Here’s what we do on tour.
We get up early, eat a hotel banana if hungry, and use our iphone GPS to find the first restaurant of the day. We rummage through computer cases for folders put together by competent production people who usually get left behind at the office. We stop for the first mega coffee of the day, where someone greets us, serves us, and gives us a warm thank you. We go to restaurant after restaurant where that pattern is repeated.
Welcome. Here’s some food. Do you need anything else? Thank you for coming.
We each do what we do. In our case, we ask questions, use our natural curiosity, and develop stories so everyone can share in what we learn. In the case of each of our restaurants, across the board, they serve. Their natural bent is toward hospitality. Well, on Day 6 of our Raves & Faves tour, we found three restaurants that demonstrate that hospitality in markedly different ways.
Start with The Original Pancake House. This is a place that has won the James Beard award . . . twice. They are routinely named on the ‘best of’ lists, and offer the best German pancakes to a city that must often need a morning wake up call.
We were greeted by Kim Freudenberger at the Aliante Station location, one of five owned by Kim and her husband. Practically the first words out of her mouth were, ‘Can I get you something to eat?’ We had a steady stream of fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, and pancakes from that point on. Chocolate chip. Apple. Pumpkin. Strawberry crepes. Blueberry waffles. And don’t get me started on the Santa Fe omelet (pictured above).
And it wasn’t just bringing plates of food. It was her obvious concern that the blueberry compote was essential to full enjoyment of the waffle. It was how she brought out hot plates of the same thing we were shooting—concerned that it would be too cold to enjoy before the photography was done. She even demonstrated how to best eat that German pancake, layering on the butter, lemon, and powdered sugar then cutting it and offering up forkfuls to each of us in turn as we hurried around with our various duties.
There was a different style at Martini’s, as you would expect. I’d call it ‘discreet,’ since General Manager Erica Muse had her eyes on us the whole time, but wanted us to enjoy the ambiance they’ve so intentionally created. This is an upscale, Manhattan-style bar where they know you, serve you, and let you ponder the bigger questions of life—or play a little video poker—over a martini and a plate of sushi or tapas.
Executive Chef Gene Villiatora, a former Top Chef contestant, was just as unobtrusive (pictured with The Food Channel’s own Christen Nehmer). In fact, a plate of beautifully presented food would all of a sudden appear and he’d stand, respectfully waiting for us to finish phone calls so he could describe the ingredients. He made sure we had menus, access to the kitchen and to his sous chef, plus plenty of forks and a couple of quiet corners in which to work.
Owner Bill Phillips stopped by to welcome us. He, too, made sure our glasses were full and our information complete. We watched as he did the same with his customers.
Hello. Welcome. Can I get you anything? Thanks for coming.
Our last stop of the day was a visit to the second location of Capo’s. Here, the welcome is totally different—not just from the other two, but from almost anywhere! It was a little more in-your-face with the hidden window, the secret password, the over-the-top Italian mob role plays. Or were they role-playing? Hard to tell.
At Capo’s the hospitality was all about, ‘It’s all good,’ and ‘Let me know if he doesn’t take good care of you.’ It was the expansive gesture where you feel as though your server would give you the shirt off his back (but insult his mother and you sleep with the fishes).
Joey, the doorman, was constantly greeting people, offering them the best seat in the house, taking care of them as though Don Corleone himself was watching. And, Vegas-version, he was—owner Nico Santucci (pictured) was very, very present, complete with a, “Why come to me? What have I done to deserve such generosity?” demeanor. Chef Jason was also all over it—bringing plates of bruschetta, mushroom caps, and pasta, then bellying up to the bar with the gang for a round of ‘Bada Bing.’
All along this tour we’ve found that hospitality comes up before the food. These restaurateurs are concerned about their guests’ comfort. Everything is met with a smile and a ‘we can do that.’ It has to be unusual—even by Vegas standards—for a video crew to invade your kitchens and require so much attention, and yet it was a constant stream of, ‘Do you need anything else’ and ‘Can we get you guys anything at all?’
And yet, they all did it. Practical, meaningful service. Eyes on the customer. Let me help you feel comfortable here. It’s what they do.
And telling you about it is what we do.
This series is part of our Raves & Faves restaurant tour of Las Vegas, sponsored by U.S. Foodservice Vegas as part of its commitment to local restaurants. Follow us on Twitter to find out where we’ll be each day!