The chefs spoke March 12 at The Driskill Hotel for SXSW Interactive, and one of the overarching themes was continuing to listen to customers instead of “best of” lists commonly posted on blogs.
“As restaurant people, chefs, restaurateurs, obviously the most important thing is the guest and the reservation list—and always and forever will be,” said Tyson Cole, executive chef and owner of Uchi in Austin. “Lists are nice to give you perspective of what other people are doing and what guests think about what you’re doing. It gives you footing. … You have to take it with a grain of salt.”
Executive chef Brandi Key of Clark Cooper Concepts, a Houston company that owns several restaurants, agreed with Cole that listening to the guests helps restaurants stay relevant.
“Us staying relevant is knowing what’s going on around us in Houston and in the rest of the world and knowing how to listen to our guests and give them the experience that they’re looking for,” she said.
On learning from their failures, chef Andrew Weissman said he aims to have a fully thought-out plan before opening a restaurant. He cited an example of a previous restaurant he owned that was only open for lunch and the challenges of letting customers know when they had opened for dinner as well.
“It’s hard to backtrack,” he said.
With the growing popularity of food-delivery companies, such as Favor, Eat Out In and uberEATS, the chefs agreed that they can be beneficial when it makes sense.
“For us it’s great,” Weissman said. “Whenever we open our doors at Il Sogno [Osteria in San Antonio], there’s the Favor driver waiting to pick up food. It’s really given a side-stream, ancillary money stream.”
Cole said it depends on the product and the service.
“Is it something that you want picked up and taken out by someone?” he said. “… You don’t want your food to take too long to get to the person. In other cases if it travels well then I’m all for it. I think that with everything happening with food today in delivery, [it] is really raising the bar in people’s lives.”