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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Thomas Keller can Teach Austin Restaurants

When I first start an activity, hobby or professional, I look for a mentor. If I started an activity where I might have to create food for other people, there is no doubt that I would look directly at Thomas Keller. If you’ve read anything about him, he is a tremendous person who can build tremendous chefs. Even when Per Se’s disappointing review was posted, Thomas Keller’s earnest reaction was telling of his character. He acknowledged that the feedback of the review, acknowledged mistakes, and declared that they would improve.

Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Las Vegas

That is how one gets better. They don’t invalidate the opinions of others. Instead, they absorb the feedback with open eyes. They don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Thomas Keller wrote an open letter to address it.

Here’s a few links to article detailing the Per Se’s brush the the New York Times. Thomas Keller responds with a letter posted on his website and a more recent recounting of what has happened since.  I also happen to love this article on lessons learned while working with Thomas Keller and cooking tips from Thomas Keller.

As Austin’s food scene grows, there’s going to be some inevitable growing pains. I experienced one about a month ago, and the reaction of the restaurant was one that needed guidance from a mentor. I left that experience feeling like situation was handled in such a way that it went from bad to worse to infuriating to getting a shout out on my blog.

Long story short, I ordered a meal for two via an online ordering service for pick up.  When I arrived, I could hear the staff in the background making comments that certainly made it seem like they weren’t the most passionate about their work. The meal was a letdown to say the least. Though the my dish was rich was fat, it was devoid of flavor. The rest of the items were disappointing leaving only the salad that wasn’t offensively bland.

When I was finally able to return to the restaurant, the manager’s response was largely of denial, but clearly their Yelp reviews shows that they have really bad days with a bimodal split. I also have friends who love the restaurant on good days, but they do recognize that it has bad days too. They actually call it the *restaurant name* lottery - are you going to hit the jackpot or get a bad day? They’ve even had the same dish at the same table come out drastically different with one being outstanding and the other being barely edible. Everyone has a bad day, and it seems like acknowledging and fixing the inconsistency would be the ideal plan of action.

My refund was also not without tension. The restaurant and the online ordering service pointed the finger at each other claiming that the other needed to issue the refund. I left the store and was already home when the restaurant insisted that I return to get a cash refund or else take store credit on my next order. It was a 30 minute round trip drive given the flash floods, so I declined returning to the store to leave the restaurant and online service to hash it out some more. I was finally promised a refund back to my credit card. This was nearly two hours after I had arrived at the store, and I’m glad I didn’t waste that time waiting for them to find a solution.

The theme of this post is to be more like Thomas Keller. My situation could have easily been solved with a refund that would take just a few minutes if not seconds to perform. But that didn't happen.

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