David Claypool
The Service Program of the Year Finalists together at the RAMMYS Nominations Party back in April.

Success Tips from Some of Washington, D.C.'s Best Restaurants

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Finalists for this year's RAMMYs Service Program of the Year share how they're staying ahead in D.C.'s ultra-competitive restaurant world.
By Danny Klein June 2017 Service

Considered the Oscars of the Metropolitan Washington dining season, The RAMMYS honor the capital city's culinary elite during a black tie gala at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. BizBash has labeled the event, set for July 30, D.C.'s No. 1 Food & Restaurant Event every year since 2008.

There's no denying D.C. spot among the country's top food cities, making it one of the most enviable—and difficult—restaurant climates to thrive in. And, as any successful operator will tell you, service remains, at all levels, the differentiator between mediocrity and prosperity.

The finalists for this year's RAMMY Awards Service Program of the Year were The Bombay Club, minibar by José Andrés, Ripple, RIS, and The Source by Wolfgang Puck.

Leaders from each restaurant shared some insight into their best practices and what it takes to stay ahead.

Christoph Eder

General Manager

"the source" by Wolfgang Puck

575 Pennsylvania Ave NW

What is your secret to success? Our staff is by far our most valuable asset. We couldn't' do it without them. For us it starts with selecting individuals that are eager to learn and that want to be part of a group of people that are always striving to improve themselves, the people around them and the restaurant they work for. What makes us stand out from many great restaurants is the fact that we always want to create a memorable dining experience. Personalized menus, special amuse bouche that gets dropped off by a manager or the executive chef and desserts with a little note written in chocolate sauce are just some of the items we provide consistently.

And biggest challenge? In our opinion the biggest challenge is also our biggest asset which is the simple fact that in today's world everybody considers themselves a "foodie." It is great to see that so many people are passionate about good food and beverages and that they like to share their opinion. Social media is a big part of today's world and it ensures that every restaurant must be up to par on any given day without taking shortcuts or providing poor quality food or service. Back in the day had two or three newspapers with one person reviewing restaurants and you were pretty much left with one opinion where today you get the feedback of hundreds and sometimes even thousands of guests.

How do you compete in Washington D.C.? In one word we would describe it as great. It is a lot of fun to have restaurants push each other to get better and improve their dishes, service, glassware, restaurant setup and more. It is of course challenging as well to continue to strive for excellence day after day. D.C. has evolved greatly over the years and will continue to do so with the help of new passionate professionals and the fact that the city is always changing and improving itself.

Ris Lacoste

Chef/Owner

RIS

2275 L St NW

What's it like running a restaurant in D.C. these days? The D.C. restaurant market is growing daily. With the expansion of food trucks and "pop ups" as well as hundreds of new restaurants, we are seeing a surge in all types of cuisine and all types of dining experiences. We must fight for every customer. The common area of challenge at all levels is excellent customer service, meaning well trained and qualified staff. As managers, chefs, and owners, our daily goals are to inspire our staff and excite and please our guests. It requires a "fastidious sense of organization and an almost impossible consistency, so that no guest is ever disappointed." You should be good and stay good to compete with so many options in the DMV; excellent service is essential. The customer cannot blink when he or she signs the check. The value must be perceived. The host at the FOH must be inviting and knowledgeable about the restaurant. The wait staff must be accessible and intuitive. The kitchen must execute the food with visual and palate appeal in a timely fashion. We must all work in unison and with the joy of delivering excellent customer service, each and every day.

And how are you overcoming it? Chef Ris has made it a point to educate our staff daily, especially during menu class. We provide our servers and host with a "pocket menu guide." We share the reviews that we receive from diners to acknowledge and celebrate the success as well as acknowledge opportunities for growth when we fall short of that goal of excellent service. Training and mentoring is always key. Each server teaches another which creates a great environment for teamwork. We can ask questions, verify knowledge and work in sync and we lead by example. We are community driven, take good care of our neighbors, check in on them, and think of new ways to go above and beyond in our care for them. We are the heart of the West End and our neighbors are us.

Eric Jeffay

Assistant General Manager

minibar by José Andrés

855 E St NW

What are some tips you’ve discovered that have helped you stand out from the crowd? We look for ways to go above and beyond for our guests, whether that is making sure we have the perfect birth year vintage wine or by creating unique and memorable proposals. Having a large staff and a small number of guests to care for, we have the resources to stand out from the crowd. Even small details such as recognizing and placing silverware on the left side for left handed guests or simply pulling out chairs when guests return to their seats is important. This commitment to challenge ourselves to be the best helps us to stand out.

What is your No. 1 challenge? A big challenge in today's industry is finding and retaining the best talent. By creating a service culture focused on education and advancement, we've been able to creatively incentivize restaurant career professionals who are passionate about hospitality, wine and service.

How do you see D.C. evolving from a culinary standpoint? From a restaurant perspective, Washington, D.C., is an incredibly exciting city to be in. The amount of talent and competition around us drives minibar by José Andrés to be the best it can be. From a culinary standpoint, the diversification of cuisines and types of restaurants has increased dramatically. With this rate of evolution, who knows where the city will be in five years.

Ashok Bajaj

Owner

The Bombay Club

815 Connecticut Ave NW

Standing out from the crowd is never easy, especially not in D.C. How do you do it? Consistency is key. It's also important to maintain great staff and to stay innovative to help keep your business fresh.

What is your biggest challenge? The biggest challenge I face as a restaurateur is finding great staff. In the past I have recruited talent from other cities. I have also hired chefs who have completed internship programs at my restaurants because I can ensure they've been well trained.

What's next for D.C.? It's challenging to be a restaurateur in Washington, DC these days. There is so much competition and guests do not have to make return visits to the same restaurant because there's always a new restaurant opening in the city. On the culinary side, I believe DC will continue to be known for its global dining cuisine offering a variety of options from all over the world.