Acme F&B's Jeana Johnson Knows How To Pick a Staff and How All of Us Can Get Better Service

Categories: Chewing the Fat

Acme Charcuterie.jpg
Lori Bandi
Charcuterie plate with head cheese and chicken liver pate.
While dining at Acme F&B, the subject of this week's review, I couldn't help but notice the polished staff. Maybe they stood out against all the rusting metal worked into the design of the dining room, but I had a feeling it had more to do with a management team that chose employees carefully and trained them well. I asked Jeana Johnson, who owns and runs the restaurant with four other partners, what it takes to put together a top-notch front end staff. She had a lot to say.

Before they open any concept Johnson and her team take a research and development trip to cull ideas, see what's working in other cities and get excited for what they're about to create. For Acme F&B, they flew to New York and traipsed around Brooklyn and Manhattan where their last meal at Gramercy Tavern offered an anecdote they share with new hires.

Long story short, their waiter was a bit of an asshole till Johnson made a comment about place settings that clued him to the fact that her group was also in the service industry. The waiter's demeanor instantly changed when he realized the table he was waiting on played for the same team. The waiter's behavior was short-sighted, but Johnson uses the story to paint a picture for her staff. If you want to work for her and her partners you need to be waiter number two instead of that first guy.

It's hokey stuff, but pair it with Johnson's interviewing style and you start to see a pattern. While many restaurateurs are interested in experience, Johnson is more curious about demeanor. Instead of asking where potential employees have worked before, she asks what is the most thoughtful thing they've done for someone lately. Johnson's thought is she can teach anyone to be a waiter, but it's much harder teach a jerk to be a nice person.

With a stable of employees with good parents under her wing, Johnson started training. For 10 days she ran bar sessions to teach booze, beer and wine parings and menu sessions that called for every employee to try every dish. She held mock services where half of the front-end staff waited on the other before flipping so everyone got a chance to critique each other's work. All this before a soft opening for friends and family to iron out those final kinks.

The hard work paid off. Acme's front end service out-shined many of my dishes and I always felt well cared for. Johnson's story about the Gramercy Tavern waiter offers more than a training tip, though. It illuminates how we can all get better service.

When I dine out, I always ask questions about ingredients, preparations and the booze I'm drinking. I ask those questions with enthusiasm because I'm generally excited to be there, I'm a naturally curious person and I really love food. I get consistently good service at most of my meals, and if you think it's because I'm a dining critic, you should know I enjoyed these experiences long before the Observer gave me a dining budget. Many times through my meals I'm asked if I'm in the industry, and I think that's the trick. If you're a happy, curious person who's enthusiastic about your meal and your interactions with a wait staff, they're far more likely to be interested in being kind to you.

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The main dishes at Acme F&B, like this riff on chicken and dumplings, outshine many of the appetizers.

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13 comments
t_s_
t_s_

The wife and I ate here a couple of weeks ago, and we really enjoyed it.  I ordered the chicken and dumplings (I'm someone who almost never orders chicken when eating at a "nice" restaurant), and I'm really glad I did.  Fantastic dish.  My only complaint was we got seated in the bar side at the very back of the restaurant.  I hate those kind of seats because the acoustics make you feel like you're sitting at the same table as your neighbor.  

Jamie
Jamie

I wonder if all the nice people from Good 2 Go moved over to Acme. Some of the people who work there now aren't very friendly. Part of the place's good vibe was Jeana taking your order with a smiling face, and I feel like that attitude is missing. Maybe it's just me.

lmeli1
lmeli1

Hope the wait staff at Cane Rosso are paying attention to this article!

cynicaloldbastard
cynicaloldbastard

"If you're a happy, curious person who's enthusiastic about your meal and your interactions with a wait staff, they're far more likely to be interested in being kind to you."

 

So, what you are saying is that if I am in a top flight restaurant, and the reason that I am there is for business or a romantic dinner and have no desire to be enthusiastic about interacting with my server other than to be polite in my interactions, that I have no reason to expect to be treated kindly because I'm just another freakin' customer that makes their life so difficult?  And the only way to be treated properly is to give out the secret industry code words? 

 

This is gold for future restaurant owners.  It doesn't matter who is in the kitchen if your stuck up and under trained (or badly trained) waitstaff are undermining your efforts with your patrons.

All "regular" customers started out as new patrons.

J_A_
J_A_

I want to pin all those photos

Twinwillow
Twinwillow

You know I love ya Kergs. But sometimes, ya just don't get it.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

BTW, I'm passing on that plate.  Although the sour dough crostini's do look good!  I'm going to make a nice Bruschetta, and crostini's. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

This is how Dallas becomes world class....I hate the Dallas ideal that anyone with arms can become a waiter; it's a shortsighted goal. Truth is, training raises the bar on an establishment, and forces them to look within. This insight is grueling, painstaking, and sometimes ugly-but worth the task. Dallas seems to have been caught in the 'boomtown" era of "if you have decent food, they'll come through the door!" 

 

ps-I look forward to the death of the "snarky waiter". 

scott.reitz
scott.reitz moderator

 @cynicaloldbastard I didn't say that at all. A professional wait staff will treat every customer professionally. Enthusiastic or kind customers are more likely to experience better service on a consistent basis. Make a competent waiter feel appreciated, and your experience will only improve.

cynicaloldbastard
cynicaloldbastard

 @scott.reitz Yes, I try to make a competent waiter feel appreciated.  It's finding the competent waiters that can be an issue. 

 

I went to a local, relatively new, burger joint last night.  It appeared to be family owned and run.  Nice people, gracious, attentive service, big thank yous on the way out.  Food was OK.  But the feeling I received of being an appreciated customer was way higher there than at most higher end places.  Higher end places have to train their waitstaff to project an ownership attitude towards the customer.  Customers make paydays possible is the old poster cliche.  And it's still true.

scott.reitz
scott.reitz moderator

 @cynicaloldbastard there have been a few surveys published that bolster your point. It's true. Restaurants spend a lot of time polishing concepts and menus, but if the service is terrible it's often for nothing.

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