In addition to an impressive menu, memorable guest experiences can help separate your restaurant from the rest. We asked Chef Stephen Giunta and Chef Michael Siehien about how they have created moments like this for their guests.
Small Efforts Produce Large Impacts
Creating unforgettable dining instances doesn’t have to mean investing in a large amount of time or money. Even simple efforts can leave a lasting impact that will compel guests to talk about their experience and return again in the future.
“One way to create a memorable experience is to save a little mason jar of extra burgundy wine demi glaze used when preparing a steak,” explains Chef Stephen Giunta, Culinary Director at Cargill. “If the guest has leftovers, send it home with them so when they heat up their steak, they’re able to recreate the experience from the restaurant. It doesn’t cost a lot and it takes a little bit of effort from the kitchen, but it is just as easy to put it in a soufflé cup as it is a mason jar. Maybe write the last name of the guest on the jar to make it personalized.”
Sterling Silver® Chef Michael Siehien recommends keeping notes on each customer. “We pay attention to the reservations and keep databases of customers, so we know their names and get to know who they really are as people and not just customers. For some, we know their favourite drink and have it ready for them when they get here.”
These small moments can go beyond ingredients, as well. For example, Chef Stephen used light to emphasize meals. “When I worked in the White House in the late 80s, Nancy Reagan was my boss and was intimately involved in the menu planning with steak dinners. The lighting at the tables was such that it just highlighted the plate while everything around it was almost fade-to-black. It was striking and amazing.”
Utilize Your Staff
One of the most valuable components of any restaurant is its people. Chef Stephen encourages his waitstaff to learn as much as they can about why a certain ingredient is used: “It’s nice when the front of the house staff can eloquently speak about the food. I use fermented black garlic with steak because it has a giant umami flavour. The servers could talk about that when they think somebody has interest in it.”
“You can cross-train staff which adds to their value in their organization and keeps them interested. Consider bringing cooks out to do service in the dining room, or have servers spend a day or two in the kitchen to grow their skill set. Plus, teaching the service staff takes pressure off the kitchen. A busy kitchen can actually work more efficiently if the servers are trained to do more. This is a way to really mitigate turnover.”
“I carve out time to go out to the tables,” says Chef Michael. “People love it and talk about it when the chefs come to the table. Word-of-mouth becomes a ripple effect, which comes into play so much regarding memorable guest experiences.”
In addition to creating hospitality moments in your restaurant, make note of special efforts you experience or hear about outside your establishment.
“We brought our son to a high-end restaurant when he was a baby,” says Chef Michael. “Two servers came over and tied balloons to the baby carrier and complimented how quiet the baby was. They went out of their way to make us feel so welcome.”
Chef Stephen recalls a chef who cut one-inch slabs from a large tree and engraved on it the last name of the party host. “Before the guests arrive, the centerpiece was set on top of it, and at the end of the meal the server reveals the gift from the chef. It blew people away when they saw it.”
“Another chef in Chicago took liquid beef tallow, hit it with liquid nitrogen and made a fluffy crumble—like a white snow that tastes like roasted beef tallow. It was unbelievable.” A tallow crumble like that can be packaged and given away at the end of a meal. “Your guests can sprinkle it on popcorn, homemade potato chips or steak fries,” says Chef Stephen.