Old-school establishments might not have the same veneer as recent buzzy venues, but their longevity alone can teach valuable lessons that can help beyond the fickleness of trends.
— Angelica Frey
A restaurant can grow their own herbs, have their own abattoir, and deliver great food. As far as the customer’s experience goes, though, should learn a thing or two from old-school establishments.
Experiences at trendy and buzzy restaurants can be unpleasant if you’re focused on anything other than an Instagram feed. While the quality of the food can be good, more often than not, the overall experience is off.
Here are four lessons they could learn
Good Service Is Invaluable
At The Pancake Pantry in Nashville (est. 1961), which, as the name suggests, offers 21 varieties of pancakes, the informality of the fare heavily contrasts with the emphasis on service, which feels like a great reprieve from the recent wave of establishments of all levels banning table service all together.
“While the dining industry has shifted toward more of a fast-casual experience where you pay at a counter and don’t have a main server, we still believe in building relationships with our guests,” said general manager Sharde Curry, who has been at Pancake Pantry for 13 years.
“In the past, our servers would remember a guest’s order after one visit. While most of those servers have retired and we are under new ownership, their devotion and genuine love for our guests remain. We still have regulars who will wait to sit with a particular server. Customers are people first, and we get to know who they are.”
Gary Greengrass, who manages the Upper West Side Jewish deli institution Barney Greengrass (est. 1908), stresses on the importance of good staff for an impeccable customer experience. “When a customer comes in and the employee knows what they like, that just puts them more at ease,” he said.
The Environment Matters
This emphasis on a good customer’s experience goes beyond having attentive servers. Rather, it points towards a tendency for these restaurants to offer well-rounded experiences that go beyond the food that is being consumed.
Ti Martin, a co-owner of the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans (est. 1893, with her family taking over in 1969) a haute-Creole establishment with an ever-changing menu, wants the customer to have a great overall experience beyond food “We have people writing letters talking about how the hosts handled the reservation,” said Martin. “They’re actual human beings and make the person feel like they’re the most important person in a month.” They even have a “WOW Sheet,” a handy lists of things to charm and connect with guests beyond food. It includes a tour to the restaurant’s wine cellar, or showing kids how the restaurant’s coffee is being made.
Even a small chain like The Palm (est. 1926), has similar charming touches: one of their oldest traditions is the caricatures on their walls, when, starting in the 1920s some diners were cartoonists who would trade for their meals by contributing art for the walls.
“They’d draw the other guests and celebrities who would stop in, and since then it’s been a way for us to recognize our most loyal patrons,” Bruce Bozzi Jr, Executive Vice President, told Skift Table. “Our guests are always thrilled when their caricatures are added to the wall.”
Small Rewards Travel Far
For their most loyal customers, The Palm has the 837 Club, which gives members benefits such as complimentary entrees and wine-and-spirits members-only specials. A points-based system, it can be activated with a $25 registration fee, and ach dollar spent grants one point, and the rewards system does indeed encourage patrons to come back.
The Pancake Pantry likes to rewards their fans’ devotion too by making the sometimes long wait times less painful: their no reservation policy or call ahead seating might result in long lines, and so they installed a Pancake Cam on their website so that guests can see in advance the length of the line and plan ahead.
“We recognize that they can go to so many other places right down the block, but they choose to stay, and we appreciate that,” said general manager Sharde Curry — as a consequence, they offer complimentary water and coffee to those who stand in line. “The coffee cart is the first way we make sure to tend to their needs and show our gratitude for their devotion.”
Tourists Are Not Beneath You
Restaurant snobs sneer at so-called tourist-traps, and sometimes rightfully so. Yet, from a business perspective, it helps to have your restaurant being featured in a guidebook. “We have a lot of tourists,” Gary Greengrass from Barney Greengrass told Skift Table. “We don’t advertise anywhere: it’s all word of mouth. People come from any country. They come with their guidebooks, they know what they ask for,” he elaborated.
In gritty terms, this means business, and it’s a boon especially in slower months. “In the summertime, past summers used to be very quiet, now they’re busier than they used to be and that’s because tourists are coming to the city,” said Greengrass.