Preparing for High Season
With planned travel in 2022 on pace to surpass pre-pandemic levels, restaurants in highly-visited locales should get ready for an uptick in visitors. While summer is usually associated with vacationing, winter hot spots like ski resorts and southern beach towns are already navigating the challenges and triumphs of an influx of new diners.
For our next installment of the Resy Roundtable, we spoke with veteran operators in Miami, Florida, and Park City, Utah, to learn their best practices for operating successfully during their busiest months.
1. How do you strategize hiring for high season?
Dave Scott, general manager of Butcher’s Chop House, (Park City, Utah): Step 1: Ask a potential hire if they can fog a mirror? Because if you’re a warm-breathing body, you’re hired. [laughs]
In all seriousness, it’s about creating culture. Identify talent as it comes in the door; utilize the networks of the employees we already have. We’re the ones that are doing the poaching in our market because we try to treat people right. Our staff makes good money relative to others nearby, and there are opportunities for them to grow.
Margot Eisbart, brand & operations manager of Mandolin Aegean Bistro (Miami, Florida): We’ve kept the same core group of staff for 10 or 11 years. We try to care for our staff with benefits—and as we open more locations, they have more opportunities for growth. We hire bussers and they often get promoted. They know there’s that opportunity because they see former runners are now managers. The restaurant’s history very much shows that as long as we take care of our employees, they take care of the guests—exponentially.
2. Knowing that each year there’s going to a sizable amount of new guests during high season, how do you plan for that?
Jason Yelton, director of food & beverage and events at Diversified Bars & Restaurants (Park City, Utah): It’s all about trying to be innovative while at the same time capturing as much business as we can during these times without biting off more than we can chew. It took the pandemic for us to figure out how to use our outdoor space at all. Now we have small enclosed dining spaces we call the Alpenglobes, which is a play on the area’s alpen glow. We also built a yurt that seats up to 36 guests. It’s great for private events.
Eisbart: We have a team of four or five maintenance men because it’s important to get the restaurant ready everyday to keep the experience consistent—whether it’s someone’s first time or they come every year.
Scott: We’ve got a pretty cool location [points to the visible ski lift behind Yelton’s backdrop]. You can see the yurt from the lift, so that gets a ton of exposure. In addition, as you were saying, Margot, it’s crucial to maintain consistency and create the same experience. Because we regularly hear from guests, “I’ve been coming here for 15 years and tonight I brought our friends from out of town.” So the experience needs to be consistent—with a few new touches.
3. What about regulars? What are your best practices for them?
Eisbart: Mandolin is people’s first stop when they leave the plane: They arrive with their luggage for the month. It’s a large restaurant, but when you sit down it feels like you’re the only one there. There are engagements, wedding dinners, birthdays—with some people celebrating every year. So we make notes about guests in Resy. When we made the switch to Resy, it was a world of difference. The guests also create their own profiles which is helpful because then we don’t even have to make a note.
Scott: We utilize Resy to keep everything organized. There are notes in a lot of our accounts. We can change the VIP status of guests; reference their last visit; note their wine preferences. I wish we could remember every single guest that comes through a space, but when we can’t, Resy helps keep us on track. We can scroll back through the account, look through the notes, jog our memory and jump back into conversations with frequent guests. Because, again, creating the culture of hospitality is what it’s all about.
4. What is the biggest mistake you ever made related to running a restaurant during high season?
Eisbart: Mandolin started as a neighborhood restaurant. It used to be a secret and, well, now the secret is out. Overbooking is a big one—even if we’re fully staffed. If you’re overbooked, it can be hard to make sure the hospitality is really there. Like, sometimes you don’t have a second to show a guest you’re glad they’re there. It always comes back to the basics of hospitality. If you don’t hit your numbers, people will still come back because of the hospitality you gave them.
Yelton: Anything that affects the guest’s experience negatively. Overextending by packing the house; unorganized for any reason; didn’t plan for running out of items—anything that is under our control that we fail and then affects the guest. That right there is the most important and devastating thing. I always say to Dave and the rest of the team, “Try to control everything you can control. Don’t let the things out of your control affect you.” And that is also good for everyone’s mental health.
Eisbart: You can find out pretty fast something didn’t work and just don’t do it the next day. Oh, and don’t cut anyone. [laughs]
Scott: Every mistake is an opportunity to get better. We make mistakes, of course, but it’s a matter of how we react to them. We must own it. Don’t deflect blame. Leave the guest walking away saying to themselves, “The restaurant sat us 15 minutes late, yeah, but look how the restaurant took care of apps and chatted us up. How they recovered was remarkable!”
5. If you were talking about high-season best practices with another restaurant operator, what is the one thing you believe matters above all else?
Eisbart: High season has changed in Miami. Every season is high season now—especially after Covid. Used to be snowbirds from the north. Yes, we’re struggling with hiring. Especially with all these new locations. We were just bought by Soho House. But Mandolin was founded by a husband-wife team. Greek hospitality is family-oriented. We tell people it’s like you’re welcoming your mom to dinner. And we need to carry that home feeling at the restaurant no matter what. It’s what people expect. Be consistent.
Yelton: It’s all about accountability and consistency. It’s essential to be able to pivot in real time and planning ahead helps. Today we’re already planning for next winter.