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.
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.Video: 6 summer wines under 20 bucks (on this page)
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.
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.
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.
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.Video: Toasting to tunes (on this page)
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.
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
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