Tomorrow is the thirtieth anniversary of the very iconic Gotham Bar and Grill. One of our favorite restaurateurs – Alfred Portale – has been at its helm for almost three decades, and is no doubt an expert when it comes to dedicating the majority of one’s efforts to one restaurant. To us, it’s a celebration of a spot that (for Portale) is never perfect and never finished. That’s the mindset that keeps a space at its peak for thirty years in a city where restaurants come and go as often as Lindsey Lohan headlines. To celebrate, we received thirty pieces of advice from Alfred Portale for the new, New York restaurateur…
1. Your staff is your most valuable asset. It is important to treat them with respect and be fair.
2. For better or for worse, your first review is extremely important. Good luck. I would be overcautious in the beginning to make sure you get it right.
3. It is important that you treat all of your guests with equal respect, but at the same time, it is important to develop and recognize repeat or regular clients.
4. Treat your friends like friends, but be sure to make your guests your friends too.
5. This is work; stay involved. You should think of everyday as a new beginning and constantly try to find ways to improve your product.
6. Don’t believe your own press; this business can be fickle so I think it is important to maintain a sense of humility.
7. Chefs tend to be more helpful than spiteful, so make friends with your neighbors; you never know when you might need a little help.
8. In terms of other people copying your idea: it is unavoidable. But as they say – imitation is the highest compliment.
9. Be grateful for and always remember your mentors.
10. Details, details, details – that is the name of the game with the permits and licenses process.
11. It is important to remember what you set out to do, but be wise and adapt where necessary.
12. I don’t really ever think about whether or not I’m “sticking to my brand.” It is important to establish your brand early on by maintaining standards. Once you do, your “brand” will just be part of what you do daily.
13. Your employees are your greatest asset, so when hiring I find it is more about attitude and a willingness to learn than previous experience.
14. When you’re establishing a new restaurant, it is important to be there as much as possible.
15. Take it one location at a time, protect your partner relationships and be well-funded.
16. Food television has become an increasingly important part of the business, so utilize a publicist when budget permits.
17. It is important to have good management but if you can hire well, micromanaging won’t be necessary. Create a management culture that rewards diligence and accountability.
18. You will most likely need to be both a restaurateur and a creative director.
19. I get inspiration from almost everywhere I go, whether it be a positive or negative. The key for me is to continue to learn.
20. Your presence is important for the clientele but as important – or maybe more – for the staff.
21. Regular clients can make all the difference in not only the feel of a restaurant but also in your bottom line.
22. Change with a menu is important, but consistency is even more key. Changing the menu does help to maintain a seasonal feel and keeps your staff inspired.
23. It is important to stay in tune with changing tastes but fads can be a distraction from your identity. I find fads will come and go, but real culinary trends will become absorbed in any vibrant kitchen.
24. A long term lease with favorable terms is an important asset in a city like New York.
25. To ensure you’re always “ahead of the curve,” I think it is important to encourage an inquisitive culture in the restaurant.
26. On the topic of celebrities – they can create excitement, but I have always encouraged our staff to treat celebrities with the same respect we would any other guest and to give them a sense of security in our restaurant.
27. A digital presence these days is very important. Digital media is the only way many people get their news today, particularly the younger generation.
28. It is important to develop a good confirmation policy and a system to deal with no-shows.
29. “The customer is always right…” It is a time-honored philosophy that is true on many levels, regardless of how you might feel at times.
30. A new restaurant should have a clear message that is recognizable not only by reviewers but also by your customers. It will help build your audience.
*Alfred Portale, photographed at Gotham Bar & Grill by Danielle Kosann