Service (and Soup)
How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. – Anne Frank
I recall my first visit to Tupelo Honey Café (South) in Asheville, NC,. A year ago, I had purchased their cookbook–Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen–and was pleased to finally have a chance to ask the kitchen crew for their autographs. I arrived, a bit bedraggled, in between lunch and dinner service. The hostess greeted me. Although the chef de cuisine was at a staff meeting, she said, he would come and sign the book when the meeting concluded.
My waiter, Nancy, came, flashed a sincere smile, and, after a brief discussion, offered suggestions. An ideal server, she didn’t stop by every two minutes to ask, “How is everything?” Yet, my glass was always full and she often made eye-contact. When I dropped my spoon, it was replaced within seconds without any request from me.
Later, the kitchen manager dropped by, sat with me, signed the book, and we talked about his dad fly fishing on the Davidson River (which was where I would be spending the weekend). Next, the sous chef Michael Reeves sat down, added his autograph, and shared his favorite creation (chicken saltimboco). Finally, David Voss, the chef de cuisine dropped by.
Although busy getting ready for “a full house” that evening, the chefs took time to personalize my experience and briefly share themselves with a total stranger.
My bill magically appeared; I paid. The hostess bid me adieu. Returning to my car, I realized that I had had a perfect meal.
At this point, you are wondering, “What did she have to eat?” (a mug of tomato soup and the three veggie plate: fried green tomatoes, goat cheese grits, and fresh green salad with a pecan vinaigrette.)
The food was quite good, but it was the “experience” that made me return two days later for lunch on my way back to Yanceyville. Tupelo was packed, so I sat at the bar and watched the first half of the Florida State vs. UNC ACC championship game. No kitchen crew this time, yet the experience was the same.
The bartender was affable, attentive (but not overly so), and knew Carolina basketball but diplomatic enough not to have a favorite. Like Nancy, he offered suggestions when asked. The salad was a little late coming out, but before I even thought about it, he let me know its status in the kitchen. Although the barstools were full, he was aware of my presence and that of everyone else.
I believe every restaurant and business would benefit by offering professional informality. When preparing to open the Yancey House Restaurant, Ashley and I read Lessons in Service by Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, along with excerpts from Gilmore and Pine’s The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage. These became training manuals for our Yancey House staff.
Here is what our research taught us: People want to be accepted; they want to be acknowledged as someone who matters, not just in restaurants but in every market or service exchange. Really, is that too much to ask, whether you are shopping for groceries or getting a root canal?
American guru, Leo Buscaglia said: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Tupelo Honey’s Creamy Tomato Soup. “A Real crowd pleaser, this rosy soup is great in the autumn and winter because it’s delicious using canned tomatoes. The cream adds an elegant touch. Serve with toast points or chips slathered with warm pimento cheese.”
Combine 1 (24 oz) can crushed tomatoes, undrained, 3 cups water, 2 TB. tomato paste, 1 bay leaf, 2 tsp. sugar, and 1 ½ tsp. sea salt in saucepan. Bring to boil, immediately decrease and simmer for 20 minutes or until mixture coats spoon. Whisk in ½ tsp. frhesly ground pepper and 1 C. heavy cream and cook 2 minutes or until blended.