Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Market Metrix

As a company that is obsessed with customer feedback, a few years ago we upped the ante and designed a guest feedback survey from a company called Market Metrix that is emailed to every hotel guest that we have, at every hotel we own when they check out. Gathering feedback in both a restaurant and hotel is extremely important. My service and kitchen staff are trained to asses a guests needs, and exceed them, with every interaction possible. I work really hard to teach staff (especially servers) the different things to look for, and personally try to see food "going and coming" (leaving the kitchen, and returning to the dish pit) as much as possible. Seeing plates come off of the dinning room floor can be a really, really, good tool to asses what people are eating, and more importantly what they aren't. Why didn't the finish that? Portion too big? Not what they wanted? etc. I can flag a problem find a server and make it right. Sometimes I will just walk into the dinning room, approach the table in question and fire up a conversation. At any cost we need the dinning experience to be fantastic. If I can head that problem off at the front, and solve it I can prevent that customer from leaving with a bad taste in their mouth. Not to mention the bad PR that can come from a bad meal- online forums, emailed complaints, blogs, travel website reviews, and person to person conversation. Even the best restaurants deal with these issues. Food is tough- people have different expectations, and different tastes. Also those expectations seem to multiply with the amount of money spent. The best meal of one persons life is barely palatable for someone else. No matter who you are I want you to have a great experience, and if you don't, I want to know so I can fix it.

Our market metrix surveys allow a guest to give us instant faceless feedback. People will say things in that forum that they would never say to your face. While comment cards in the guest check book are helpful they are rarely filled out, and when they are it is more often then not positive feedback. Of course that is great, but if you only hear the good, and you know that that bad is happening you miss the point. The survey is broken down into about 10 questions regarding your dinning experience with me. Wait time to be seated, attentiveness of server, handling of reservations, quality of food, presentation of food, handling of dietary restrictions, quality of beverage, wine pairing recommendation, attractive and enjoyable atmosphere, and overall value in your meal. A guest can only answer less than expected, as expected, or better than expected for each one and then has a opportunity to leave some comments as well. This system allows me to get more feedback than I know what to do with. The surveys from the previous week are emailed to me as attachments and I can really asses any sort of problem we are having. Emergency guest issues are emailed instantly for an even quicker response. It isn't odd for me to receive 10 emails with 10 surveys attached every few days. If there are food issues, and lets face it some times the anonymity of the Internet causes people to say things that they would never ever say to someones face, I try to respond as soon as I can, personally from my email at work. The goal here is not to offer something for free though, although sometimes we do that as well, but it is usually taken care of by one of our Front of House managers. It is more important to these guests that I made an effort to remedy the situation. A email from a chef who not only responded to your issues, but also saw them and is making the required changes to remedy the situation is way more than most people expect. It opens a line of communication between them and I, and in turn builds a relationship that will ideally make them want to return again. Never fill out any sort of survey like this thinking it will only be seen by a few people, recently I received a comment card that suggested "the chef should be fired". The companies that will send you surveys like this are serious about customer service. Every single one we receive is seen by every manager, and then many are posted offering positive encouragement for our staff. Servers named by name can be recognized for their efforts, or the whole team for providing an exceptional service for someone.

While dealing with customer feedback is never easy, it is a "gift" a customer has given you. We have decided to do as much and get as much feedback as we possibly can. Heading off an issue directly is the best way, a good restaurant will solve your issue on the spot so if you are out and having a problem tell someone. If your server is any good they may already know. If you are uncomfortable with that then find an email address or telephone number and call to talk to someone. I care about this stuff, good restaurants take this very seriously. The information is so valuable. A restaurant can not fix what they don't know is broken, so give them the opportunity to do it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


As spring approaches the restaurant has to begin preparing for the busy season ahead. This is a good time of year to look at our staffing, menus, and purchasing to see where we can improve. We have a new leader at the helm as well, as General Manager but it is a tad to soon to see how that will work out long term. He is a great guy that has been with the company for a few years so we are excited about that. The opportunity did come up for me to go through the interview process for that job, and even though I honestly feel that my good standing at the restaurant could've got me close, after a few conversations with my operators and controllers I decided not to pursue it. A bit of a downer as the money would've been much better as would the hours but in my core I feel like I need to cook. As with any great company we always try to hire from within, and I am pretty close to the top of the list of people needing a promotion. Through the grapevine I hear there are some things in the works, but I will wait and see and in the meantime keep my head down.

Thanks to a tip from an angry server that was fired last fall we also got to experience a federal labor audit this winter. A huge elaborate investigation was done wasting thousands of tax payer dollars, and at the end of the day there was only one violation This idiot auditor has decided that my contributions to the restaurant don't justify my salary and should therefore classify me as an hourly employee. His argument is weak, and our system is exactly how kitchens (brigade system) have run for hundreds of years. I am furious about the whole thing as it has the ability to change the hours I spend in the kitchen and the money that I make there drastically. Luckily I am confident the company will make it all work but it has put a huge stress load on me, and my employer. A perfect example of bureaucratic bologna trying to fix a situation that isn't broken, and a whole department that is redundant against it's state department. All while we have migrant workers with zero rights, and immigrant workers in restaurants in my own community that are taken advantage of on a daily basis. This guy has to intervene where no intervening is necessary. I am happy with my work, and my pay. The company is happy with the agreement as well, he is wasting and in turn making us put a ton of resources at bat to fix this issue. The real kicker is the original server whom we have to believe tipped these guys off was friends with me. Any one (including the company) he was looking to get has skated without incident, fine, or violation, and instead the whole process screws me. Thanks for that.

We are looking to get a spring menu published soon, with some small changes from what we are running now. Searching for cooler food cooked in a cooler manner consumes a bit of my day everyday. We also are busy getting menus written for Easter, and Mothers Day. Last week to celebrate the Cannon Beach Wine Walk we offered a genius four course menu, each course featured with a different Zerba wine (Walla Walla WA) It was a great opportunity for us to step out of our box.  The offerings- 1- olive oil poached halibut over spring greens with a tapenade vinaigrette. 2- local potato hash with seared veal sweetbreads and a poached egg. 3- local lamb ribs over organic white polenta with a "hunters" sauce. 4- pear and gorgonzola beignets with ganache, and honey ice cream. It was quite the task to get it all together as we offered all of this with our regular dinner menu over busy Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights last week. More food to prep, more courses to time, and less room to store it all always creates some issues, but all in all I know it was well received. 

At home I am continuing trying to keep things new, and encouraging the boys to try new foods and flavors. We are struggling to eat more sustainable things, and less crap which even at my house can be rough. I am also hoping to get a new load of soil into the garden this week, and am struggling with ideas on what I should plant in the coming weeks. As much as I would love to grow some heirloom leafy greens, and other lettuce things in the whole thing our weather I don't think will allow me as good of a yield as I want, so I continue to work through what I want versus what I think we will eat, versus what will actually be productive. The city has decided (as has Melissa) that I cannot have egg chickens in the back yard, but most of the guys I work with have cages now and a few birds. Will even has ordered turkeys two of which are earmarked for me, one hen will be ready for slaughter around October or late September and a tom turkey will be ready in time for Thanksgiving. He will feed and raise them but the actual harvest is up to me, and I go back and forth with how much I want the boys to be involved in that. I think they are old enough to understand this is the system we go through to get the food on our plates, but also somewhere I worry it may be too much for them, and my intentions could backfire. The poultry additions to the cooking staff at work are nice as we are sending leftovers and scraps home to feed the different chickens and soon turkeys around, making the amount of food waste in the kitchen much much lower, and I feel good about that.

In preparation for James Beard we are also working on a few very different things and ideas about showcasing some of the things we as a kitchen staff are growing are in the works. Plant it, grow it, harvest it, prep it, and then cook it seems like an idea worth showcasing in that forum. We also are working on a few over the top ridiculous things that may or may not work, but I will keep you all posted if they do work out or on my progress to get them to the point they are serveable in NY.

All in all I keep pretty busy, regardless of what happens at the restaurant with the Labor audit I feel like I am in good standing there, and am proud of the work that I do. Any less effort would be unacceptable for me, and the way it sits now I sleep well at night knowing our relationship works well on both ends. At work we continue to strive for excellence, treating our customers and staff better than anyone around, and I am proud of that. At home I continue to work towards being a better cook, and keeping my family full of healthy, wholesome, non processed crap. It is always a battle, that is never really finished. Thanks again for increased comments and reading in general. As always- anything you want to know more about or have questions about please don't hesitate to ask. I appreciate your support in this outlet for my general knowledge, creativity, and in some cases just a forum for venting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Halibut is one of my favorite seafood's to eat, and cook. Unlike some of the heavier and darker meat fish the taste of halibut is very clean, light, and versatile. It will pair well with almost any starch, and i think it is fantastic over a simple salad. Fish such as salmon with a higher fat content are easier to cook, the fat or moisture the fish retains even after it has been exposed to heat helps the end product to not be dried out, even when it is over cooked. Halibut on the flip side contains very little fat from the beginning, so it is harder to cook correctly. Opinions vary on all of this, and the thought occurs to me that i could justify a fish restaurant that took temperatures from customers much like they were ordering steak. In an attempt to get all of the fish we sell at the restaurant to be cooked medium rare-medium a few years back we told our cooks that if it wasn't coming back from the dining room then it was overcooked. It worked pretty well.

Halibut season opened in Alaska last Saturday, and as I am typing the first boats hopefully should be headed back to ports of  that state with full hulls. Tsunami warnings, high winds, high seas, and overall crappy fishing conditions seem to always cloud the opening of any commercial fishing season during the winter months. While halibut can be found off of the Oregon and Washington coasts as well as some of the North Eastern Atlantic coasts all of the halibut I buy for the restaurant comes from Alaska. We have tasted it locally and a higher water temperature leads to a much more murky or muddy taste in the final product. Halibut do best in the bitter cold water of the North Pacific Ocean.

These fish can be huge, and are among the flounder family. They are born with an eye on each side but like most flounders once they reach about 6 months of age the eye actually begins to move to the other side of the head, eventually making both eyes on the top, and none on the bottom. The bottom side of them is a very light skin, while the top is dark brown with spots to blend in from predators while they are on the ocean floor. Sizing varies but reports of halibut in the 700# range are not unheard of. I like a 20-30# fish for restaurant use. At your local monger they will most likely be sold as what is called a fletch. 1-3 fletch is 1-3#'s, 3-5, and 5-7 are the norm. As the halibut is a bottom fish, and generally tends to eat mostly garbage I think the smaller the better. Usually 1-3 fletch, or even 3-5 fletch is perfect for my needs. Also as it lingers in the bottom, and doesn't swim real fast or often it is very prone to having worms. These little red worms seem to be a much bigger issue with the bigger or older fish, so as with everything you buy- if you are going halibut shopping buy it from a reputable source, and buy it as fresh as possible and use it that night or the next.

While I did say I love eating and cooking it, I haven't had a piece in over a year. Fishery quotas have dropped on an average of 20% annually for the last 3 years. Prices have soared, and while I will buy halibut fresh for this weekend it will come in at over $18/#. Easily a 40% increase in the last 2 years. Since I feature it on my menu year round I am forced to use a frozen product through the fishery closed winter months, and have had been able to buy what is called a refresh product. A whole fish that is frozen and then slow thawed, then we receive it and slack it out. Rather then buying it in fletch form that was cut by someone who didn't care, then bagged, and frozen and thrown around in a brown box for a few months before it got to me. Even the refresh product I have been buying all winter long has been near $15/#.

Things like this worry me. When we see quotas plummet, it usually means there are less mature fish that are available to catch, which in turn drives the price sky high. Add to that it is an expensive fish to catch- the boats are big, and head far off shore (have you noticed the price of diesel) and you have a perfect storm. It is becoming very unstable, and unsustainable. In November we pushed very hard to get it off of my menu all together with our owners and they didn't bite. It is a very popular item on both my dinner and lunch menus, so I do understand, but as a chef I always feel like it is partly my responsibility to warn others of issues like this. The seafood I promote and buy on a daily basis is as sustainable as I can buy, cause I cant go home being part of the bad guys here. I would rather not eat halibut ever again, so that my grandchildren are able to eat it someday. All of those decisions hang over our heads daily, and we don't take them lightly. So while it is a favorite for many, the price will continue to climb until we as consumers say "no thanks". For now, I will continue to sell it, and will be successful at selling it, but I have to price it accordingly. When you come see me for lunch and want fish and chips it will cost you $20, but believe me I am not trying to stick it to you, I am giving you the nicest halibut I can buy, and I paid for it accordingly. As consumers we are in charge of protecting ourselves against these issues. The people that fish and sell this fish for profit are not going to tell us that we are quickly driving it to extinction.

While I totally understand that these issues are the last thing you want to think about while sitting down to a nice evening out, they cant be ignored forever, and it is precisely that point at which I feel like you have to make those decisions. It is a vicious cycle that encompasses so much more than just halibut. I need to sell it because my customers will pay for it, and want it. Those same customers think it must be a good choice because it is on my menu. At a restaurant of my size pulling all the halibut off of the menu would cause an uproar, it just isn't an option until less people aren't buying it. There are some great options for education out there, but there are some really bad ones as well, so go forth and search. Look at menus, and ask questions. I gladly walk in to the dining room during service to discuss my purchasing decisions with customers who have questions, or are confused and even the increasing number of customers who think they are better informed than I am when it comes to these issues. All of that being said- halibut is an amazing fish. When cooked correctly its flavor is so subtle and elegant, and unmatched with any other fish I can find locally.