09 October 2009

Jean Georges, North of the Border

Jean Georges, self-proclaimed "formidable restauranteur," progressively functions as a licensor of his brand with one recent opening, Market by Jean Georges, in the stunning and new Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I've been to many of his restaurants and they have always delivered when they opened. But then the downside of such collaborations rears its head. Market by Jean Georges is an endeavor backed by the Shangri-La Hotel, from the build out to the employee paychecks. Jean Georges, with his reputed star-power and track record with his namesake restaurant, brings the brand, concept, recipes, and some operational pointers.

Does this formula guarantee a quality dining experience that will capture a loyal clientele needed to sustain the business beyond the flow of the hotel guests? I say it doesn't because the most crucial variable of these partnerships is the staffing. No star of any business can change the course steered by poor service.

When I called for a reservation, I was greeted with a projection of exclusivity and snobbery. After some smooth talking on my end (why me?), I managed to secure a reservation. Upon my arrival, my party and I were greeted by hostesses new on the job and a dining room half occupied. We were asked to wait. Once we were seated I pulled out the guns.

"I'm visiting from New York and am a regular at Jean Georges and his restaurants there. How long have you been opened?" The tide changed so dramatically that I was embarrassed for the head hostess and two managers who soon after interrupted our meal to introduce themselves to us.

The telephone reservationist for any restaurant has the second most important responsibility to the Chef. To field and fulfill requests while introducing the tone and mood of the brand, their job is ultimately to sell as many unreserved seats as possible. It's a balancing act not for the faint at heart. So buckle up and get the training and hiring right because this poor reflection is on Jean Georges and the Shangri-La Hotel.

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