on the shore of the ultimate sea

Are you familiar with sharing?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer experiences.

We’re kicking off our U.S. Now / Next / Why swing on Wednesday in NYC (followed by May 16 in Chicago and June 11 in San Francisco) and the event is all around the idea of “obsessing experience.” And there’s a ton of stuff to talk about around your typical Brand Experiences, but I wanted to isolate one specific instance that might not feel immediately relevant but is.

My wife, Juno, is passionate about food. You could say she obsesses the experience. Whether it’s going out to try new restaurants, reading about chefs and cooking, organizing an intricate weekly meal plan and now writing about food and nutrition full time, Juno’s got it covered.

One of our running chuckles is around an entirely condescending phrase we’re becoming accustomed to hearing in variation, when we eat out:

“Are you familiar with the concept of sharing?”

Forget about the fact that we all learned to share at age four. When a server asks this, it’s a snapping flag to me that we’re in for a less-than-perfect experience. Because it validates something very important in the restaurant power dynamic: that the kitchen rules.

It doesn’t matter if we’re eating together, and each of us order one thing that we want to eat exclusively: the food comes when it’s ready. And Juno’s even experienced instances where her dining companion has finished her meal before Juno’s even arrives. It’s becoming commonplace to put the food before the people.

To me, this is emblematic of the celebrity-chef-obsessed, ego-driven foodie culture that’s bred a new generation of restauranteurs. Many careers have been launched and pockets have been lined by the idea of the kitchen as altar.

But it annoys me, needless to say, and I wanted to pass along an attitude that’s the antidote, one I hope more restaurants will adopt, and one that might be relevant to how you view edge cases, or needy customers, in your work, whomever your literal or metaphorical customer might be.

Brooks Headley is the executive pastry chef at Del Posto, a fine dining restaurant in New York.

He’s a fun writer, too—loose and confident. And in February Bon Appetit ran a column by Headley in which he wrote about accommodating people with allergies.

Our mission is to make people happy—think of us as your surrogate grandmas for the next few hours. I want you to come in to Del Posto and have the grandest, amazing-est time of your life, shooting the breeze with your date, the mom, that boss you’re trying to impress, swirling the wine in your oversize goblet, utilizing your purse stool. And if you’ve got some dietary issues you wanna toss my way? Bring ’em on!

 

It’s a great little essay, and an even better attitude. You can say what you want about the identity politics of food, which tires me to no end. But this isn’t about identity—it’s about humility and service.

And the reader responses agree:

It is a sigh of relief to read of a mindful, creative, and enthusiastic approach to what can be a stress laden experience for the food allergic diner.

What a treasure the patrons of Del Posto must experience, knowing that they are safe and also no burden at all.

I’ve been following Brooks’ career for a while. He was the drummer of two of the best American hardcore bands ever, Universal Order of Armageddon and Born Against. And it’s no surprise that he’s got the sort of level head around making diners feel cared for and safe—that’s not far cry from the life of an independent underground musician. Community. Hospitality. Giving all your energy away to those your performing for.

I know this small strike against the haute pretension of the chef-as-universe’s-epicenter won’t change any “concept of sharing” irritation.

But it will help me line up my values with those of the restaurants that do–and don’t—behave like Brooks.

 

Written by Nick

May 1st, 2015 at 3:21 pm