’re trying to impress your date — I’m going to get you for a couple glasses of sparkling wine or a cocktail in the beginning and maybe two white quartinos. Split them between you with the app. Maybe a heavier white wine going into your first plate of pasta, and then I have you marked for something solid but not too insanely expensive, maybe a Barbera in the eighty-, eighty-five- dollar range, but if I’m feeling it, I’ll upsell you to a Barbaresco for a hundred twenty-five. But I will never rip you off — that would be suicide. You need to leave singing, “Holy s--t, I never knew that a two-hundred fifty-dollar bottle of Barolo could bring me that much sheer f--king joy!” And then you’ll come back and do it again.

Viking Penguin

The general manager is kind of like the step into darkness when you reach the top of the league. As GM, you’re responsible for everything, including the maître d’s and the sommeliers — all these people who have their own agendas. But you probably make less than the maître d’ and have a lot more work and a lot more headaches.

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It’s a career job. You go to restaurant school and the school of hard knocks, but you do the job because you know it’s going to bring you other stuff in the future — career, security. It’s for people who are tipping off the end of the industry and trying to make it to someplace else. The GM winds up opening his own place or being a manager for big companies opening their own restaurants.

The paradigm of pay versus work, headache, and responsibility kind of goes off the charts with general managers, because often they don’t balance. Being general manager is like being the de facto owner. It’s like wearing the crown of Restaurant Man without being Restaurant Man. You’re trying to run the business, but you’re running the ranch without riding the big horse. You’re in that weird position where you have the responsibility — and the liability for all the performance — but you don’t own it. It’s a tricky job, and usually thankless. If you’re going to be a general manager, you try to take a step up into the next world or the next reality, but it’s tough.          

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In a funny way, the maître d’ is the most important and the least important position in the restaurant. Maître d’s are at the financial spigot of the restaurant, meaning they control who gets in and who doesn’t, but aside from that they don’t do anything. And yet they get paid as much as the highest-paid people in the place.

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Maître d’s make the big salaries, because unless you yourself as the owner are going to be at the door, your maître d’ is the face of the restaurant, and choosing one is a big decision. But he is definitely not Restaurant Man. In fact, there is always a lot of tension between Restaurant Man and the maître d’, because the maître d’ has his own agenda. Usually he’s kind of a semifabulous person who thinks he’s hot s--t and has his own thing going on, and eventually his psychosis will expand until he believes that people come to the restaurant to see him. But that’s not true. The people come to the restaurant to see Restaurant Man.

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The skills of a maître d’ are the same skills a hooker has — to please the clients. Make them come. Make them feel like they’re the only one. Extract as much money as you can.

Maître d’s are all on the take. They get paid a salary, but then there’s the palm variable. A fifty-dollar bill might get you noticed. Depending on the restaurant, they might even take a twenty. For an Upper East Side rip-off joint or a busy midtown steakhouse a hundie should get you in the game, but it’s just as likely that if they don’t know you, they’re going to think you’re a douchebag. It’s not about the cash flash, it’s all about the implicit value of your relationship.

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People send thank-you notes to the maître d’ —n ot even thank you notes but cash-value surrender trade. Before and after. It’s an ongoing relationship.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Restaurant Man. Copyright © Joe Bastianich, 2012

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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