Many years ago, like many young boys from my neighborhood, I went to work at a famed Italian restaurant in Boston’s ethnic North End called “The European.” Even as a street savvy fifteen-year-old kid from nearby Medford, MA, I was somewhat unprepared for the world of the restaurant business, both on the floor and in the kitchen. Anthony Bourdain dutifully captures some of this restaurant lifestyle in his bestseller Kitchen Confidential. Little did I realize, though, what a positive, lifelong effect my time there would have on me, especially when it came to understanding and embracing the concept of great service.
Over time, I worked my way up from bussing tables, to managing the wine cellar, to working the kitchen and ultimately to waiting on tables. In the last position, I was fortunate to have had some great mentors who introduced me to the concept of great service. Chuck, our eccentric, tuxedoed maître d’ made it simple. “Bobby,” he said, “always think like a customer, intimately know what’s on the menu, and be passionate about what you do.” Simple advice, profound results. Chuck had me study the menu, the wine list, and trained me on the finer elements of French and Russian service. I loved it. The European wasn’t high-brow, but for some parties we could really pour it on and deliver an incredible experience. In time, great service came naturally, as did the rewards, both psychologically and financially. My job was enjoyable and rewarding, complemented by a stream of “regulars,” customers I knew by name and who knew me, always requesting a seat at one of my tables.
I continually find myself in search of great service and looking for those with an evangelical zeal about it. Recently, I decided to take a course in early American mixology at Boston University’s Culinary Arts School. (I’m enamored by culinary history.) The course was taught by Jackson Cannon and Bobby McCoy, famed bartenders at Boston’s Eastern Standard restaurant. For those of you who don’t know Eastern Standard, it has one of best bars in Boston, if not the U.S. Why the fame? It’s simple. The bar team at Eastern Standard gives great service: they are customer-focused; know their product; and are passionate about what they do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re serving food, mixing drinks or – in my case -delivering technology products around the world, the recipe for great service remains the same.