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Pusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

Pusadee’s Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

Garden Thai but Without the Garden?

Probably the most underrated attribute of any dining experience has to be the atmosphere where one is actually dining.  As a “hospitalitarian” and a customer service fanatic, service is obviously what I critique more rigorously than anyone else I’ve dined with, and the food itself is naturally an important metric on which to base a restaurant’s rating.  Even price, or more accurately, value, is a critical factor to rank and score restaurants on, given how important getting the “best bang for your buck” is in today’s society.

Pusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

However, I never want to down play the importance of atmosphere in any of my reviews.  The setting in which one enjoys his meal or receives her service can definitely elevate the restaurant’s overall impression in my mind.  On the other hand, a great atmosphere, like that of Church Brew Works or Six Penn Kitchen, can be impressive on its own, but if that’s the only thing a restaurant has in its corner, then why dine there?

With this in mind, read into the “Atmosphere” subsection of this review carefully, as it reveals a great deal about maybe why Pusadee’s Garden leaves some wowed, and others in disappointment.

Atmosphere

It maybe goes without saying that Pusadee’s Garden Thai has a beautiful and exclusive garden along the side of the main building.  It is entirely covered in green, with draping leaves and branches hanging overhead and shrubs, ferns, and flowers encircling and enveloping the inner courtyard.  Twinkling lights provide the final touch to this oasis, and anyone dining in the garden would feel completely relaxed and secluded from the outside world.

Pusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

This is the experience I wish we had had.  Alas, we were confined to the inside of the building, with barren white walls and simple wooden tables replacing the tropical haven we were “promised” in the name.  While I understand the capacity constraints in having a space as lovely as the garden (meaning everyone wants to dine there even though not everyone can be accommodated), the extreme contrast between the beautiful garden and the main inside dining room, where it seems effort was put in to making the room more boring, is not ideal.  Not that dining in the garden would have elevated the entire restaurant’s impression substantially, but the garden would not have diminished Pusadee’s score in my mind.

Pusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

Service

Danny Meyer preaches that hospitality is a dialogue between two entities, meaning that there is a relationship between any guest and host that fosters value, goodwill, and most importantly, the feeling that the host is on the side of the guest.  In this case, our service was not a dialogue, but a monologue, with the staff unapologetic, unsympathetic, and one-sided in all of their interactions with our table.  Olivia’s experience (detailed below), is the perfect articulation of this narrowness of mind with regard to hospitality.

QualityPusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

The quality of each dish certainly met my standards, if only just meeting them.  The spring rolls were good, with a decent crunch to the vegetables and a warm plum sauce that brought just enough newness to each bite.  I also had one of my favorite dishes ever (although one I normally make at home via Bon Appetite), Chicken Kao Soi.  I don’t think it beat the one I make, but it was strong and spicy where it needed to be, and contained good portions of chicken, which is usually the downfall of a dish that relies too heavily on noodles.

Price – Now ValuePusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

The price of everything was fine, but this restaurant has changed my thinking with regard to this category.  I think from now on, I’m going to refer to this title as “value”, which more accurately reflects my feelings on the price not just for the food and drink, but also for the entire dining experience.

In this case, I thought the value was quite low for what we expected and paid.

Rating

5.6/10

Translation

I’d like to say that there is potential for Pusadee’s.  I think a traditional Thai menu in a space like this should really be better than this.  I think time will tell whether improvement becomes the necessity for the restaurant, or, with the lack thereof, its downfall.

Olivia’s Take

Best part of the experience?

The best experience was the exterior of the building; it was covered in ivy and had a very hole-in-the-wall like appearance, which I found charming. Also, the experience didn’t feel rushed at all; we spent a good half an hour or more chatting after our meal was finished, and we didn’t feel like we were being rushed out for more customers to come in.

What needs the most improvement?

What bothered me most about this experience was their insensitivity to food allergies. I’m rather severely allergic to tree nuts and am cautious of that when I dine out. I ordered a dish with peanuts (which I’m not allergic to) in it, but asked for the dish without the peanuts, explaining to the waitress that I have food allergies and am very cautious. However, when the dish came out, I found peanuts in it. When I told the waitress that I had asked for no nuts in the dish, she said that I should’ve told her that when I ordered the dish. Although I luckily had no problems with the peanuts in the dish (after waiting 5 minutes for a possible reaction after taking the first bite of the dish), I still think that the restaurant could be more sensitive to food allergies, especially since many of their dishes have nuts (a very common allergen) in them.

Also, the atmosphere within the restaurant was very plain and boring, unlike the outside of the building.

Also, the service was rather slow, but this did allow me and my friends to feel free to stay and chat comfortable after we finished our meal.

What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?

Because it’s rather plain and the food was just decent, I wouldn’t go to this restaurant for a special occasion, like when family and friends were visiting me at Pitt.  I’d probably come here if I needed a place to eat in Lawrenceville with a good friend or two.

Describe your meal for us.

I had the vegetable spring rolls, which were quite good, especially with their dipping sauce. For my main course, I had a simple dish of vegetable pad Thai.

Pusadee's Garden Thai with Olivia Rauktis

Olivia Rauktis is a senior at Pitt studying English literature and psychology.  She enjoys naps, strolls through Schenley, and cats.

 

Pusadee’s Garden Thai is located outside Lawrenceville on Butler Street.  Their website and menu are found here: http://www.pusadeesgarden.com/

Union Square Cafe

Danny Meyer and the Science of “Enlightened Hospitality” in Action

This past weekend, I had the privilege of traveling to New York City to see what has now become one of my favorite musicals (Hamilton, that is) and spending some quality time with my father.  It was some sorely needed R&R and I thoroughly enjoyed Hamilton in a way one can’t really appreciate until one is sitting in the theatre and taking in all the sights and sounds.  However, I will not be writing anything on that experience (other than to coincide with my post on reading Ron Chernow’s biography on the same man), mostly because there is no commentary I can make that hasn’t already been said.

This post is dedicated to another event that occurred during the same weekend and both the man and the philosophy behind it: The event was dining at Union Square Café (USC) before seeing the show.  The man is Danny Meyer, restauranteur and entrepreneur extraordinaire, and the philosophy is enlightened hospitality, the science of delivering exceptional customer service and how it makes the guest feel.  After reading Mr. Meyer’s amazing book Setting the Table, I knew that I eventually had to dine at one of his restaurants and experience this science for myself.

The truly amazing aspect was that the service began before I even visited USC.  After confirming my reservation on the phone at another one of his restaurants a few days before, I asked the receptionist if there was any availability at USC.  I had resigned myself to a response of “no”, considering one usually must book a month in advance at USC, until the receptionist came back and not only found us a spot but accommodated our need to be at the theatre by 7:45 PM.  If that’s not a textbook good first impression I don’t know what is!

What’s more, the enlightened hospitality didn’t stop once we reached the restaurant.  Every staff member seemed to know our time table for getting to the theatre on time, and they all made it their duty to accommodate our crunched schedule.  Nevertheless, we were greeted warmly, indulged in complimentary champagne (this also happened to be my long overdue birthday dinner), and provided superb recommendations that turned out delicious.  We were even greeted by the restaurant’s own guest relations manager, who I made a connection with over our mutual love for Danny Meyer, hospitality, and the UK (having studied there only just last year and she being originally from London).  She gave me her card and invited me to come up sometime again for a private behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant operation.  The ending to our meal was just as spectacular, as I was surprised with a birthday dessert and we were given a loaf of bread to celebrate the company’s newest bakery opening up soon.  Needless to say, I left happy and satisfied, both with food and with experience of enlightened hospitality in action!

I could honestly go on and on about the restaurant and the hospitality I received but let us also look at the way enlightened hospitality was delivered: every single staff member I met, from the associate who took our coats to the guest relations manager, was either informed or genuinely curious about me.  Everyone was excited for me to be seeing Hamilton.  Everyone wished me Happy Birthday.  The guest relations manager capitalized on my zeal for hospitality and made it a point to give me her information and invite me back.  There was no ulterior motive in anything done, only the desire to build customer loyalty and good will among the restaurant’s guests, with the hope that they will either return again (as I hopefully will in the future) or spread good news about the restaurant (which I certainly will).

Enlightened hospitality goes beyond what Danny Meyer describes as the technical delivery of a product or service, which any fancy restaurant with a decent chef can accomplish.  All the interactions I had with the staff and the service I was provided contributed to an entity beyond any product and vastly more valuable: a feeling.  A feeling that I was important and cared about and not simply another customer to feed.  For any business, creating value out of feelings might be challenging and have no immediate monetary value.  However, the reason I believe Danny Meyer has been so successful is that he focuses on these feelings as the building blocks for success (i.e. brand loyalty, bigger customer spends, word-of-mouth marketing, etc.)  The feeling that Danny Meyer and his staff created for me was priceless, and everyone knew that.

So a huge thank you is in order, to Danny Meyer and the entire staff of USC, for delivering more than a tasty meal and a loaf bread.  Thank you for an indescribable feeling that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  That’s enlightened hospitality.

Here is the link to Union Square Hospitality Group, the parent company to all of Danny Meyer’s fabulous restaurants, if anyone happens to be in New York and looking for a fantastic time out: http://www.ushgnyc.com/

Kindness means Business

The Business of Being Kind

Like most everyone, I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, coming from a variety of sources and spanning the spectrum between incredibly useful and incredibly useless.  Furthermore, and not to get too technical here, but all the advice I’ve received lines up on a bell-shaped curve, which is slightly skewed toward the “bad” advice end, with only a few good solid pieces sticking out as outliers over on the “good” side.  Some time ago, I came across some really great advice from one of my supervisors where I currently work and I only recently began integrating that advice into my life.  Furthermore, the advice is so simple, so easy to implement and yet so important to my current situation and future aspirations that I am kicking myself for not realizing and taking to heart that advice sooner.

So what is this magical piece of advice?  Be kind.

Just two words, but two words that have so much impact and so much meaning if utilized to the extent that they are meant to be.   Being kind means having compassion and consideration for other people and things.  Being kind means empathy, not apathy.  Being kind is so easy to do if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and reflect on their experiences the best you can.  Finally, and here’s where the lesson comes in, being kind is extremely beneficial in the workplace.

Don’t believe me?  Well we all know you might despise Craig from the marketing department or that you think your boss Jeff is a moron, but research from a variety of universities shows that a workplace culture that stresses kindness and forgiveness translates into higher productivity, higher self-worth and confidence, and a better-perceived image of management.  This type of research comes to fruition and bubbles to the top through conferences like those held at Stanford University (https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/psychology-kindness-workplace) which held a “Compassion and Business” conference back in 2013, bringing together the best of psychology and business to stress the need for kindness in the office environment.  It’s fantastic when businesses and universities can conduct and support this type of research and share their results for the benefit of so many people.

What is even more fantastic is that I think my company has a terrific culture centered on kindness toward employees and other stakeholders.  As an employee, my supervisors take great care to make sure I’m doing work that I like, that I get the necessary time off I need to take care of my other commitments, and that I’m happy too.  That level of care translates to more productivity on my part, in addition to a higher overall level of happiness.

Moreover, being kind has implications for what I hope to accomplish and how I hope to behave in the future.  As a hospitality professional, being kind and considerate to all guests is paramount to guest satisfaction and repeat business.  As I wrote in my last post, one of the ways to add hospitality to your own life is to be kind and considerate, and that goes for employees of hospitality organizations in addition to the everyday person.  My kindness in every guest interaction is so important, so reflective of my own personality and the culture of whatever company I represent, that it should take on more meaning in organizational culture that I believe it currently does.  For many organizations, the emphasis on kindness and the guest experience is there, demonstrated most beautifully when I worked for Marriott International.  For other organizations, the emphasis is not there and I think we’ve all worked for one organization or another that has that lack of focus on kindness.

Unfortunately, the lesson in kindness has come too late in my life to rectify mistakes I have made, some quite recently.  The good news is that orienting oneself towards being kind doesn’t take that much time or effort to do and I’ve begun trying to do just that for myself.

 

What’s in a Name? Everything.

“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

-Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People*

I thought it was appropriate to write about the importance that proper names have while reading Romeo and Juliet for my Shakespeare in London class.  One of the most famous lines from Shakespeare’s immortal play was spoken by Juliet herself: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”  It’s obvious that Juliet never took a course in human relations, because if I greeted “Rose” by calling her “Jessica”, it doesn’t matter how sweet she smells, I’ve probably made her quite upset.

All jokes aside, names are incredibly important, especially our own name to ourselves.  Each and every one of us longs to hear or see our own name.  We love the sound of our name when somebody calls it.  We even imagine that our name is being said, only to look up from whatever we’ve been doing and realize that it was never spoken.  If we apply this type of thinking to the world around us, we can understand that everyone loves to hear the sound of his or her own name.  This is a fundamental truth about human nature that few people appreciate.  Moreover, knowledge of this truth and its application in life can definitely help in getting along with people.

For example, I recently began work at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel as a Sales and Marketing Intern.  The Sales and Marketing department has 17 employees in it, each with a specific role, function, and of course, a name.  Rather than being daunted by the amount of new names I would have to memorize, I made it my goal to learn everyone’s first name and his or her role within the company by my second day. The effect of accomplishing this goal was immediate; not only did I avoid the awkwardness and embarrassment of asking for any of my colleagues’ names again but I also contributed to the efficiency of the office by knowing exactly where everyone was and what he or she did, so as to accomplish tasks that required collaboration with my coworkers more quickly.  In addition, I am sure my colleagues appreciated the fact that they weren’t badgered 2 or 3 times for their name in the course of my first few days at work.

Now 17 people may not seem like a lot to learn, but now try the entire class and staff that make up my study abroad program, numbering around 270 people, and the game has changed.   Granted, I don’t know all of these people and their names as of yet as I’ve only introduced myself to a fraction so far.  However, I make an effort to try and learn the name of every person I meet for the first time, going to great lengths to make sure that person’s name sticks in my mind.  So far I’ve had a lot of success from this, as everyone has been extremely friendly and pleasant to me instead of annoyed and subsequently disinterested in me when I couldn’t remember his or her name.

The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that it is crucial to remember a person’s name if you want a good relationship.  It doesn’t matter if the person is a colleague, a friend, a client, or a family member, everyone’s name is important to him or her, so therefore it’s important to you.  Think about a time when someone forgot your name and how that made you feel.  You most certainly would not want that same feeling brought about any new friends or coworkers.  It’s another dimension to hospitality, making someone feel as if you truly care about him when you use his proper name in conversation.

As for the methodology, whatever works for you in remembering something as specific as a new person’s name is what you should use.  Whether it’s using adjectives to convey a personality (Marvelous Maria) or maybe associating something unique with the person (Darrel always wears dark brown shoes), or even using the name in coversation a few times, use the trick that works for you.  A colleague of mine told me that repeating something to yourself 7 times will make it stick with your brain longer, and revisiting the thought throughout the day also seems to help an idea or a name stay with me.  Whatever the trick of the trade happens to be, make sure it is as lasting as that person’s name.

*An entire chapter on the importance of names in our society can be found in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book that I am currently reading.  Stay tuned in the “Reflections and Selections” page for a full review.

 

The Great Room

My London Internship

Living in London as I have been doing for the past week and a half might be one challenge but working in this enormous city is something else entirely!  I began my first day of work on Friday at Grosvenor House – A JW Marriott Hotel as a sales and marketing intern and going into the experience I had no idea what the day would hold for me or how my colleagues would treat me.  Fortunately, my first day was made tremendously easier by the fact that I am working in industry where friendliness and hospitality means good business, and I was welcomed into the team with open arms.  My initial introduction to the entire team was actually during the morning “stand-up” meeting where staff achievements, goals, and events are announced and celebrated for all to see.  It was a moving first impression, having no knowledge of who these people are or what they do, and yet standing next to them as they revealed the hundreds of rooms they’ve booked for a specific event or exchanged ideas on how to remember a guest’s name.  I instantly felt like one of the team, a feeling that organizations seldom impart so quickly and seamlessly into new employees but which this team managed to do in 15 minutes.

After the morning stand-up, I was introduced to various members of the staff to find out what they did and also why they love working for Marriott.  The coolest thing about this was meeting people from all over the world including Italy, Spain, Australia, and the Netherlands, who all have an appreciation for hotels and, more importantly, Marriott as their company of choice.  Each team member took the time to meticulously explain what he or she did and how it relates to the overall goals and vision of both Grosvenor House and of Marriott International.  It was incredibly interesting to see how many different roles and processes there are in a sales department for a luxury hotel, and how each one contributes to keeping the hotel as busy as possible throughout the year.

Moreover, I was also taken on a tour of the property, which included a look at the historic Great Room–Europe’s oldest and largest ballroom.  Lucky for me it was being decorated for an event that night and it looked absolutely breath-taking!  The Great Room, which originally operated as an indoor ice-skating rink, can hold a maximum of 2,000 people and is adorned with 8 crystal chandeliers.  Many important people have dined and danced at Grosvenor House, and the hotel is famous for a number of events including the Royal Catalonian Ball.

Finally, I was given a coffee table book on the history of the hotel and wow does Grosvenor House have a history!  Constructed in 1929, this hotel managed to stay open through the Great Depression and World War II, has gone under hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations, and continues to hold over the top banquets and fundraisers for some of the biggest corporations, non-profits, and celebrities in the world.

I am in awe of the fact that I will be working in a 5-star hotel as storied as Grosvenor House and I cannot wait to grow personally and professionally from this experience.  As my role in the hotel begins to take shape, I am looking forward to contributing to the history of an already historic luxury hotel.

 

Hospitality: It’s a Give and Take

My second day in London started off very differently than back in the states, including getting lost on the Tube (the English subway) while heading to class and trying to memorize the names of a dozen new people.  There is something, however, that was very much the same today as it is back in the United States and as I suspect it is around the world.  That something is the language of hospitality.  No matter where you are in the world, if you approach your fellow man with general warmth and sincerity, with the goal of helping him or seeing that his needs are taken care of, you will be received gladly and even rewarded.

I witnessed the language being spoken today around lunch time when some friends and I entered a local Italian restaurant after class, but not at first.  Our server was a solemn young girl who would’t speak to us and the restaurants owners, an older couple who seemed of Italian descent, were fiddling around with what seemed like a printer in the room next to us.  While I was thrown off by the lack of cheerful service that I’ve come to know and love in the U.S., I’ve learned that the English aren’t very emotional people in public and I suppose I mistook that for a deficit in genuine hospitable service.  Nevertheless I tried to have a good time with my friends at least until the the older woman of the couple came over to our table, asking if any of us had any experience with technology or computers.  She explained that her husband was trying to get the new fax machine they had just bought to work but it just kept making strange noises.  Being minimally technology-oriented but maximally service-oriented and clearly seeing the woman’s distress, I volunteered to assist her and her husband.  As soon as I stood up to help, the air in the room changed from one of isolation to one of cheer.  The couple were very friendly to us then on (the fax machine was an easy fix, I just turned on “automatic answer” button and it seemed to work fine), complementing how helpful and knowledgeable we all were and giving us all free sodas to drink.  I even got a small word of appreciation from the now genial young girl.  It’s amazing how a little friendly service can pay dividends like that, and although it might be unorthodox for the customer to initiate the service transaction in this way, our experience at the restaurant was better for it.  We left the restaurant very satisfied and promising to come back and patronize their store again.

The lesson here is clear: hospitality is a universal language.  When you give some, you receive some in return.