On May 6, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) brought together local industry leaders for a conversation about the state of the region’s restaurant and foodservice community. The discussion, moderated by Rebecca Sheir, Host of “Metro Connection” on WAMU 88.5, offered insights into operator success in an increasingly competitive market.
Panelists included 2015 RAMMY Awards Finalists for Service Program of the Year including Ashok Bajaj (Knightsbridge Restaurant Group) and Mark Politzer (Bourbon Steak), as well as finalists for Restaurateur of theYear including Mike Isabella (Mike Isabella Concepts) and DavidWizenberg (Passion Food Hospitality). Three of the panelists are finalists in both categories: Stew Newbold (Think Food Group), Frank Shull (RW Restaurant Group), and Maria Trabocchi (Fiola, Casa Luca & Fiola Mare). Panelists weighed in on best business practices, how to maintain brand longevity, and what it takes to succeed in metropolitan Washington’s rapidly expanding restaurant community.
Washington as a Leading Dining Destination:
Trabocchi praised the district for a commendable job bringing tourists to Washington. She pointed out that the region’s food scene has established an unprecedented reputation in recent years, which has visitors calling restaurants for reservations before they even book their trip — a new phenomenon. “DC has seen tremendous growth in the past 10 years,” Bajaj says. “Local talent is growing and people want to open restaurants here more than ever.” Newbold adds, “It’s been explosive. A lot of exciting local talent is emerging and they are looking to build an experience.” Dining out in the district has become about the entire experience, not just the food. “My parents’ idea of going out was going to a movie,”says Shull. “Now people go out to restaurants to be entertained.”
Maintaining Perfect Service:
In an ever-evolving industry, maintaining perfect service is necessary in order to stay on top of the competition. The panelists agreed that top service can mean different things to different people, but Isabella pointed out that the goal is to get people to return and that “all begins with training.” Newbold adds, “Five star service begins with the employee.” He says money is not the primary motivator to most people; it’s “the sense of belonging and recognition — those are the things that resonate with the people we hire.” Bajaj stressed the importance of perfecting service throughout the entire dining experience, “from the valet parking, to the host stand, to the table, until the guests leave.”
“There used to be a wide enough pool, filled with the best of the best, and that is no longer the case,” says Wizenberg. “Millennials are making the dining decisions — they want to work, play, and live all in a defined area, so it’s hard to find staff wanting to work elsewhere.” Trabocchi adds that staffing “depends completely on the restaurant you have.” Politzer says it helps to get creative with the staff, incentivizing them with contests and other prizes. “If everyone’s goal is hospitality, and we put our best foot forward, they will stay longer.”
The winners will be announced at the 33rd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala on Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.