Veteran insights

Here we will explore the experiences and tips that people who have been in the business for a long time have learned. We hope this can be useful to the new generations. Hospitality is hard work, but as you will see, there is definitely a silver lining: perspective in life is everything.

Our first submission comes from Kyle Burch, former manager of a restaurant in Toronto. The questions are ours, the rest is all him. Here is his story, in his own words:

Tell us a bit about your background, what got you into hospitality?

My parents threw a lot of dinner parties, and I was always included in them from preparation to the offering of hospitality. They instilled in me a great love of hosting other people.

How long have you been in the business?

About 19 years.

What’s your favourite part about hospitality work?

The crunch of a service, where the room hums and people are fully engaged in their guests. Where the staff in both FOH and BOH are buzzing calmly and communicating precisely, with a few quick jokes to lighten the mood. If the staff are having a good time, that will translate to the guest experience.

What’s the most mind blowing thing you’ve learned on the job? The one thing you didn’t think could or would work, but it’s always good?

How to slow down and evaluate my situation during a chaotic and fast service, in order to gain control and expedite the guest experience. It took me a few years to learn how not to panic when everything goes pear-shaped. i was always amazed at the calmness of great chefs, waiters, and bartenders.

How do youd develop a ‘third eye’ for service? Can it be taught? 

It can be taught, but it must ultimately come from within through experience. One day I realised that service could be a meditation of sorts, and I was able to see all the moving parts as a whole, and this moment changed everything I did. People had trained me in this, but it took me internalising it to have the “eureka” moment for it to have the needed effect.

It begins with scanning the room constantly, looking for signs of need. It flourishes with this becoming instinct.

What’s the best way to diffuse a bad situation? What’s the best way to recover from a mistake? What was your biggest blunder, and how did you recover?

To own the mistake and manage the guests expectations from a place of empathy and compassion. Listening to the guests needs, including the unsaid and their body language is absolutely key.

Not so much my blunder, but a difficult service. One lunch in the financial district was met with a perfrect storm where the chef and some of his team were competing in a national event. We became unpredictably busy, and food for 400 patrons ran far too long as the kitchen began to crash, through no fault of the people working. I was forced to stand in front of my irate guests and do my best to manage them and the situation with the leadership of my manager. We were able to save future business by owning the mistake and being present rather than shirking the responsibilty by laying blame and hiding.

How do you find the right balance between a sale and getting people what they want?

Reading the body language of the guest will indicate the comfort level of your sales technique. It should always be soft and come from a place that speaks to the guests experience, but never overtly. Oftentimes downselling will win a guests trust and create regulars. It’s knowing which direction to go that comes with experience.

Whats your biggest upsell ever?

A bottle of wine from 80 to 400 dollars, simply done with a cheeky grin and “that is great, this is transcendent” It took having a rapport with the guest that was built over a previous hour for them to trust me completely. That’s the real work.

What would you say to younger people getting into the business?

One needs to foster a passion for hospitality, the act of giving of oneself to the enjoyment of another, in order to have longevity and success in this industry. Humility and drive are also tantamount, paired with quick thinking and adaptability.