‘Fine casual’ means taking the cultural priorities that fine dining, at its best, believes in.
A cocktail done right can really show your guests that you care.
A delicious meal cooked by a colleague for many others nourishes not only the body but also the soul.
A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes but by how well they handle those mistakes.
A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you’re not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you. If it can do both of those things at the same time, you’re hooked.
A restaurant is a compendium of choices that the owner has made. If you look around a restaurant, everything represents a choice: the kind of salt shaker that’s on the table, the art on the walls, the uniforms on the waiters.
At my restaurants, we have training drills before every meal. We talk about what we did yesterday that was great and what we can improve today.
At the base level, a burger is a piece of meat and a bun with something on it. It’s simple but it seems to make a lot of people happy.
Be aware of textural elements throughout a party, like silverware, stemware, and linens. But the biggest element is metaphorical: it’s your own touch. How are you making people feel?
Comfort food is absolutely moving upscale.
Constant, gentle pressure is my preferred technique for leadership, guidance, and coaching.
Diners are upset that restaurants aren’t honoring reservations, and a lot of restaurants help bring this on by overbooking.
During one of his uncannily well-timed impromptu visits to my restaurant, Union Square Cafe, Pat Cetta taught me how to manage people. Pat was the owner of a storied New York City steakhouse called Sparks, and by that time, he was an old pro at running a fine restaurant.
Earlier in my career, I needed to be the writer, casting director, set designer, leading man, and producer. I’ve been eliminating a lot of those jobs. I’m an executive producer right now. I still get to pick the best screenplays.
Essentially what’s going to determine how you succeed in New York is how people feel about the space, how delicious the food is, how they perceive the value and, most important of all, how they feel treated. My understanding is Stephen Starr is exceptionally good at all of this and his ability to create a transporting experience.
Every restaurant needs to have a point of view.
Festive cocktails mean color, lots of color.
Good service means never having to ask for anything.
Gramercy Tavern appeared on the cover of New York Magazine the day we opened, and it was five deep at the bar with people who were not necessarily here to dine. They just wanted to kinda sniff out the hot, new restaurant.
Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side.
Hospitality is almost impossible to teach. It’s all about hiring the right people.
Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions – for and to – express it all.
Hospitality knows no gender or race.
How can you franchise hospitality?
Human nature doesn’t change. When enough people are comfortable enough financially, there is going to be human nature that wants to spend more money on better quality and, to some degree, status symbols as well.
I adore going to a very, very fancy restaurant – as long as the spirit is genuine, like it’s their pleasure to welcome you.
I couldn’t sit in a chair in an office all day.
I don’t get to cook in my own restaurant.
I don’t think there’s going to be sustainable demand for restaurants that force you to spend hours there.
I feel like not knowing Joe Torre is a hole in my New York experience.
I gasp for air if I don’t get to breathe Italian air once a year.
I grew up in a reform Jewish family in St. Louis. Our idea of Judaism was no bar mitzvahs and a Christmas tree that had a skirt at the bottom embroidered with the names of my grandparents.
I just think the best way for me to be greedy is long-term greedy.
I learned that you shouldn’t take your most esoteric concept and fit it into the largest space with the highest fixed costs. It puts too much pressure on the restaurant to hit grand slams every day when there just aren’t enough people who want to watch that sport.
I never get sick on airplanes, which is incredible. You’re basically in a flying petri dish.
I opened Union Square Cafe when I was just 27 years old, and my first hope was simply that it would stay in business. My higher hope was that in its lifetime, it might grow to play an essential role in the lives of its stakeholders.
I run in London, in San Francisco – any city that’s got a waterfront or park.
I think that any business that thinks that the transaction is ‘you give me money and I give you food, next, you give me money and I give you food, next,’ without understanding that people deeply want to feel restored is in danger.
I think that more and more and more really talented restauranteurs and chefs from the fine dining world are going to try their hand at fine casual. They’re going to say, ‘Why not us?’
I think that Shake Shack wouldn’t exist had it not been for Twitter. I don’t think you would have gotten a hundred New Yorkers to stand in line for an hour if they couldn’t have made their time really productive and organized snowball fights, ordered free hot chocolate, and, you know, Instagrammed photos.
I throw 14 parties a week.
I trust that McDonald’s can find a way to sell all-natural chicken without raising their prices; we did that at Shake Shack. It is more expensive, and we took a slight margin hit, but we did it. And if we can do it, I know that much bigger companies can.
I’m a big believer that you can try to change the world based on philosophy, doctrine, and belief. But I think the thing that really drives the world is hedonism, the pleasure factor.
I’ve been in love with Washington ever since renting my very first apartment there many years ago while working as a Senate intern.
If somebody doesn’t want to cook at home or has more family members than they have room for, then it’s great to be in a city that’s got restaurants that are actually busy on the holidays.
If someone said, ‘You’ve got to eat your next two meals at American fast-food restaurants,’ I would do one meal at Chipotle and one meal at Popeyes fried chicken.
If you develop a dialogue with me and take an interest in me, I’ll want to give you the business. It’s human nature.
If you’re constantly making business decisions on behalf of your investors first, ultimately you’re going to wear down your other stakeholders. It’s going to be potentially hurtful for your employees and your customers and the community you do business with.
In an age when so many groups are rolling out restaurants faster than your local baker makes donuts, my goal is that each restaurant feels hand-crafted. That they have their own soul.
In one respect, it’s easier to open a restaurant in New York because you get more media attention than anywhere else. Almost everyone will try a new place once, irrespective of the reviews, because it’s a spectator sport.
In order to encourage the cattle farmers to raise a herd of all-natural cattle, which is a several-year process, they have to know that it’s not just Shake Shack that wants to buy it. They have to have other buyers who are willing to pay more for all natural.
In the restaurant business, as opposed to the theater, center orchestra is an 8 P. M. reservation. Orchestra on the side is 7 or 8:30. Mezzanine is 6 and 9. But people don’t take it personally when they call the theater and can’t get what they want.
It is sad that the more ‘successful’ a neighborhood becomes, the more it gradually takes on a recognizable, common look, as the same banks, drugstore chains and national brands move in.
It’s always imperative to improve and to remain dynamic – or you’ll become lunch, as opposed to serving it.
It’s the job of any business owner to be clear about the company’s nonnegotiable core values. They’re the riverbanks that help guide us as we refine and improve on performance and excellence. A lack of riverbanks creates estuaries and cloudy waters that are confusing to navigate. I want a crystal-clear, swiftly flowing stream.
Life is a series of waves to be embraced and overcome.
London has become one of the great world destinations for someone who likes food.
Long before Starbucks popularized the phrase ‘the third place’ – somewhere to interact outside of work and home – it was neighborhood restaurants that helped to define places like Union Square.
More and more, museums will look at restaurants and chefs differently – as if they are curating art.
Museums are like sports stadiums, hotels and hospitals: they are in the category of captive-audience dining.
My dad gave me the gene to enjoy cooking, and to enjoy consuming good food and wine.
My favorite place is whichever sidewalk is beneath my feet because I am just constantly fascinated by walking and looking and learning. If I’ve already walked a street five times, then the next five times I walk it looking up, and I learn something about the cornices.
My history has been to grow the roots as deeply as you can before going on to the next thing. That’s why it took 10 years to go from Union Square Cafe to Gramercy Tavern, and another 10 years to go from Blue Smoke’s first location to its second, and five to go from Shake Shack 1 to Shake Shack 2.
My staff’s job is to adjust to circumstances with technical precision and artful grace so that every patron has a wonderful experience.
Ninety-five percent of all brussels sprouts come from California.
One great worker equals three not-so-great workers, so it’s worth paying terrific people not just for today but to find people that we think have upward mobility to become tomorrow’s leaders.
One of my great teachers was the late Jean-Claude Vrinat of Taillevent in Paris.
One of the things that may get lost among all the hubbub when a company is ‘going public’ is that the business can now be owned, in part, by its greatest fans.
People use restaurants to do business, to do politics, to socialize.
People who have come to appreciate well-sourced and well-cooked food refuse to pay too much for food that they wouldn’t want to pay anything for.
Restaurants and chefs have become followed by such a broad swath of the public, in a way that used to be reserved for sports stars, movie stars, and theater actors. Restaurants are in the firmament of today’s common culture.
Restaurants are like kids. You hope you understand their innate gifts, and then you let them realize their aspirations.
Restaurants with small courses that give the customer choices, and that don’t obligate them to spend a fortune, are going to do very well.
Service is how product is delivered – the technical aspect.
Shake Shack started off as a summer hot dog cart in Madison Square Park. It was not meant to be a company – it was completely accidental. It started off as an expression of community building.
Short of hiring a new staff, consider giving subpar workers a chance to improve. Tell them why they’re not measuring up and give them a set amount of time to make specific improvements.
Some people are near- or farsighted – I’m thorn-sighted. The thorns on the rose are in really sharp definition for me, the rose petals a little fuzzier.
Sometimes, early in their careers, chefs make the mistake of adding one too many things to a plate to get attention. If a chef is just coming up with wiz-bang gimmicks on their plate, that has nothing to do with bringing real pleasure to people.
Steak and its accompaniments – wine, vegetables, potatoes and generous desserts – is a primal source of pleasure to which many people can relate.
The cooking standards for Italian food are less demanding than for French. All you need are some fried mozzarella and five pastas, and you’re in business.
The great thing about capitalism is that it’s a system that works.
The most important thing you can do is make the distinction between customer service and guest hospitality. You need both things to thrive, but they are completely different.
The only thing I hate is when bad food is paraded as something great, and people are charging a lot for it.
The part of capitalism that doesn’t work for me is when capitalists make decisions in the way that Adam Smith suggested, which is that as long as you do everything in the interest of the investor, you’re going to actually make the best decisions for all other stakeholders. I don’t happen to agree with that.
There are a zillion variables to a hamburger. What part of the animal went into it. What coarseness. What temperature.
There are three things that people pick up on the instant they walk into your home on Thanksgiving. They will be able to feel the human energy. They’ll smell the food. And they will see, instantly, the table.
Today, it’s almost the outlier if people are not photographing what they ate and then sharing that in real time.
Union Square Cafe is all soul, not brain.
Use your time well. Everyone gets time equally. It doesn’t matter how much money you make.
Wearing a baseball cap or sleeveless shirt in a white-tablecloth restaurant is rude and makes other diners upset, just like someone on a cellphone.
What you can do is present existing flavors in a fresh way, in a fresh context.
When chefs like Wolfgang Puck became household names, that became a compelling reason for an intelligent young person to go into the cooking profession. There have been no waiters who have turned into household names. The service and hospitality aspects have clearly lagged behind the kitchen.
When I was young, I had no choice as to what I was eating.
When push comes to shove, baseball is one of my favorite things in the world.
When the economy goes sour, there are three different kinds of restaurants that do well: the smaller-scale neighborhood restaurants that don’t ask much of you; those that have banked enormous goodwill by offering great value during the boom; and those with proven records of excellence, a sure thing.
Whole Foods has been brilliant at changing the way food is produced because they just won’t buy it if it doesn’t meet their standards.
You can’t let challenges argue you out of doing what you know is the right thing.
You cannot open a major New York restaurant today and not be aware that showbiz will play a role.
You wouldn’t have the same art on the walls at every restaurant or the same waiter uniforms. Neither should you have the same service style at every restaurant.