The horse is dead and the shark ate him!

It’s been a looooong time since my last entry. I will readily admit to the fact that the reason I began to post on this blog was personal and cathartic. I had a ton of anger and rage that I just had a need to channel and this was the safest way to do so and not get my big ass locked up. Up until this morning, the rage and anger had subsided. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful people in my life as well as a woman with whom I’ve become very close. In fact, for the first time in my life, I can actually say that I am in love. The reason being, I am, for the first time in my life, in a committed relationship clean and sober. That is to say, I am able to see things and people for what and who they are rather then what I, in my high and drunken stupors, imagined them to be. OK, enough of the warm fuzziness of recovery. It’s time to for me to forge ahead into the meat of the matter and the reason I felt a need to write this entry.

Let’s begin with the title. I like to give a bit of an explanation about the title especially if it presents itself as cryptic or misleading. This one qualifies. The shark reference is a nod to jumping the shark as in the Happy Days episode when the Fonz, while water skiing, jumped over the shark in the cage below the surface. It’s my understanding that this is the episode, for which this phrase was coined, and became part of the pulp culture, so to speak. The horse reference is a nod to an earlier entry in which I stated that I would ride the “deal site” horse until it died and then eat it. Well I’m happy to proclaim the fuckin’ horse is dead and the shark ate him. I can’t eat him, I’m watching my figure and cannot afford the calories.

Let us allow this entry to serve as a public statement and promise to my entire staff that…..

I WILL NEVER RUN A DEAL ON ANY SITE EVER AGAIN!

I’ve been running deals of various amounts and in different forms for nearly 3 years. In the beginning, I saw it not only as a means to raise working capital in a very challenging economic environment but as a wonderful form of mass marketing. A form of marketing that not only required $0.00 outlay of cash on my part but also paid me in advance for future dining by new guests in my establishment. It worked! My email list of guests jumped from 1500 or so to over 3000 in the past couple of years. Each new guest willfully requesting to become a part of the list. I use this list to directly market to my customers by way of Constant Contact and it is absolutely invaluable in every way imaginable.

In recent months however, I’ve had a great many conversations with my front of the house team led by my very professional, accomplished and highly respected General Manager and Wine Director Marcello. In each and every one of these conversations it has been brought to my attention that the attitude and overall personality of the guest I am attracting with these deals is in a free fall sort of decline. A decline that is having a very negative effect on the entire staff in terms of moral and happiness while at work. This, of course, cannot be allowed to continue, I told myself. I need all of these folks to be in high spirits. I also need them to feel an overall sense of appreciation not only from me but from our guests. If this is not happening it is ultimately my responsibility as the owner of this restaurant to step in and correct the problem to the best of my ability and with as much tact and sensitivity as possible. I’ve tried, I really have, but to no avail. I am left with only this to say.

******DISCLAIMER******

Please be advised, this DOES NOT apply to all deal site users. 99% of these deals have been redeemed with great satisfaction and in many instances with a return visit. No disrespect is intended to those of you who have purchased these deals and used them happily, following the rules set forth. We appreciate you and look forward to serving you always!

   In fact, this only applies to a small minority of deal site users. For the most part, these sites have served to expand my customer base and reward a good number of my current guests as well. In addition to providing me with much needed capital. Capital used to make improvements in the restaurant and build an addition that serves as dining space as well as a private dining room for a variety of events.

OK, now that I’ve been able to explain how much I value those that use these deal sites for their intended purpose, (that purpose being a win/win for all three, the guest, the establishment running the deal and the deal site itself.) I will now say what needs to be said to the small minority of folks that have ruined it for the whole bunch. Ready?

YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME! Did ya get that? I mean it, STAY AWAY! Please call or email the deal site and tell them you want a refund. I cannot believe the entitlement and general attitude of “me, me, me” that you people exhibit in public. Forget about my restaurant and my staff for a moment. This is not about us. This is about you fools. I am told over and over again by my staff, how abusive some diners can be when they simply do not have the means or even worse, have the means but not the willingness to act in a civil fashion in a public place. Are you people not embarrassed by your behavior?!!? It puzzles me as to who would, if anyone, want to sit at a table with you idiots. You are, as a group, abusive, mean, nasty, despicable human beings that should not be allowed to walk amongst other more evolved people, much less omit the vile stench of your attitude toward those that serve you in a public place, such as my staff of professionals of whom I am very proud.

I am recently most proud that none have them have taken it upon themselves to punch you in the fucking face for treating them as you have. I have actually had some of you tell my manager, point blank, that he is here to work for you and he should do as he is told, BY YOU! Are you fucking kidding me?! This gentleman and his team do not work for you – you entitled neophyte jag-off! They don’t even work for me. They work as independent contractors for the same restaurant for which I work. The fact that I own the restaurant does not make me any less of an employee of the establishment. It simply makes me responsible for everything that goes on within.

We, as a team, have experienced lies of epic proportion, in order for you, the entitled, dishonest, sneaky folks that you are to get your way regardless of the needs of other diners not to mention the overall health of the restaurant. I place very clear and specific restrictions on each of the deals that I run. These restrictions are as follows; 1.) the diner must call the restaurant directly and speak to a staff member to make a reservation. Online reservations are not permitted for tasting menu deals. 2.) one deal or certificate may be redeemed per table per evening. 3.) the deals are not redeemable with any other offers. 4.) a limited amount of these deals (tasting menus only) will be honored on Friday and Saturday evenings. (6pm or earlier or 8 pm or later)   That’s it! There is no hidden agenda. There are no cloak and dagger games being played. I mean no disrespect when presenting these restrictions. They are simply necessary to have in order to insure a fair and just means of redeeming these deals and still allowing the operation to survive and dare I say it????? PROFIT!

Yes, that’s correct, I need to profit as well as offer these deals. The problem is this. Those of you of whom I am speaking, have exhibited breathtaking disrespect for my team and also happen to be the same assholes that could care less if my restaurant lives to see another day after you have redeemed your deal. The details are not of concern to you. You want what you want, when you want it and you have no interest in hearing an explanation of why your demands may be somewhat unreasonable. The disclosed restrictions, the needs of other deal site users that actually use the deal as intended (respectfully) and the basic human rights of my staff BE DAMNED!

Last night was the final straw. I awoke at 6 am as I do each day to find a text, an email and a missed call all from the same person. This woman took it upon herself to get the message to me at all costs that her dining rights have been irreconcilably denied and therefore her experience ruined. Not to mention the experience of her esteemed, food savvy guest. This couple had a deal site tasting menu certificate. Not a big shock we took 14 of them last night. This is wonderful in my eyes as we are reaching guests that for the most part, are learning of us for the first time after over seven years at this location. (We have been able to see repeat visits from over 20% of our deal site first time guests. This is a number not often seen. quite a blessing not to mention a testament to my staff and their professionalism.)  

Back to our “happy couple.” The woman informed me, by way of all three communications, that my manager is, and this is a quote, “a complete asshole that does not belong in his position nor does he deserve to work with the public in any way shape or form”  This statement, as it turns out, was the least offensive of all the ridiculous things stated as fact in her opinion about my restaurant. Now Marcello, while not always warm and fuzzy, especially when abused by a diner in the way in which he was abused last night, is ALWAYS professional and accommodating in every way.

He represents my restaurant and our product with such pride and integrity that one might mistake him for the owner. Please allow me to state for the record that I do not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy. This is an antiquated, flawed business philosophy that allows a guest to dictate what an establishment should provide rather then enjoying what the establishment is best suited to provide. Not to mention what that operation is known for providing. Pure nonsense! A practice seen only in those establishments that lack either the strength of their convictions or a lack of confidence in their own product…..or, even worse, BOTH! Needless to say, we are not one of those establishments.

We try very hard to provide a wonderful experience for all of our guests. We do so with a strict attention to the important point that when we veer from what we are known to provide best, we inevitably welcome trouble. The most common instance of this is when we let the guest drive the experience. This woman was trying to do just that. They arrived 45 minutes late for an online reservation with a tasting menu deal certificate for which the kitchen was not prepared. We routinely prepare for at least 2 or 3 tables that pop up as a result of an honest mistake either on our part or as the result of a miscommunication with the guest. We take full responsibility and do our best to accommodate. Sometimes we are simply full and do not have the capacity to make last minute changes to facilitate the needs of a single guest. In such a case we offer alternatives, extensions of expiration, application of face value to be used that evening but in a different capacity, etc…. at times, such as last night, this is simply not good enough for the guest and things unravel.

I did not bother Marcello with this situation today as it is his well deserved day off and I want him to relax. I took it upon myself to speak with all of the staff that worked last night and each of their descriptions of what happened was identical with the exception of, you guessed it, our deal site folks.

It seems the lady was much more upset in the beginning then the gentleman and was very vocal. After addressing the table and explaining that since they did not do what was asked on the deal and call to alert us to their tasting menu, we could not produce an additional menu of this type. I do not give a shit if anyone understands why I made this restriction a part of the deal.

It just is. I will not and cannot disclose my business model to everyone that buys a deal. Now the man, and I use that term in jest, becomes aggravated despite Marcello’s best attempts to make reasonable amends for the situation. This fool begins to shout in the middle of MY DINING ROOM at the gentleman that runs the entire operation, demanding that what he and his dining companion want, must be provided. In doing so, they disturbed other guests, belittled my manager, his staff and my restaurant. Still, in the end, they were given everything we could give them to try and make them happy. As these pricks dined on my cuisine, served by a professional team in a comfortable environment, (all at a 50% discount mind you), they were texting and talking on their phones all night long. Very loudly might I add, making a point to be loud enough to let my staff know that they were going on opentable and Facebook to slander the restaurant in grand fashion as they dined.

To this couple I offer you this. FUCK YOU!!! As well as everyone else that thinks as you think and acts as you act. This is an grown up restaurant for those that know how to act in public. It is for those that want to and are able to act civil towards one another and towards those that work very hard to serve them. We greatly appreciate all of our guests that enjoy dining in our restaurant, especially nowadays, when there are so many great options. I made a mistake riding this horse as far as I did. I have my reasons. I also have a couple of regrets – not the least of which is the stress I put on my staff in order to accommodate the small minority of deal site folks that simply don’t deserve to be accommodated.

Gentlemen of the staff of Restaurant Michael, I am very sorry that you had to endure this silliness. I would like to thank you for doing so and for being the professional, dedicated people that you are. I am very fortunate to have the privilege to work beside you. Please do not be discouraged. 99% of our guests appreciate and love the service you provide. It is that 99% that inspires me to continue providing the product we provide. Be proud of yourselves and rest assured, I certainly am proud of you! I will not allow anyone to abuse us as professionals not to mention as human beings.

Wanna hear the kicker? The guests from last night were industry people. A cook that works for a very close chef friend of mine and his bitch girlfriend. – twenty-somethings with no balls, no respect and no class. I weep for the future of our nation…… Make no mistake, had I been here last night you would all have cause to weep for them.

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Is Cooking a Magic Show? I Think Not….

I am new to this blogging thing, but I think it’s an excellent way for me to reach out to a global community of chefs, restauranteurs, culinary students and lovers of food, like myself. While I am not new to is cooking. I started as a child in my grandfather’s little kitchen on Chicago’s North side and I had the priviledge of of graduating many years ago from the Culinary Institute of  America in upstate New York (CIA). You can read the short version of my story in the About section of this blog.

I figure if I am going to take the time to work on this blog in the little spare time I have, I want it to be a conversation, one that continues to teach me and perhaps those who read it as well. So don’t be shy in giving me your thoughts. I want to hear your feedback. I do not care if you live a block from Restaurant Michael here in Winnetka, IL, or if you live half way around the world. In fact, I welcome everyone who loves anything and everything having to do with cooking to join in the conversation…which brings me to the first topic for this blog.

I recently had a chat with an old friend who is closely tied to the restaurant business  It went something like this:

ML:  After many years of cooking for others and owning my own restaurants for even longer, I am getting sick and tired of seeing young chefs cycle through restaurant “trends” which represent a certain area of expertise.

HG: That seems to be a big trend now, one minute they are experts in Spanish food, the next it’s French.

ML: AND THAT is when I get crazy!  These guys have the audacity to fuck with my wheelhouse? I have spent my whole life specializing in classic French cuisine and they think because they can get a lot of investor money and open a place they suddenl become experts in French cuisine. Give me a break! These chefs need to tread lightly!

HG:Yeah, there was this article quoting a chef saying he had to fly to New York to get a certain kind of fish because no one served it locally. I got so incensed I wrote a letter to the editor because there were at least 10 places that served it in Chicago and the suburbs. It was ridiculous. He needed to be called out on that and there were many other comments just like mine.

ML: I know what you are talking about and I think that is part of the problem especially then chefs mislead the public about what is or is not available. It makes readers think he’ll be the only serving a certain dish or featuring a certain product – that is bullshit especially when someone like ME has been doing it all these years.  When Jean Banchet closed Le Francais, I was the only one left doing classic French cuisine. There are other fabulous French restaurants, but I am talking strictly classic French. AND we do it with all the bells and whistles–3 courses for a $49.50!  Unheard of!

HG: I think that with the advent of The Food Network shows, people think that cooking is akin to a magic show.

ML: That is exactly what I talking about. It’s should NOT be a magic show!  I liken it to a surgeon who studies one thing his whole life and does it to the best of his ability. I’m taking issue with chefs who think food is simply theater and cook whatever they deem the “trend du jour.” It took me 5-6 years after I graduated culinary school to even appreciate all the many nuances and stylings of French cuisine. I am still learning today for God’s sake! Every day spent in my kitchen I learn something new and hopefully those I hire to work in my kitchen are as well.

HG: Well I have personally spoken to many people who have worked for you Michael and although they say you are a tough boss in there, several have told me that they are better chefs for it today. You know, all we are really talking about is food!

ML: RIGHT! Restaurants are getting away from the fact that this is about cooking and simply that.  Food is not a damn science experiment. The fact that people want to be entertained while you dine is wrong. I simply want to feed people. I am happy when I feed people, can you tell by my size?  I love food and I want to share those tastes with those that walk through my doors . I am so passionate about this!

HG: Without a doubt you are! The funny thing is that in these trendy restaurants the food takes a backstage to the scene you know? I personally am so tired of every new place being about pigs, bacon and pork products! Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to eat cheeks, asses, tails, goat butt, who knows what this shit is anymore? It sounds disgusting!  If you look at all the best chefs in recent history, their food was simple and it still stands up today; people like Alice Waters, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin – even Emerill – it’s not all scientific and complicated. It’s classic and darn it, it tastes amazing!

ML: I think the trend will morph back my way. We are busier then we have ever been since we opened and now I am expanding the restaurant by a third because of it, so something I am doing must be right! At the end of the day I believe that people who pay you good money to feed them, want food that tastes good and maybe they like the fact that I come into the dining room night after night to see how everyone is enjoying the food. I am thinking that that will always be an important part of fine dining.

HG: I think others would agree with you on that one! I know it is important to me. I love when a chef comes out of the kitchen to chat with his/her guests. It makes it very personal. As you always have said, you touch every plate that leaves the kitchen and I think when you come out and put a hand on someone’s shoulder and ask how they enjoying their meal – that goes a long way. Do you feel that from your guests?

ML: I sure do and I would love to hear from others on how that affects where they dine. Is it important? I sure hope so because I am going to continue being me and I am doing what comes natural!