Since the launch of its first branch in July 2007, Mamou Restaurant has enjoyed steady success. Aside from the bestselling Healdsburg harvest salad, Lorenzo truffle pasta, and steaks, diners return for its warm service, or what owners Oye and Malou Forès refer to as “the Mamou way.”

“Our staff has been trained to treat everyone who comes into the restaurant as though they were their own godparents visiting their homes,” says Malou. “Because we call Mamou a home kitchen, we would like our guests to feel and receive the same hospitality we extend, as if they were in our own homes,” adds Oye.

An understanding of this work ethic and mindset is of primary importance. “We give them examples, let them know what ‘the extra mile’ is, and bring them to our favorite restaurants to experience what we would like others to receive from them,” explains Malou. She then continues to share how the philosophy is inculcated.

While formal sessions are held through team buildings and key personnel attend courses by the International Council of Shopping Centers, they believe in a continuous, shared training experience for the whole team—from owner to manager to staff and vice versa.

“We hold briefings every day to discuss what happened during the previous day’s operations and how it can be corrected. Sometimes we do role play, on other times, we brainstorm on improvements as a group. It’s a good platform for everyone to voice their opinions and suggestions,” discloses Oye.

“In the retail business, everyone competes for the customer’s attention. If you don’t give what they want, they will take their business elsewhere.”

They confess that they learn mostly from their experiences with difficult and challenging guests. But no matter what, in Mamou’s book, the customer is always right. “In the retail business, everyone competes for the customer’s attention. If you don’t give what they want, they will take their business elsewhere,” Oye points out.

He also explains that a customer is four times more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one. “The customer expects service, if they don’t get the level of service they expect then the establishment fails, regardless of the establishment’s service level,” he emphasizes.

But they never label anyone a VIP client. “Everyone is to be treated the same way, clients can see when an establishment gives special treatment over the other and will take offense. Everyone is important,” he adds.

This philosophy is not always easy to implement because there are customers who feel they deserve to be treated better than others. And then there are the condescending and abusive, sometimes inebriated ones. “It comes with the territory. When you are in retail, you open yourself to anyone. You can’t be selective,” he says.   

It isn’t just the restaurant owners who play a key role in achieving great service. The chef and floor manager share the same responsibility in keeping all operations as smooth and favorable to the customer as possible. Once at an Identita Golose event held in Milan, Italy, Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park brought his restaurant manager Will Guidara on stage so they could talk about how service is employed in their establishment.

“Service is achieved by support from each other,” Humm explains. “You must be willing to share the spotlight. For me, to say that it’s not just about food, it takes a lot. Chefs have ego. You have to put that ego aside. If it means that I only get half the attention, but it means that the restaurant is twice as good, I’ll take that any day of the year.”

If everyone is clear on what the end goal is, then it’s not hard to deliver what the whole team is supposed to deliver. “It’s nice to know that there’s someone on the floor who works just as hard as the kitchen to make the people happy,” says Humm.

Originally published in F&B Report March-April 2015