Chow is on South Granville, smack dab in a neutral area, just five doors north of a steep hill. Along this stretch, from Broadway to 50th, the customers change on all sides. We get ’em all. The most interesting thing about them is that they are all complete products of the neighbourhoods in which they live. The places they visit don’t define their attitudes.
In these parts, a good business sees the following 5 types of customer: the local; the downtown visitor; the bluffer; the tourist; and the industry. The best restaurants will learn how to effectively adapt to each, without changing the quality of their service or level of engagement.
Usually on a familiar name-to-face basis, our locals include the South Granville nieghbourhood, Shaunnessey, Kits, Kerrisdale, Mt. Pleasant and Cambie/Oak. During a locals? visit, Chef JC will likely pop upstairs to chat with them and will usually introduce an amuse-bouche (and await their feedback). Other opinions matter of course, but the feedback from locals is really important as it helps to define the menu direction; you’d never want to alienate reliable repeat customers. The locals’ dining experience is usually educational; guests ask questions of the service staff about techniques used, origins of ingredients, and the history of wines and cocktails. Staff often become friends with locals, leading to frequent over-tippage. On the other hand, there are the rare locals who are unaware of us. After introducing them to what we do, more often then not we expect to see these same people show up in track pants the next time for another round. They tell five friends, and they tell five friends. You know the drill.
The Downtown Visitor
We make it our daily unspoken goal to steer parts of downtown away from “salad with chicken” to explore the plethora of possibilities out there, or mainly here. JC will make them believers. We frequently see shopping bags draped over chairs, dogs sometimes hidden in coats or purses. They tend to be taken by JC’s paint brush strokes of ceasar dressing (“how d’ he do that?”), our use of egg whites in cocktails, and the modern martini du jour (usually starts with a Cosmopolitan, then a suggestion of Earl Grey Marteani, and finishing with a Venetian Red Dress). At the conclusion, a familiar question: “Did you just open?”
I have to define this. The bluffer is a customer who literally has no clue what they?re talking about, and instead of asking questions of the servers, their pride forces them to make bad decisions. They bluff about food and wine pairing; cocktail knowledge; just generally know-it-alling about everything. The more people there are in their party, the worse it becomes. They?d probably argue with the chef as to the incorrect colour or doneness of their steak (a favourite amongst the skilled cooks of this world). We know the bluffers are coming. Every night, our open table database overflows with “VIPs” from around Vancouver (sometimes paying for their meal with 20,000 Open Table dining points). About half of them box in the staff in our parking lot with bad parking jobs. Occasionally they arrive in time for the prix-fixe before attending a show, but they usually order a “sampler course” if they have time – many hours and many dishes. “What do you mean you only have non-vintage Champagne? No, I don’t think so. One bottle of Cava please.” At the conclusion, a bold handshake, a name request, a congratulatory pat on the back, and an ego lift, “great service, really, we?ll be back”. Then the bill: “they left me less then 10%?” Ahh, yes, the old “verbal” tip. I’m pretty sure their How-To Guide for North American Gratuities is sitting on the shelf next to the 48 Laws of Power at home.
We, as a service staff, will spend more time at this table then any other. Websites like Open Table, Yelp, Dinehere and Urbanspoon have usually directed their users to this spot based on random reviews that others write. They?re interested in “breaking out of the box” and will likely get adventurous by ordering a variety of things. The server will take them by the hand and give them the experience. It?s the table one can have the most fun with because tourists completely trust their server. Predominantly seasoned diners from around the world, it?s a lot of fun to trade stories about dining abroad and travel. It kinda helps us daydream about having a normal schedule with the occasional paid vacation.
It?s safe to say that in a city like Vancouver, restaurant industry people get major treatment. The “industry” will include staff from other restaurants and bars, food and beverage business owners, media (writers, bloggers), wineries, wine and brand reps, et cetera. They?re not afraid to say who they are, drop a business card and chat. Perhaps they expect a little something extra. Sometimes even drop off their summer on-premise portfolio. There’s no snobbery, it’s a respect thing – you scratch my back and I?ll scratch yours. However, keeping up appearances is key. Going back and forth throughout the industry shows that you?re still part of something really special – dumping money and business into the local economy. For a while, before the market crash, establishments seemed like they were competing for the title of “who can comp the most crap for the industry”. I was on both sides of it, and that was the good life.