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Episode 34: The Real Value of Restaurants

Against the backdrop of labor shortages, the rise of robots, and a pandemic that continues to create challenges, Brady and Alvin discuss the importance of preserving the ability of good restaurants to be restorative places for their customers.


Podcast Transcript


Brady Viccellio

If you've ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants, then you're in the right place. This podcast takes you inside the minds of restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, servers, basically anyone who has anything to do with food drink or hospitality, and Brady Viccellio, owner of Steinhilber’s restaurant and La Bella Italia on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. Welcome to The Check podcast.


Alvin Williams


And I'm Alvin Williams, cohost of the check and owner of Cobalt Grille restaurant at hilltop in Virginia Beach. Welcome to our podcast.


Brady Viccellio

Alvin, another week has passed and we're back on The Check.


Alvin Williams

Yes, sir. Welcome back folks to The Check podcast.


Brady Viccellio

One thing I've noticed over this past week, I've noticed it over the period of the pandemic, but also, more intensely. In the past week, I've noticed that there's a perception that the pandemic is over. And the expectations of our guests have changed more towards pre pandemic standards.


Alvin Williams

Are you basing that on recent reviews that you may have had?


Brady Viccellio

Well, that's one thing. I'm also basing it on the fact that as we come into the winter months, I know that you're installing heaters on your patio dining. And last year, you didn't have heaters on your patio dining. People were expecting more out of us.


Alvin Williams

Yep, people's attitudes seem to have changed a little I've noticed that last year, people seemed to be were more vocal about being thankful that were there that we’re open, that we're welcoming, that we're doing everything that we can to accommodate them, even if it just meant makeshift accommodations for them. You know, they had not always been plush and luxurious and the way that we want things to be, but they were just grateful that we were there for them. And now attitudes seem to have changed.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, it's like the camping trip is over.


Alvin Williams

And yeah, they expect more. It's like the camping trip. So now they want the original -- the glamping. And not the camping.


Brady Viccellio

Right. Right. Going back to the review that you're referring to.


Alvin Williams

I didn't refer to a review.


Brady Viccellio

As a chef, can you explain how prime rib is prepared?


Alvin Williams

I can, it's a long, slow roasting process. So that when you roast it, the temperature that you want to garner is that throughout the whole piece of meat, so it's a long, slow roasting process. So it's not like a steak, where you would take a single steak, you know, 12 ounces, or 14 ounces, and sear it either cook it on a grill or pan sear it with, you know, oil, butter herbs. This is a whole piece of meat, like a whole primary that you roast slowly in the oven.


Brady Viccellio

So it's a sub primal. It's the prime rib. It's the whole, the whole roll the whole cut. Yeah. And it's a long process at starts about for us it starts about noon. We slow roaster prime rib and then it during service, it goes into a warming cabinet where it's held at a temperature. And throughout that evening, that prime rib continues to cook slowly. The rub is if it's say a Tuesday night, we only have one prime rib for the evening. That prime rib starts the evening out, kind of on the rare side. And as the evening progresses, it moves to more of a medium, right?


Alvin Williams

Because it's naturally slowly going from slower to medium rare to medium. Yeah. Right. And you only have so many portions in that room. So maybe right 12 to 14 orders.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, exactly. If he were to come in at I don't know, eight o'clock, 7:30 or 8 o'clock, it's possible that we might not provide be able to provide a medium rare or rare prime rib.


Alvin Williams

I would say it's probable.


Brady Viccellio

Well, what we do on busier mights is we have two of them. One that's one that's less cooked, and one that's more cooked. But on a Tuesday, when we don't expect that many guests, it's one that's going to carry you through the night. Otherwise, you're putting hundreds of dollars worth of beef in the trash every night? Sure. or sending it home with the employees, which is nice, but it's not a business plan.


Alvin Williams

So how does this lesson reflect on the review?


Brady Viccellio

It comes down to service, it comes down to being able to know your product. The review was not inaccurate. It had some inaccurate accusations. But as far as somebody coming in and ordering a medium rare prime rib at 7:30, 8 o'clock at night, on a Tuesday, the server needs to understand and explain. Let me check on the temperature of the prime rib. Anyway, Somebody ordered a medium red prime rib and they're dissatisfied with it. They said it's overcooked, they wanted a new one. They said that one's over cooked


Alvin Williams

Well because if it's coming from the same piece, it's not gonna be less cooked. It's not gonna be less. It's either going to be the same or more.


Brady Viccellio

So I went out to the table and I said, I'm very sorry about this. It's just the nature of the prime rib. She said How long have you been here? Tonight? I've been here for 46 years. Well, I've been in here before and I've had medium rare prime rib before on a Tuesday. On a Tuesday, it's difficult. Okay. And she said so. So I said, I'm sorry, I need to offer you a different kind of beef if it must be medium rare. We have very nice New York strip, we have a very nice filet mignon. I wanted prime rib. So I want you to prepare me a medium prime rib. I said, Ma'am, it's a roast. You don't know what you're talking about. That might be true. I might not. But I cannot provide you tonight with a properly cooked medium rare prime rib. I'm sorry.


Alvin Williams

And then that was the end of that. Because obviously, you don't have it. You've tried twice, you've said that you would be happy to prepare a different kind of meat that you could cook to medium rare, but the prime rib medium rare was just not available that evening.


Brady Viccellio

Not at the time. It wasn't, no. And I understood her frustration, was very eager to satisfy her, what might we be able to get for you? And she said, I'll just have the shrimp. So she eats the shrimp. She goes home and she gets on her computer. And she goes on and explains. Oh, by the way, are shrimp were free. Her prime rib of course, we've been charged her for the two prime ribs that she rejected. Okay. So she's got two prime ribs. Oh, I have two prime ribs in the trash. And a free shrimp dinner.


Alvin Williams

And then you gave her a shrimp dinner complimentary?


Brady Viccellio

And then she goes. And she dogs me.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. Well, as I tried to explain to you before, this is part of some people's human nature.


Brady Viccellio

She said that she was here during the pandemic. And had a perfectly fine meal. Okay, and now since the pandemic is over, but it's not really -- I've got no excuse.


Alvin Williams

But perception is that it's over. And yeah, so now everything has to be perfect. So we're back to glamping.


Brady Viccellio

There's just the expectations. They're not unrealistic. I admit that, that we made some errors on that.


Alvin Williams

Well, the breakdown is obviously first with the server, the server should have talked to Chef, you, whoever and says, Look, this lady wants medium rare. What do you have? Well, and if you didn't have medium rare, then she should have been made, you know, aware of that exactly. Right before? Because sometimes you get your hopes up? Oh, I've got my medium rare steak coming out. I'm looking forward to it. Absolutely. And then you get something that's not that. And then you disappointed? Absolutely.


Brady Viccellio

The other thing is that in the defense of me, and of the server, I've had to move certain employees up to certain positions they might not quite be fully prepared for. Yeah, because we simply don't have the depth of staff.


Alvin Williams

I think we may have talked about that last week, there's a lot of quicker training going on. So certain people in certain positions now within our restaurants. And that's not just me or you -- it's restaurants all over the country, that they haven't had the adequate training, or experience to deal with certain situations, right?


Brady Viccellio

It's easy to assume that serving tables is an easy job, serving New might be an easy job. Yeah, that would make you be a great server for you. But everybody's different. And to be able to read people and perceive things and anticipate their needs. Before they even know they have a very difficult, it's very difficult years of experience.


Alvin Williams

And every and everyone's different. You don't know what mood that person's in that day, you know, they could have had a good a great day, or they could have had a really bad day at work


Brady Viccellio

Which, again, somebody comes to a restaurant to kind of recover from a bad day. It’s our job to be able to take that and turn it around. And that's kind of what we do. That's what we specialize in. And that's why I think that's what makes a successful restaurant, one that can take somebody in a really rotten mood. They’ve had a really awful day or week or month. And we can be a highlight of their day.


Alvin Williams

Well, we provide the food and beverage therapy and turn it around.


Brady Viccellio

The actual root of the word restaurant, which is, is based in the same root of as restore it's a restorative thing. It's food that restores.


Alvin Williams

Coming from restaurant tour, which is where the people that are supposed to restore the people's day,


Brady Viccellio

You're feeling peckish as you say and you're brought back to brought back to life, right? So it's our job. It's part of what we do. It's most of what we do, to turn people around to change the state of feeling for a person from unfulfilled to fulfilled. And often, you know, the perceptions that we have battle with that the perceptions that the pandemic is over the perception that things are back to normal.


Alvin Williams

So for some people As we talk about the pandemic, for some people, it's, it's live and it's still going on. So let's say you're a doctor, perhaps, and you're in the hospital, and you're still seeing patients dying from COVID, or from the Delta variant. For them, it's still very real.


Brady Viccellio

So some people in some professions and some, the way some people lead their lives. Yeah, the pandemic is far from over. It's very much upon us.


Alvin Williams

But for other people in other different types of restaurants who are actually thriving because of the pandemic, and they're not seeing any, or different types of business, different types of businesses. Yeah. So for that may, in their minds, they may think that it's over. So we're back to normal. And maybe when maybe when they come into our businesses, they just presume that it's also over for us, also.


Brady Viccellio

And to be fair, things are much different than they were six months ago. Yeah. I think overall for the better. But I've said this so many times, and I keep having to reset, and reset the statement. I've never experienced labor issues like I experienced today. Right? And it's just every day. It's a new surprise. I had two surprises today that aren't really fit for, for our podcast, but simply people who, for whatever reason, their employment status changes due to things they've done inappropriately or otherwise. And it goes back to this whole thing of just the labor market, you can't just put an ad out and have a line out the door. You've got to, you've got to really dig.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, that's for sure. But you know, a lot of I don't if you get this, but a lot of my customers clients, they will come in and say, How are you guys doing? Are you finding staff? Are you back to normal? A lot of them will say that, because they genuinely care. And they want to absolutely. And then the some who just literally just, it's just back to where we were before, because in their minds, things are normal. Schools are open, people are not wearing masks, we're having great big outdoor concerts, and you know, and everything's back to normal. So their restaurant should be back to normal.


Brady Viccellio

And have you been anywhere that is particularly well staffed or poorly staffed, that you would attribute to the pandemic or what I guess well, staff, the pandemic being over for them and short staffed for the pandemic being very real to them.


Alvin Williams

A lot of my restaurant friends who are in the same boat, so sometimes they seem like they've got a decent amount of staff, sometimes you can obviously tell that they've run a skeleton crew. But I went to Bed Bath and Beyond, which is not really my jam used to be my jam, because I really liked that shop. You go in there and they got all this cool stuff. So I went there to go buy some sheets. And I was armed with my coupons because they have these $25 coupons or whatever. So I go in the store. And it seemed like there weren't many customers in there. So I thought Great, I'm going to get some help because I didn't know what kind of sheets I want. I know I wanted to package sheets and I wanted the pillows in there and I wanted the sheet turn the you know, the all the stuff. So I'm looking for someone to help me. And I literally circled the store two and a half, maybe three times just looking in each department to see if I could find someone to help there was not a single associate in there, that could help me the only people that were in their associates were on the cash registers. And I think that was just three and they were obviously busy with the people that had got stuff, no one that help and I and the shelves so I'm looking for the sheets on the shelves and things, you know, Higgledy Piggledy, and this thing's over here and it should be over there. So the stuff is unorganized and on the wrong shelves, so you don't know if this is the right price. And this is the right product. And it was just it was really bad. And I left without sheets and I left upset that such a big store, I thought it was a big store, had gone down in my estimations. And I guess a lot of other people's because there weren't many customers in there. And maybe this is how stores and restaurants just crash and burn because they're not what they once were.


Brady Viccellio

And certainly a place like Bed Bath and Beyond is not immune to the supply chain issues that exist. Which is based in labor, I believe. Yeah. And you throw their labor being short, you know, probably they don't order quite as quickly as they they're ordering. They're probably ordering their product later than then they would have outside of pandemic and now they should be ordering it they should be more ahead of it.


Alvin Williams

But it really made me second guess myself something can I'm sure I've been here before and there's been people to help me or point me in the right direction. And I'm thinking is that right? But, nobody.


Brady Viccellio

Starbucks has announced that their average wage is now $17 an hour nationwide, or I don't know storewide whatever, I guess dollars would make it nationwide. Is there a place that you've been to recently that does not have a help wanted sign out front?


Alvin Williams

No, they're everywhere. They're in the windows. They're on A-frame chalkboards outside. I mean, big signs, you just drive around you look at all the fast food stores. I mean, this Chick fil A is saying, you know, 15 or $17 an hour and Wendy's hiring all positions, you know, I thought it was interesting once said, choose your own shift. You know, it's like, wow. So everybody is looking nationwide, not just restaurants but you know, all different types of businesses. Where are all the people?


Brady Viccellio

I had a similar experience to your Bed Bath and Beyond experience I needed. Sorry to hear that. I needed. I needed silver twist ties for a cookie bag for an event I was doing. And it's quite specific so I went to Michael's and did the laps around the store. And no help. Then finally I went to the cashier waited in line to see the cashier and she was able to quickly tell me that you didn't have them. And I asked her where to go. And she said neither Walmart or Hobby Lobby -- went to Walmart. Same issue. They didn't have them. But actually, there were people to help me at Walmart. They didn't know anything. But they were they were there. We walked around together. And then I went to Hobby Lobby and found what I needed with no help from any employees. It took me two or three laps to find them.


Alvin Williams

Okay. So this is now taking you hours. Going from store to store burning gas for twist ties.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah. Where all the employees when I was making this move around town? The traffic. It seems to me they're all driving.


Alvin Williams

That is an interesting observation. Because there are definitely certain times of the day, especially around hilltop in Virginia Beach, where you just you get no way. There's so many cars out. Maybe people are just out in about driving around. Maybe they're picking up people or the kids from school or something. I'm not sure. But it's definitely the traffic right now. It seems like holiday traffic.


Brady Viccellio

Since we're a worldwide show. I won't be specific. But there's there is a there is an exit that leads to a local mall that always gets backed up in December. Yeah. And I've seen that exit backed up random days in September, October, are they these people are going to all these places they're going to Bed Bath and Beyond and fleecing the shelves,


Alvin Williams

They may also be people delivering stuff for Amazon. That's true, you know, because there's a lot of those distribution centers around and people would do regular cars go and do delivery. So that could be I don't know. So broadly speaking of the, the traffic and the backups, it's my day, you know, I usually go in the mornings and then I take a break in the afternoon and then I go back in the evening. So now I really got to be careful about what time I take a break in the afternoon because it would appear that a lot of people are actually driving to pick up their own kids because apparently there's a school bus driver shortage right now, you know, there's just like in my neighborhood is especially as you know, a good three schools in my neighborhood. So for me to get to where I live, I'm way back up behind traffic. In traffic.


Brady Viccellio

I've noticed that as well. I don't have children but I've noticed that the school on Thalia road on the way to the restaurant to Steinhilber’s, there's a school there. And at certain times the day you just have to wait for all the kids to load in.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, you got to be in that school bus lane.


Brady Viccellio

They basically shut down shut the road down. You're waiting there for 10 or 15 minutes.


Alvin Williams

There's no real through traffic, you're just you're part of the school traffic.


Brady Viccellio

The school takes over the road. And, and the other day I actually was driving and the school buses, I guess the three school buses that they had, were able to go through the center lane, and all the parents picking up whatever people picking up children were pulled off to the side. So I followed the school buses through lady starts yelling at me and I just seem like the way to get through. I don't know, three buses are on the road all the time. There was no indicator of…


Alvin Williams

Well, she could have thought you're cutting into the school line or something. I mean, I gets testy out there I've seen I've seen people get a little angry in that line.


Brady Viccellio

It kind of reminded me about someone being upset over prime rib. Yeah. You know, I don't know what's going on in their world. And they don't know what's going on in mind. We're all just trying to do the best that we can. And I'm sure that lady who was trying to direct traffic if she if she listens. I'm sure she listens to the podcast because we have such wide, wide listenership. Of course I'll let her know that. I'm sorry that I followed the bus and I will not do it again.


Alvin Williams

Well, let me ask you a question about apologizing. So you apologize to that lady, you bend over backwards. You didn't charge her for the meal.


Brady Viccellio

Well the same lady wasn't directing traffic.


Alvin Williams

No, not her. But so you didn't charge her for the meal she didn't like, and you didn't charge her for the meal that she did like, so why is it that you think that she went and wrote this review to obviously, do you think it was to cause you and your restaurant damage even though she kind of had a resolve? I mean, it seems a little unfair, spiteful.


Brady Viccellio

I felt I felt like it was a little unfair. I felt like it was spiteful.


Alvin Williams

I think I think that's a little unfair. I there's one thing if people contact you directly to the restaurant to resolve an issue or, you know, so you can assure them that look, I apologize, we did wrong, we'll make sure it doesn't happen. Again, please let us know the next time you come in. So I can doubly make sure that you're taken care of. I think that's a better way to resolve the issue than to go on, dare I say was it was it Yelp? Or was it?


Brady Viccellio

I don't know what it was.


Alvin Williams

Whatever platform -- Yelp or Google or whatever it was. I just think that's not the way to do it, especially as we are still struggling because we are still in our world in a pandemic.


Brady Viccellio

It’s still very real to us. I won't say it's the same as the health care workers in an emergency room. But it is very real to us. As I said before, we're in a much different place than we were six months ago. And I think we should be grateful that this thing is progressing. It's all part of part of the process. It's a process we've never been through. And it's a process that has to play out.


Alvin Williams

Well. I'm certainly grateful as I know you are, to still be in business, and thankful for our customers who have taken us through this and shared the ride with us.


Brady Viccellio

Our customers and employees. We owe a lot to our employees.


Alvin Williams

And, and we're still here because of them. You know, that's pretty cool.


Brady Viccellio

There have been days where I felt like I was kind of alone. We got through it. And there's always a few people there that were fighting that fight with us. And yes, indeed, I hope we can be hopeful that will continue to progress positively and change for the better. For example, your outdoor dining is about to mature.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, outdoor dining season is upon us. We had a slight snafu, we got these really nice fancy heaters, they finally arrived, because everything's on backorder, as you know, but the ones that arrived were more for residential and not for commercial. So I've had to send them back to California so that they can get switched out with the equipment, and then I'm waiting for them to come back. So we're going to be installing those, you know, about six or nine months ago, we were kind of panicking and talking about extending our patio dining area, which we still plan to do. Because we were sure thought that a lot more people wanted to dine outside because of you know, the six foot rule and all that stuff. But I I'm not sure if that was right. Because I think a lot of people are pretty comfortable dining indoors.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, some people still will only dine outdoors.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, well, we're kind of putting that project on hold. We're not abandoning the product, but we're putting it on hold


Brady Viccellio

But the heaters are still coming so he does come in here and can I expect to have nice heated space outdoors at Cobalt Grille,


Alvin Williams

I cannot make a prediction because you know what it's like that now the mail is slow, you know, and the people who are rewiring the system that was wrong, you know, they may be short staffed. So I would hate to say, you know, we'll be up and running in three weeks, because it might not happen. Okay, and the last thing you want to do is promise something like a medium or a primary. And then give him a medium primary. I don't want to promise my heat is going to be there. And they're not. We'll have something we'll have fire pits out there. I'll have like the, you know, those mushroom overhead heaters, we'll have something so you can come in, you know, dine outside, that's for sure. But I'm not sure we're gonna have the super duper fancy heaters for another couple of weeks.


Brady Viccellio

Well, I look forward to it. Alvin, there's a Taco Bell. I think we've referred to it before it's in Atlanta, and it's a kind of a beta unit that operates at full capacity with one employee due to automation. So they've moved to automate the production of most of their food, their money transactions, put your card in a slot or you put money in a thing. Yep, everything's automated. You pull up and I don't even think there's you don't even see a person that comes out of a little chute and it goes into your grab it and you drive away.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, I have heard of such a thing. It would appear that maybe sooner rather than later, we're going to be getting into this whole robotic restaurant field.


Brady Viccellio

I got an email from a company I think in Korea that's building robot waiters.


Alvin Williams

Nah. Wow.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, I'm not sure that they'd be able to know right at a certain time of night that the medium prime rib was not available?


Alvin Williams

Oh, you know what I see. But why are you talking about robot waiters, I have seen in certain hotels, like if you order something from room service, they have this little robot that they put the food or the drink on the beverage on the toothbrush or whatever it is that you request. And it goes into the elevator, and it goes down the hallway of whatever floor you're on. And it rings your doorbell. And then it just it opens up and gives you your little whatever you requested. And then and then it asks you, you know, can Is there anything else I can do for you? And you say yes. Or you say no. And then it's on its way’


Brady Viccellio

Does it stand there waiting for a tip? How about that thing when they want to show you where the light switch is. And they show you the features of the room. That hovering. Oh, we've got an iron and an ironing board in here, you'll find a hairdryer in the bathroom.


Alvin Williams

I'm sure the little robot has a tip bucket on the side. But you know, I was watching something on Hulu the other day, David Chang from Momofuku fame. And he was talking about restaurant robotics and, and how it's gonna be real soon, it's coming. And they showed, I think the one thing that I saw was like a fast food restaurant, and they had French fries, and they had this robot arm that would put the French fries in and time them and then shake them off, you know, season them and put them in and they literally, they didn't need any people around to do that. And there was maybe one person that just maybe to flip a switch.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, if the potatoes get jammed somewhere.


Alvin Williams

But that was for certain types of food. That was kind of cookie cutter, you know, but that's the way it's gonna be. It may cut out cooks, it may cut out servers. It's not the direction that that I would like to go in. But it certainly could happen. And it'll cut down on labor for these companies. So they make more money. So they may be more apt to do that. And it's, it's, it's futuristic, it's kind of Jetsons -ish. But you know, that could be the way that we go. And especially after a pandemic like this, when you can't find people to work.


Brady Viccellio

it just gets a little cold. So I think the best service, the best example of good service, I believe, and when you want to very simplify and explain what's good services, I always use the analogy of a soda machine. So you go to a gas station or whatever, and it's got the vending machine out front. You say okay, it's got Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta orange or whatever it is. And Diet Coke. Okay, lemonade. And you choose your drink? Yeah. And pay for it. And it comes out and it's cold. Ready to go? Great service. It’s not self service. Self Service would be you got to squeeze lemons and some ice. I mean, it's more a product that's ready to eat or ready. That that comes out at the right temperature in a timely manner. Okay, for a fair price. I mean, generally, but it's there's no hospitality. There's no conviviality. There's no -- it's cold. It's quite literally.


Alvin Williams

Is that what we want?


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, it's probably not. Now you take that restoration that comes from a restaurant comes from the warmth and the anticipation that only a human can provide that only a person who cares about your experience can deliver. The food has to be warm, the service has to be warm.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. It's going to be a different service. I think different types of restaurants that will use robots and machinery rather than the traditional. Well, Brady, let's let's keep an eye on this automation, and robots.


Brady Viccellio

Well, I think the takeaway from that is that everything has its place, they'll always be a need for people, and they'll always be a need for just straight, barebones, efficient service.


Alvin Williams

The world has changed and the world is changing. Maybe it's evolving. Maybe it's for the better. We have to wait and see. Let's hope. Thank you all for listening to The Check podcast.


Brady Viccellio

Thank you very much. One more episode.


Alvin Williams

We hope you enjoyed it. You can see transcripts and photographs and you can find us wherever you get your podcasts,


Brady Viccellio

thecheckpodcast.com


Alvin Williams

I'm Alvin.



Brady Viccellio

And I’m Brady, and this is The Check.

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