With the state of the state, and the state of the economy, we have all become just a little jaded or at least lost some of our spark (at least I have, can’t speak for you). Never in 51 years have I seen folks walking around in such a cloud of uncertainty and disbelief. Obama says we’ll be out of Iraq by the year’s end with a bare minimum 36,000 troops left on the ground. All this at a cost of over $700 billion and 4,000 American lives lost. Wow, what could we have done with all those resources, both economic and human? Families and lives will never be the same again. To make the big inspirational transition you can see why we need to find the silver lining on every cloud. I am happy to say I found two right here in Charm City and one new comer to the landscape that is not necessarily starting off with a bang! I’ll compare and contrast – you’ll understand.
On occasion, I find myself enjoying the Happy Hour at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion in the Inner Harbor East area. I must say, that area almost feels like you’re on vacation without ever leaving Baltimore! There’s no other place like it in the city. Upscale shops, pretty people, sail boats, water, tall buildings, everything you need and expect when you’re looking to escape for a few days – or in my case, just a few hours!
More about Roy’s and the outstanding, “yes we get it, yes we care” staff that Managing Partner Bryson Keens has assembled. I’m not a high roller, business traveler or working off the company expense account, but every time I walk in to Roy’s, I and everyone else I see are made to feel like royalty by Bobby and Greg behind the bar. Even on a crowded night, which happens frequently at Roy’s, Bobby and Greg have my favorite drink waiting at the bar as I wade my way through the crowd. They are pleasant and efficient without being bothersome or overbearing. The entire bar staff is knowledgeable about the menu and open and honest about making recommendations.
I have to admit to having become a Roy’s ambassador! My friends and associates hear me say all the time, “have you been to Roy’s Happy Hour?” Folks, when you find a good thing, especially in this economic climate, you really want to embrace and celebrate it! And, I might add, learn from it. What do they do at Roy’s that makes everyone feel so welcome and special? Does it start from Bryson and work its way down? Is it a corporate culture of the parent company of Roy’s? Whatever it is, it’s working, and I wanted to take a little time to celebrate that culture and point out Roy’s for doing something right!
This leads me to the next local dynasty that seems to have a market cornered on great food, service, ambiance and reputation. I’m talking about the Foreman-Wolf group that owns Pazo, Charleston, Chingiale, Petit Louise, Bin 604, etc. Everything these folks touch seems to turn to gold. Good for them, and good for Baltimore! The additional beauty is this is a local group made up of acclaimed chef Cindy Wolf and wine connoisseur and marketing genius Tony Foreman. I should add that Cindy is really a “world-acclaimed” chef and Tony is assisted by a fabulous marketing team led by Allison Parker-Abromitis. One thing I preach is building a strong team and empowering them to do their job!
My story here is about Charleston’s, Cindy Wolf’s jewel in the entire crown. I had taken my daughter Olivia there years ago for her 13th birthday, and now that same little girl just turned 19! I had business reasons to be back at Charleston recently and was reminded of the special time Olivia and I had. I made the reservation to return to the scene of our special night for #19. Where does that time go? The night of our dinner was Monday, October 26, and the restaurant was hosting a big wine tasting event. From the second we were ushered in the front door, Olivia was warmly greeted with Happy Birthday! We were shown to the room just to the left of the lobby area, where a table of 8-10 businessmen were enjoying their evening. Not exactly the venue I was hoping for to spend a quiet night celebrating my daughter’s birthday. When I requested something a little more quiet and intimate, our host immediately complied and took us to the beautiful room in the front – it faces Lancaster Street and was the same room where we spent Olivia’s 13th birthday dinner. From the time we were expertly seated, to the final presentation of a birthday candle with her dessert, the evening could not have been more special, perfect and enjoyable. I have told many, including the world-famous chef herself, that this was the best meal I have ever eaten. Olivia agreed!
While these two fine dining establishments are really quite different, they share at least a few common commitments: treat their guests like family, make the evening a “dining experience,” and allow people to escape the frustrations and stresses of their world, if only for a few hours. It’s the little things like knowing someone’s name, remembering their drink preference or acknowledging their birthday. It’s these things that keep people coming back even in challenging economic times. People may buy less or go out less frequently, but when they do, every business out there is competing for the same dollar. Give yourself the upper hand in their selection process by making the experience all about your guest! Kudos to Bryson and his staff at Roy’s and to Cindy, Tony and Allison, and their fine staff at Charleston’s for leading the charge on Doing It Right!
While I promise not to end on a bad note, I have to point out a coaching moment I had recently while grocery shopping at Fresh and Green, the successor to the failed chain of Super Fresh. I live in the city and shopped at the Super Fresh on 40th Street for years. When Fresh and Green took over the store, I was more then a little skeptical. The process was slow, and what one might describe as the amateur hour: the store in disarray, and employees seeming uncertain and lost. Not a real confidence builder for the community! I actually strayed from there for a while and shopped at other chains, but secretly longed to come back to my neighborhood store. Little by little, it appeared to get better, but the staff is still in a cloud. Maybe it’s the lack of job security. I don’t pretend to know much about the chain of Fresh and Green, but I will say if all their checkout folks are like the one I had on Sunday morning, Fresh and Green will be Stale and Brown by next year!
I walked into the store on a Saturday night around 8:00 with absolutely no one in the checkout lines. I did not grab a cart or basket, intending to buy “just a few things.” Famous last words for all of us at one time or another! Within the first five minutes, I came to regret my decision and seek the closest cart or small basket. Here’s where the problem comes in! Looking totally helpless with my arms full of stuff and needing more, I asked the young man behind the customer-less checkout counter if there were any baskets or carts close by. He informed me they are kept by the front door only, and that was all – he turned and looked away! My immediate reaction was that he could have at least offered to help by getting me a cart or basket or asking me if I would like to put some things down on his counter while I retrieved one. He did neither. Off I went, annoyed by wanting to finish and get out.
When it came time to check out I noticed the person next to me had in her cart some deli cheese, which I had neglected to get, thinking the deli counter was closed! When I asked the not-so-pleasant-or-helpful young man what time the deli counter, closed he quite proudly told me he did not know other people’s schedules, as it was all he could do to remember his own! Thankfully upon hearing this, a cashier next to me offered to call the deli to find out, which he proceeded to do. After he hung up, I asked him what time they opened in the morning (feeling bad I did not ask while he was on the phone!). Not at all annoyed, he called back and got me the information. Not satisfied with his own ignorance, my young friend proceeded to go on about how it is not their job to know other peoples schedules. By now, the father and entrepreneur in me had had enough! So I suggested to my young friend that perhaps he should make it his business to know these things in the event another customer inquires! Still, he seemed uninterested and actually annoyed. Point probably lost to him forever…
While working in a restaurant or grocery store may not be your final or dream job, it may indeed be your current job. And while it is, take a line from arguably the best president this country has ever had, Abraham Lincoln, who said, “whatever you are, be a good one.” You never know when the next opportunity may walk into your establishment and offer you the job or deal of a lifetime. Open yourself to those moments! And if you cannot give 100% to your employer, who gives you 100% of your salary, do it for yourself. Learn as much as you can while you’re there, if only to prepare you for the next event that will undoubtedly come along in your life. It’s all about the journey, folks, not the destination. The next time you are as fortunate as I was to stumble upon a coaching moment like this, take advantage of it. I have six children – four boys, two girls – I would want someone to “teach” them a life lesson if so presented! So while Roy’s and Charleston’s lead the way, we can all find others who are out there Doing It Right!