There’s a theory behind Garces’s kinder, gentler management style, one that’s been put forth as the antithesis to, say, Gordon Ramsay’s explosive expediting outbursts, Georges Perrier’s Gallic tantrums, Molto Mario’s invective-spiced verbal seizures, or any number of chefs’ stereotypical smashing of plates or gnashing of temperaments. The notion is simple but, in the restaurant world, somewhat revolutionary. It goes like this: Treat your employees well, and they’ll treat your customers well.
Sounds easy, right? Not really. In an industry where hours are grueling, pay is low, tasks are onerous, recognition is rare, pressure is high, and chefs are expected to be assholes, being a nice guy — and, moreover, being genuinely liked — can be the hardest part of the job. Luckily, likeability comes pretty naturally to the ever-easygoing Garces. But it’s not as though he hasn’t worked on it — or at least thought about it. A lot.
His virtual mentor in this area: über-prolific, super-successful New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, a visionary foodie who established Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and several other generally adored eateries, plus a catering company. In his 2006 best-seller Setting the Table, Meyer refers to his business philosophy as “enlightened hospitality,” which he describes as putting “hospitality to work, first for the people who work for me, and subsequently for all the other people and stakeholders who are in any way affected by our business — in descending order, our guests, community, suppliers, and investors.”
It’s an unexpected double-reversal of the bottom line, and a total turnaround of the customer-is-always-first approach. Employees? First? It appealed to Garces. Setting the Table is now required reading for all GRG managers.
There’s more to the theory, too. Although the idea translates to individual restaurants, it also gives restaurant groups the ability to grow their business from within. A restaurateur who views every prep cook as a potential line cook, every line cook as a possible sous-chef, every sous-chef as a future chef de cuisine, and every server as a future manager, doesn’t just reduce employee turnover: He ensures there will be a loyal, upwardly mobile staff for the next restaurant he opens.
As Rob Keddie, GRG’s attorney, who has represented culinary giants (his law partner is Tom Colicchio’s cousin), puts it, “Either you develop them, or they go somewhere else.” Keep a staff that’s loyal, happy and motivated, and your operation will run much more smoothly — and grow much, much faster.
EXCEPT NOT TOO FAST. Not these days. Not for Garces. Even with his restaurants going full speed ahead, two more eateries opening soon, investors approaching frequently with offers to expand — not to mention his own ever-present itch to progress — Chef is feeling the pinch of a reluctant economy. And, even more strongly, the pull of a family he’d like to spend more time with. “Beatriz has told me, this is it,” he says.