A 24-year-old midwestern steakhouse, Manny's Steakhouse, receives a nomination for the 2012 James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Service” award.
Service That Makes the Cut
“It’s a great honor to receive a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Service,” says General Manager Dave Wilson.
“But it’s not a surprise, because I really do believe Manny's is special.”
Here’s what makes it so, according to Wilson:
Valuing experience. “Our servers are career professionals who’ve reached the pinnacle of our industry,” Wilson says.
“We literally don’t have turnover. People joke that the only time anyone leaves Manny’s is if they die or get arrested. A couple of retirements notwithstanding, that’s true.”
Wilson continues, “I’ve worked my entire life in restaurants. My father was General Manager at the legendary Brennan’s in New Orleans. I started there at age 14. My dad respected his staff as professionals, and everyone profited from it.”
Empowering the servers. “We trust our staff to take care of their guests," Wilson says.
“They know from experience what their returning guests like, and they know almost by instinct what new guests want. Then they tailor the experience to their individual needs. Whether you’re an executive doing a deal, a couple celebrating an anniversary or a celebrity who wants to eat in peace, Manny's servers are free to exercise their best judgment, not some management protocol. And guests respond to that. It’s why so many of them request servers by name when they make reservations.”
Wilson continues, “When I read what Timberwolves star Kevin Love said recently about Manny’s – ‘I have a good rapport with the staff. I know everyone who works there from top to bottom, even the people in the kitchen. They always have a table ready for me, no matter what time it is. It’s a special place for me in downtown, where I can get away from everything.’ – I think he was picking up on our ability to read our guests and provide what they want. And it’s not just celebrities. It’s everyone and anyone who does us the honor of coming to Manny's.”
Prizing the individual. “I look at some of the James Beard nominees – legendary restaurants like La Grenouille and Joel Robuchon – and I can guarantee they have exacting service standards,” says Wilson.
“Every fork will be precisely X inches from the plate. That’s not Manny's. We want our servers to be who they are, and to serve guests the best way they know how. Doing that accomplishes at least three things: We empower the server to perform at the highest level and really cultivate lasting relationships with the guest,” Wilson continues.
“We take the vanilla out of the dining experience, making a dinner at Manny's memorable for more than just the best steak you’ll ever eat. And we create a fantastic work environment.”
Investing in staff. “Career servers amass an amazing amount of knowledge over time simply by working, but we complement on-the-job experience with extensive training,” Wilson explains.
“Professional education isn’t just a white collar thing; it pays off for everyone.”
Cultivating teamwork. Ask any server who the backbone of the dining room is, and they’ll tell you the same thing: “I would be effed without a good wait assistant,” says veteran server Patrick “Jocko” Tierney.
“They’re like the umpires at a ballgame. When they do their job right, no one notices and the game goes off without a hitch. The downside is, they seldom get credit, but nothing would happen without them, and ours are the best in town.”
Wilson adds, “That’s a benefit of low-turnover. When the servers and the wait assistants and kitchen staff have all been around as long as ours have, they function as one. They create a chain without any weak links.”
Managing wisely. “Most restaurants at our price point really prize micromanagement; we hate it,” Wilson adds.
“Our staff is so seasoned, it doesn’t need that, and can’t perform under it. Manny's managers succeed by jettisoning a lot of what they learned elsewhere. They learn to be vigilant from a distance, and know when to step in. We have more on the floor than most any other restaurant – but they’re here to support the staff, not to rule over them.”
And the winner is….
Winners of the Chef & Restaurant awards will be announced at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards, held on Monday, May 7 in New York City. During the weekend preceding the awards, nominees, and winners are feted in a series of events that have become the city’s social and gastronomic highlight of the year.
Manny's Steakhouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily at the W Minneapolis – The Foshay in downtown Minneapolis.