James Hotel Chicago
55 East Ontario
Chicago IL 60611
Dear Mr. Hatton,
I am normally quite fond of hotel restaurants because the professionalism and training on the hospitality side cannot help but percolate to the foodservice side. Hospitality is so investment-heavy and commoditized that making money requires professional management by people with resumes like yours. In the starkest contrast, many restaurants are case studies in inefficient, trial/error management that can leave one wondering how they open in the first place. Having dined at Primehouse for the last time this afternoon, I am left wondering why the professionalism of your hotel has failed to make even the slightest impact on the shameful attitude of Primehouse.
There are two main attitudes in the service business: those that start with YES and those that start with NO. For the latter, look to LA laziness, or, if in Chicago, any place practicing the arts of Billy Dec. Such places act like nightclubs where the burden of getting in or “getting a yes” is on the customer. The reflex answer to all requests is a hearty “no” and having even the smallest one fulfilled is a battle not worth fighting. For YES restaurants, look to Gibson’s group where staff will peel potatoes in front of you if you want the skin in your martini (don’t ask) and substitute anything for anything if they have it in the kitchen. (If they don’t, they’ll get it for next time – just come back!) And we do all the time.
May I offer an approximate transcript that began this afternoon’s Primehouse “experience?”
Hostess: Do you have reservations?
Me: Yes. Under Aloyts.
H: Very good. You are the first to arrive. [I know since the restaurant has 1 party sitting and it’s not my friend.] You can sit here [across from the host-stand] or grab a drink at the bar.
M: I’d rather just sit down.
H: The restaurant isn’t open. It opens in about 10 minutes. [it’s 10:55; I have an 11:00 reservation]
M: What is that table doing?
H: They are having breakfast. [at this point I’m trying not to laugh but no one else sees the absurdity of the ongoing exchange. There are 2 hostesses and 1 server buzzing around the stand.]
M: OK, I see. They’re having breakfast in a closed restaurant. Do you think it’s ok for me to sit down like they are?
H: The lunch service hasn’t started yet.
M: I promise not to order anything until the appointed time. Cross my heart and hope to die. Can I sit down?
H: We don’t know where to seat you.
M: I think I can find an open table.
I think you get the point. I actually asked if they were playing intrigue or politics or just plain playing around but I could not tell through the poker faces common to disdainful hosts if any of this ridiculousness was bubbling through to brain matter or if I was still dealing with the spinal reflex NO. Stimulus-response. Stimulus-NO.
I fully understand the principle of seating complete parties. But giving grief in an empty restaurant for an 11AM lunch? That’s the nightclub thinking. Not the restaurant. How is it possible for these people to interact with your hotel staff on a daily basis and not pick up at least some good service habits? Is the cult of celebrity-chef so strong and the wall between the factions so high that they can actually exist in the same spatial confines in Chicago and behave like they’re working the door at the Mondrian on Sunset? If so Mr. Hatton, then these people are a plague upon your image. A wart upon your nose. The hotel is the CPU but the restaurant is the Operating System. Most interactions are with it.