For those who want to know everything.

Bluestem

Bluestem

Kansas City, MO

For a good time, (make reservations): Here

Check out their website: HERE

Key words: Communicative. Progressive. Team Decisions. High Expectations.

I used to work at this restaurant, so I know the ins and outs. I know why it has great reviews; a lot goes into their service.

Megan and Colby Garrelts, Pastry Chef and Executive Chef respectively, are the married owners of Bluestem. Both of these people are great at something different. Chef Colby is gifted in cuisine, flavor creation, mentorship to aspiring chefs and gifted at running a quiet and purposeful brigade. Chef Megan is a wonderful pastry chef, no doubt, but I believe her gift is anticipating the next best thing as far as service, décor, and business is concerned. In fact, I think her perfect job would be head consultant of Next in Chicago, the restaurant that does a total food, service and remodel every three months. (Just a thought Megan, if this whole Bluestem/Colby thing doesn’t work out.)

These two met one another at Tru in Chicago, a love story ensued (a forbidden by management love story, so they quit and moved to Vegas and California) and after they honed their craft and gained their confidence, they opened Bluestem in Kansas City. After years of success they opened Rye, a more casual and comfort food focused restaurant, Chef Colby won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest, and all is right in the culinary world.

Whew!

Now let’s talk about Bluestem’s service.

I wanted to point out how this restaurant is different than every other restaurant I have encountered on my tour. What makes them different?


Most restaurants that offer this many courses and wine pairings usually run with a really big staff. And not only a big staff, but a segmented staff, meaning “staff A” is responsible for the “A” aspect of service, “staff B” is responsible for the “B” aspect of service, and “staff C is responsible for the “C” aspects of service.  The Bluestem team doesn’t run like that. For the most part every server is responsible for every service related task.

This restaurant serves a three, five or ten course tasting menu. Now before you freak out about how much food that is you need to understand that it is pretty much the same amount of food, regardless of how many courses you choose. The three course is larger portions, the five is a bit smaller, and the ten is smallest.  If you are in the mood for a traditional American three course excursion, fine, but I encourage you, strongly,  to go for it and experience all the flavors this restaurant has to offer, with the ten course option. Add wine pairings and you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget.

To paint an image of what each dining room server does you should understand the server’s role. There is a food runner, but they run food primarily to the lounge, not the dining room. The service team typically runs with three servers and one back/busser, which they refer to as their “utility.”  Unlike the other restaurants I have seen that offer up to ten courses, this team is responsible for running the food, clearing, marking utensils and wine glasses for upcoming courses, bussing the table, building the table, running drinks and being the primary server for their tables. Other restaurants of this caliber typically run with four servers, two back servers, a polisher, a food runner and an expo.   Of course this team runs team service/tip pooling, it simply wouldn’t be possible to do what they do without each others full support.

If there is one point you should take away from this team it is the amount of steps each server completes in a shift. It is important that you see what is possible by running with a strong team.

Many less than stellar servers think that a work load of 25% of what this team is doing is not possible. It is possible, you just have to communicate and create systems that help in the process.

Let’s deconstruct a service of one four top at BlueStem.

  1. Table is sat, they settle in.
  2. Menus are delivered and host wishes them a grand experience.
  3. Guests are greeted and asked about water preference.
  4. Water is fetched and delivered along with a small, bite sized gift.
  5. Drink order is taken and rang in.
  6. Menu is discussed (what the course options are, wine pairing info and culinary questions answered. The usual amount of time taken with this step is 2 minutes.)
  7. Drinks are delivered and order is taken. Let’s say this table orders a five course with wine pairings, which is very much the norm.
  8. Order is put into POS system.
  9. Wine pairing info is written down at server station and wine pairing ticket is delivered to Eric, the Sommelier.
  10. Amuse is delivered.
  11. Amuse is cleared (typically by two people).
  12. First course utensils and wine glasses are marked.
  13. Bread selection is offered. (Unlike most restaurants that deliver bread, a selection is offered. Usually three different breads and one or two accoutrements. This step isn’t a five second one, but a one minute one.)
  14. Server informs Eric that the table has been fired. (At this point, Eric will pour the appropriate wine, tableside, for the upcoming course. He will discuss the wine, why he has chosen that wine for the course and he will answer any questions the guests may have.)
  15. Course one is delivered by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  16. Walk by/visual check in.
  17. Food is cleared (typically by two people).
  18. Course two is fired.
  19. Table is marked with appropriate utensils and wine glasses.
  20. Server informs Eric that the table has been fired. (See number 14.)
  21. Course two is delivered by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  22. Walk by/visual check in
  23. Food is cleared (typically by two people).
  24. Course three is fired.
  25. Chargers are pulled.
  26. Table is marked with appropriate utensils and wine glasses.
  27. Server informs Eric that the table has been fired. (See number 14.)
  28. Course is delivered by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  29. Walk by/visual check in.
  30. Food is cleared (typically by two people).
  31. Course four is fired.
  32. Table is marked with appropriate utensils and wine glasses.
  33. Server informs Eric that the table has been fired. (See number 14.)
  34. Course is delivered by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  35. Walk by/visual check in.
  36. Food is cleared (typically by two people).
  37. Course five is fired.
  38. Table is marked with appropriate utensils and wine glasses.
  39. Server informs Eric that the table has been fired. (See number 14.)
  40. Course is delivered by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  41. Walk by/visual check in.
  42. Final clear of savory (typically by two people).
  43. Coffee order taken.
  44. Coffee order is delivered and table is marked for desert. (Non alcoholic coffee drinks are made by the service team. I.e, coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte, Americano, etc.)
  45. Fire dessert.
  46. Dessert is ran by two people, in unison, and one person stays to explain the dishes.
  47. Walk by/visual check in.
  48. Clear (typically by two people).
  49. Gift selection described and delivered.
  50. Check is dropped.
  51. Payment transaction is processed.
  52. Walked out.

 

That list shows the steps required for one table. Let’s not forget that there are 13 others on the floor, and some are doing three courses, some are doing 10, some are slamming cocktails, others are ordering bottles, runners are needed, glasses need polishing (in a separate room where the floor is not visible), water bottles are being refilled (in a separate room where the floor is not visible), utensils are being polished (in a separate room), transported to the dining room and meticulously straightened on a visual ledge (see picture below), tables are being turned and built, guests are asking in-depth questions, tables are being sat, waters are being filled, glasses are being cleared as they become empty, tables are being crumbed, napkins are being folded when a guest gets up, etc.

As I said before, this level of service could never be delivered if this team wasn’t all over each others “sections” helping and communicating at every possible opportunity. As Sam told me, one of the chefs on the brigade, about the service teams communication, “You can see them make eye contact in the dining room [which is silent service], but as soon as these guys turn that corner, whether they’re clearing, marking, or running food, they’re talking. And they might be talking shit or they might be talking service, like ‘coffee to 32, marks are down on 24, I just fired fish.’ When they’re back here they’re running their mouths.”

Excellent service teams run their mouths. They communicate everything, via signals, eye contact or talking.

When I hear servers at other restaurants who are running a 3 or 4 table section, serving three courses, max, say that adding another step to service is “too hard,” or “just not possible,” I feel let down by their understanding of what is possible. Most restaurants could add 40 steps of service and cut half their service team and run smoothly.  It just takes excellence, communication and honest-to-God teamwork. (I recently spent time with a server at a restaurant who had a 3 table section. They did not do team service. He told me that he tries to tell the valet when his guests are finished so the car can be pulled up. I said that’s terrific, and said he should figure out a system to do that every time. It should be a mandatory step of service restaurant wide. He said “no, we get too busy. It would be impossible to do.”  Impossible! And to think we put men on the moon and built the pyramids by hand.)

 

This team teaches us that when you develop a strong team, and have systems in place that you work hard to tweak and perfect, most anything is possible.

Thank you wonderful service team. I miss you and respect you immensely. Sean, Paul, Nate, Tiana, Eric, Andrew, Awista, Meryl, Lauren, Lazer, Kelsey, Cherish and everyone else that makes this team what it is. (A big thanks to Megan and Colby for allowing me back in your excellent restaurant home. Megan, I enjoyed our time!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Website: http://iamWaitress.com
Email: jennifer@iamWaitress.com