Location, Location…Operations?

By Vincent Stipo

I happened to be walking toward the host stand just as she opened the door. Standing about 5 foot 2, she slowly made her way the three steps toward our maître d’. Cane in hand, Mrs. Jones opened her wrinkled lips and said, “Where are we sitting?!”

Did she have a reservation? Was the older gentleman standing in the hallway part of her party? Was she on time or late? Did she want to join us at the bar for a cocktail before dinner? Was she a VIP that we failed to immediately recognize? So many questions, and clearly, so little time. That is the beauty of hospitality. The only job in that moment, and in many other moments, is to make this woman feel welcome, to make sure she feels taken care of. It was in that split second that I remembered a short line from one of my favorite reads:

“Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.” ― Danny Meyer, Setting the Table

I peered at my young host, who looked as if she had just seen a real-life velociraptor, turned to Mrs. Jones, gently smiled and asked, “How are you? What a beautiful coat! May I hang it for you?” After exchanging a few more words, it didn’t take long for me to learn that she was 35 minutes early for her reservation, was waiting for four other people to join her for dinner and had requested a table on our second floor dining room, under the assumption we had an elevator. Yet, none of this mattered. Disarming her with kindness, offering genuine help and being available to listen is all that she needed in that moment. Over the next few years, Mrs. Jones became one of our best regulars, dining at the restaurant four times a week and rarely breaking her smile.

We’ve all heard the phrase “location, location, location,” but how heavily do the operations of a hospitality-driven concept weigh on the success of the business? It’s a lot more than you might think. I have been part of several restaurant openings and my job always began after I learned of our chosen location. In all of my experiences, I so wish that I was promised crazy business on a rainy Monday night; I wish I was guaranteed to hit my liquor cost just because we are located on a “great block;” I wish that everyone left dinner shouting about how wonderful their experience was, just because we were in a great location. The reality is that restaurateurs hope to transform the canvas on which they work. A chef aspires to elicit warm memories through that dish he has been cooking since his grandmother made it for him. The sommelier looks forward to sharing a moment she had with that Italian vintner on a quartz-speckled slope just before she offers you a sip of that perfect red from Piedmont. One of my most memorable dining experiences was in a small, intimate space that sat just off a highway, between a collection of low-budget retail shops. As I savored each bite of the 13 course dinner and enjoyed perfectly executed hospitality, I realized these restaurateurs had found a way to transform a location and share their vision.

All that to say this: operations are oh-so very important. Before joining the MSC Retail team, I played an integral role in opening two nationally acclaimed restaurants. Most days leading up to opening night were spent brainstorming how to present our brand of hospitality and how to actuate our vision during employee orientation. The best way to grow the culture of a restaurant is organically, and when done correctly, it is because the core team has painstakingly planned it all out. Restaurateurs define hospitality as it pertains to the guest while also defining hospitality as it pertains to their employees.

For every entrepreneur that tells me location is the most important piece of a successful business, I will show them a variety of restaurants that continue to fail on some of the best corners of the best markets in the best cities. MSC Retail understands the critical and unique relationship between real estate, operations and quality hospitality. While our DNA is real estate, we truly “get” every aspect of operations (many of us have owned and operated restaurants) and how important they are to a restaurant’s success. So, who’s ready to open a restaurant?!