Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Much depends on lunch Add to ...

They didn't quite make it.

CANOE: NOON

A third guest, invited by Mr. Grey, has arrived at Mr. Dee's table. And although Mr. Dee is surprised by this, he is unfazed because, as a rule, he enjoys the opportunity to make connections over lunch. He finds that business conversation moves more easily into discussions of family and personal interests, which helps to develop a bond and a trust. Mr. Grey certainly has ambitions to develop such a bond, because he hopes Mr. Dee will hire his Boston firm to manage a bit of his fund's money. He will find out, sadly, that Mr. Dee is uninterested. Says Mr. Dee: "We are very settled in our ways."

As more guests arrive, sommelier Ruben Elmer, a soft-spoken young man with a round face and rectangular glasses, begins to move among the tables, summoned either by waiters whose guests are trying to decide on wine, or by glimpses of businessmen playing "pass the wine list." Roughly a third of the typical lunch crowd will order wine, compared with 90% at dinner, because guests dining with colleagues are careful not to appear to be drinkers. When they do want wine but seem unsure, Elmer is conscious of not letting them be embarrassed, and so at table 15 he gently steers a woman away from a bottle of Vouvray because, to a table of businesspeople striking a professional pose, sweet wine "doesn't look good."

Catering to guests in this way is part of a concept introduced by Peter Oliver called "emotional service," by which, through extraordinary effort, servers gain not just their customers' money but their love. The job on the floor is to stay hyper alert, to anticipate every need including, frequently, the need to stay away. "Sometimes, particularly at lunch, service is what you don't do," says a waiter named Greg. After a high-powered lunch, guests will often pull Greg aside and thank him for leaving them alone.

It took some time for the concept of emotional service to catch on within OB. Two years after instituting it, Bruce McAdams wasn't seeing the buy-in that he expected among managers. So one fall weekend three years ago, the managers were invited up to Oliver's picturesque cottage near Peterborough. On the Friday night they drank wine, fished and played Pictionary. And very early Saturday morning, they squinted through their hangovers and got down to work. After many hours of flip charts and discussion, they figured out that McAdams and the rest of the leadership were part of the problem. During the general managers' meetings, run by McAdams and Cliff Snell, all the focus was on sales numbers and procedures. There was no focus on the emotion of emotional service-perhaps because it couldn't be expressed as a number. Now, OB restaurants document "moments of truth," when a server or manager goes out of his way to please a client. And when Peter Oliver calls McAdams and asks about sales, McAdams scolds him. You can tell he gets a kick out of that.

VERTICAL: JULY-AUGUST, 2005 In the realm of restaurant frustrations in the financial district, patio legalese and constant aesthetic interference are tough, but they're not back-breakers. The backbreakers would be unionized labour and city hall bureaucracy. You want to build a restaurant within a retail complex? Fine, but you won't be doing that construction work during the day, my friend. You'll be doing it in the evening, and at the night hourly rate. And the union labour you're using will have to be approved by the building, which has its own plumbing and electrical and HVAC contractors it wants you to use, who aren't always available when you really need them. And, by the way, you can't start ripping out the old fixtures and decor to get a look at the guts-the ductwork and wiring and systems-until you get a building permit, and you can't get a permit until you submit plans, which rely on some knowledge of what's behind the stuff you haven't yet ripped out. Joe and Gary knew that some of the stuff back there was more than 20 years old; there was no telling what they were dealing with. Sometimes, just to get the paperwork started, they guessed. Then, when they saw what was really there, they had to do it all over.

Single page
 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories