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Running Your Business:
Are You in the Right Part of the Restaurant?
By Miriam Silverberg

Sometimes restaurateurs are convinced they should be in the kitchen or the dining room and they are so wrong.

A number of years ago a friend and I had dinner one evening at a restaurant he had heard about on Long Island. It was an Italian restaurant that had received great reviews. We walked into the crowded dining room on a Saturday night with a reservation and were immediately greeted by Tony (not his real name). Tony seated us and took our drink orders. I ordered a rather unusual aperatif and Tony commented on it and asked if I had ever had another drink which he liked even better. I said no but was willing to try it. I enjoyed it and he stopped back at our table to talk with us.

Even though the restaurant was full and Tony seemed to be everywhere at once, he made you feel he had all the time in the world to speak with you. He told us the restaurant was family owned and his father was the chef. Tony, himself, was a graduate of culinary school but was working as maitre d'.

The food was sensational and we returned about six weeks later. As soon as we walked into the dining room, Tony greeted us with "I remember you." I thought to myself, yeah, right, when to my astonishment he told us exactly where we had sat the last time and asked if I wanted to have the same drink!

Anyone in the restaurant business knows that a memory like this is phenomenal and invaluable. We returned many times and each time Tony remembered what we had ordered, where we sat and even what we had talked about!

Finally, we came in one evening and there was another maitre d'. He was perfectly pleasant but he wasn't Tony. We naturally inquired and was told Tony was now in the kitchen but would try to come out and speak with us sometime during the evening.

The food was very good, the place was crowded, but people didn't seem to be enjoying themselves as much as they had. The maitre d' was not very accommodating and perhaps the problem was he just wasn't Tony. Later in the evening Tony came out in his chef's whites to speak with us and explained that his father had retired and he, Tony, was now the chef. He said he actually preferred being in the kitchen because he'd rather work with food than people.

After awhile, we found another place we liked as well that was closer and without Tony there didn't seem to be any sense going back. Towards the end there were always less people in the dining room so others seemed to feel the same as we did.

Shortly after the place closed. It may have been for any number of reasons or, it may have been because Tony was no longer where he belonged.

Through the years I have seen this with my own clients. Owners and executive chefs who were happy in the kitchen and found all sorts of excuses to stay out of the dining room which was fine except they didn't realize how great they were with people. Or owner/chefs who didn't care about the food and loved being in the dining room, wearing a business suit and greeting people. Trouble was, the people doing the cooking didn't care about the food either.

What this comes down to is a good, successful restaurateur has to watch both the kitchen and the dining room which means he has to be in two places at once or find someone to cook or greet people who is wonderful at his job.

Miriam Silverberg is the founder and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a New York City publicity firm. She can be contacted by e-mail at

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