Beyond the Glitz and Glamour: Can Downtown LA Win the Hospitality Game?

You’ve got the glitz; you’ve got glamour, with spinning carousels and flying chandeliers, wine, spirits, and the most grandiose cuisine. Within your walls are delicacies that can only be enjoyed in this part of the world. So what’s missing?

Earlier this month, DT Weekly conducted a survey in our local community group DTLA UNCENSORED where we asked the question, “Is Downtown LA dead?”

We were surprised at the answers we received.

In some of the comments, DTLA UNCENSORED group members commented “yes,” some said “yes, but it’ll come back.” While most of the comments were, “Hell, NO. DTLA IS NOT DEAD,” followed by “Our hospitality scene, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are still a thing to be had.”

So we began to ponder. If the future of Downtown LA was holding on by a hospitality thread, how could we, as hospitality professionals, ensure that thread became the strongest thread in the world.

The more we stirred the pot, the more we came to realize. It all boiled down to service.

With the future of diners possibly being charged automatic service fees up to 18%, more and more diners would start to expect service to be as crisp and sweet as a crème brûlée.

So what exactly was great service? Instead of relying on another survey, we turned to the experts.

“It’s not just about the table… it’s about everything that goes on” – Nelson Braff, Managing Partner of Hunt and Fish Club.

And it was so true. The glitz and the glamour weren’t enough; hospitality was about receiving and entertaining guests in a way that made them feel well taken care of. And there were many elements, from the initial greeting to the moment guests checked out our coats that helped rack up hospitality points.

Well, DTLA had the first part down. Nine times out of ten restaurants we reviewed over the past seven years, our hostesses were elegant, professional, graceful, and had no problem proudly leading us to our seats. As long as they didn’t sit us directly staring into the sun or exposed to the elements, across from the bustling kitchen or odorous restroom, our hostesses proved they knew how to make a great first impression.

“Good hospitality is heard, but great hospitality is felt” – Nathan Sno, Chef/Entrepreneur, Author.

At most fine dining restaurants in Downtown, you’ll have two to three servers at any given moment, refilling glasses, clearing tables, taking and bringing out orders, making small talk. 

Although they should all work together to make guests feel special, the main server will be responsible for most of your memories.

A great server should, for sure, be able to tell a guest everything about the restaurant and the menu, pronouncing any foreign titles correctly and uttering, without thinking, the ingredients of the dish. Hey, knowledgeable servers, give yourself 10 points!

Timing is everything.

The great server should show up anywhere between one and five minutes with an introduction and ask if the guest would like something to drink. Servers, give yourselves a point if your guests don’t get impatient, having to look around the room or interrupt other servers to help find you.

Oh no, there’s no sugar for the coffee, or the busser took your only fork. Or worse, you need a drink refill but the server seems to be gone for good, yet somehow manages to pop up every time you’re about to make that winning point in a conversation. No point.

You know what feels like a dozen tiny fishes swimming in our boots? An attentive server who doesn’t make you feel rushed. Appreciates your presence with a smile, isn’t overly flirtatious with your date, nods, or even laughs with you and wants only to share the secret of contentment held within each dish. 10 points for the servers who seem more excited about what their guests are going to dine on than the guests themselves.

“Secret to service is understanding service only gets you 49% of the way there. We do train like crazy to get the right food to the right customer at the right temperature at the right time…but hospitality, as we define it, is the way that person feels is 51%” – Danny Meyer, Founder, Unity Hospitality Group.

Unbeknownst to many, a lot of the “finer diners” have a kitchen manager. They keep the time so everybody’s food comes out hot and looking great. They may even set the last pieces of garnish before sending a dish on its way.

Make no mistake, the kitchen of a successful restaurant is a highly stressful place. But it’s the kitchen manager and the servers’ jobs to make sure not one drop of that stress gets relayed to the guests.

If at any point, a kitchen malfunction causes a guest’s discomfort, say the kitchen is out of a menu item perhaps, it’s always best to make it up to them with a culinary gift.

Nothing mends the wounds of disappointment more than hearing your server say, “Here’s something complimentary of the chef.”

This could be a small appetizer or dessert at the end or maybe even an extra glass of wine, which happens rarely but does happen. This is going to earn the establishment at least 5 to 10 hospitality points.

Ode to the Chef

With some of the most legendary chefs in the country, Downtown Los Angeles sure is tasty.

“It’s not just a job, it’s not a career, it’s a lifestyle. So it’s got to be, not just something you want to do, it has got to be the only thing you want to do” – Ollie Dabbous, Author, Co-founder, and executive chef, Hide Restaurant.

But who are these culinary wizards and how do they make these delicious ingredients commit to their will? Putting hours a day into their crafts, with devotion to our satisfaction, Downtown chefs are worthy of our applause. Bravo. 10 points.

Oh, the Bartenders

Oh Lord, have mercy. It’s always hit and miss with them. In the bars of downtown, they can be warm, lukewarm, hot, or downright cold.

Usually, however, the coldest mixologists are the ones really into making drinks and less into making conversation over trivial things like personal affairs, business, or pleasure, and sometimes they lack a sense of humor. But, boy, can they make a solid cocktail.

Is it us or doesn’t it seem like some bartenders train to ignore guests for as long as they possibly can?

In Downtown LA, bars fill up quickly, and you can witness the bartenders locked in concentration. They will not raise their eyes. 

They are on a mission and they will walk right by you until that sudden moment when they stop, stare right at you, and utter those 3 magic words, “What cha drinking?”

Now, if a bar isn’t too busy, sometimes you’ll get a warm-cozy bartender that can relate to people well, is good at working for tips, and likes to take shots right along with you. That’s always a bonus. In fact, if you’re a bartender that seldom takes a shot with the guests, give yourself 5 more bonus hospitality points.

Cocktails seem to come out a little bit slower than whisky shots, but that’s just due to the anticipation.

Cocktails should taste good, and they should be potent. With so many ingredients able to go into a modern-day cocktail, there should be no reason why such a yummy drink on an empty tummy should ever leave a person with a clear mind and focus. After one cocktail, one should not only be tipsy but ready to order another one. If that’s not happening, and you end up ordering four cocktails with no effects, that bartender doesn’t like you. No points.

Like it or not, there are rules to the hospitality game when it comes to providing great service. But don’t take our word for it; ask the world’s leading hotelier, Horst Schultz, who has said time and time again, “Service starts the minute you interact with the customer… that moment has to be excellent. I care for you, you’re important to me, you can trust me.”

Our great quote for the history books would be this,

“Always remember, happy people are the best people. See you at the table downtown!” – Keri Freeman, Author, Publisher, Food Critic

Photo Courtesy Chubby Cattle International

Author: Keri Freeman

Military mom and proud parent, artist, writer, musician and film maker. Cocktail connoisseur. Publisher of DTLA Weekly.