The restaurant business can be a very exciting venture. It can also take an opposite turn and become very frustrating.
Diners are forever looking for something new to try. People are curious, so it’s a safe bet that all new restaurants will do great in the beginning.
But don’t be misled; all your diners are rating you. Many will try once and, if they’re not satisfied, will never return. Others are more forgiving, and may give it a second chance.
About seven months ago, my partner and I opened Wooden Spoon restaurant, which serves Pinoy food, but with a twist. I like to call these unusual dishes with familiar flavors. All the dishes are the result of past experiences, restaurants I used to own, ideas from other dining places I have experienced, our family restaurants in the past, or simply ideas I picked up from food reviews I had done.
The recipes are my own version or interpretation of the dish. Many told me that because I have a cook show, the place would do well. My quick response was, and has always been, “The cook show is an image; in the end, you will still try my food and see if it’s good enough to match the image.”
I was a bit fearful in the beginning, given the failure of a restaurant I set up in Vancouver a few years back. I thought my food was good enough to serve to people, and many of my clients told me so. But, in the end, I had to sell the place at a loss.
With that trauma still haunting me, I was out to regain lost confidence. Now, Wooden Spoon has become that vehicle to regain my footing.
Change of role
For almost 20 years, now as an Inquirer contributor, I have been dining all over the metro, sampling all kinds of food, rating them or giving my comments, etc. Now, it is my cooking that our clients will be rating. This change of role can be scary.
I’ve made a few observations so far. You know the diners enjoyed your food when they tell you they will bring their loved ones there. They order extra rice. They shake their legs in relaxation (kuyakoy). When you suggest dishes or hand them the menu, they say, “No, I know what I want.”
I have had customers who came in for lunch and dinner, then came back the following day for the same thing. These are the best compliments for any restaurant owner.
Most of our customers are also very kind and friendly. You get a few who can be cranky, because of hunger. Occasionally, we encounter someone who tries to get ahead of the waiting line. And you get those who will namedrop to get a table, which I hate since we don’t take reservations.
But most of our customers are friendly. I go around to ask how the food is just to get firsthand feedback. In a table of 8, for example, many times when I ask which dish the diners enjoyed the most, many of them point at different empty plates. That’s a good sign.
From my observation, you can have a very talented chef, but if there is no one to check his food, the taste of those dishes will change. After all, he or she does this day in and day out. Many times, the cooks get bored and want to try to even improve the dish. Wrong!
So I make sure I am forever tasting. Any negative comment I get from a customer, I check. I’ve also learned that people have different tastes. The most common negative comment I get is, “It’s a bit salty.” Whenever I get this, I go up to the kitchen and taste. If it tastes okay to me, then here’s an example of someone who has a different taste than mine. You really can’t please everyone.
All in all, it is a great business. I tell my clients in jest: “We’re here to break your diet.”
Whatever we have achieved all these seven months is from God, who has decided to bless us with this talent to share with all our diners. All glory to Him.
Wooden Spoon is right across Ateneo in Katipunan, in the Bo’s Coffee building. No reservations. Suggestion: Come at an unusual hour, like 11 a.m. for lunch,
1:30 p.m. after lunch, early dinner at 6 p.m. or late dinner at 8:30 p.m. I challenge you to rate us.