Setting the Standard
by Aaron Arizpe
After 22 years at Gramercy Tavern, Scott Reinhardt knows a thing or two about staying power on the New York dining scene. But just months into his tenure at Chef Dan Kluger’s Loring Place, he’s re-examining his own methods. Here, Scott is tasked with overseeing the continued evolution of an already thriving restaurant that he sees becoming an NYC institution someday. This week, we sat with the recently-appointed general manager to hear all about this professional soul-searching and how it’s impacting his leadership style.
For over two decades, you co-authored the story of a very special restaurant. But now, in this new personal chapter for you, it’s “Here comes the new guy!” What’s that like? It must have been almost surreal at first…
Well, I’ve been here just 3 months so far, after 22 years at Gramercy Tavern. There, we had a staff of about 220 people; here it’s just over 100. On some level, a restaurant is a restaurant is a restaurant. But at the same time, the people who have been here from day one are kind of asking, hey, which direction are we going now?
And what do you tell them?
That I don’t want to change what Loring Place was… That when we first opened, Gramercy wasn’t Gramercy… There’s no reason this can’t become that, in five or ten years. I’ve made a conscious decision not to make any changes here just for the sake of it. And of course I want to propagate the things that were already working.
So you see a lot of similarities between the two restaurants?
Oh, absolutely. I think of this place as a big Tavern. It feels like the casual side of Gramercy. That restaurant could really appeal to everybody. If anything, the menu here is even more universal. You can really cultivate regulars in a place like this.
How exactly do you go about doing that?
I think a lot of it is just consistency. It’s powerful when you see the same face every time you come in. At Gramercy, people felt comfortable that “Oh, Scott’s still here.” You have to have staff members that stay a while. When you have that, they get to know what people’s likes and dislikes are. You want every guest to get the same kind of service as the last time that they were here. And sometimes you see the same people three, four times in the span of a week. I really like for our managers to pass out five or six business cards per shift, to connect with guests in that way.
You mentioned the importance of staff longevity. How do you work towards that?
The number one thing for me has always been culture and morale. For instance, we do these round-table discussions with the team, once a month. What’s important to them? What’s not? We’ll sit and talk together about benefits or 401k matching or family meal or whatever. No topic is out of bounds. We really aim to create a culture in which people can be heard.
What’s an example of a change that’s been implemented based on that type of discussion?
Well it’s a small thing. (Or is it?) But we used to eat family meals and do pre-shift lineup in the main dining room. We recently moved that downstairs to the PDR, so now there’s no scramble to reset the room before service. It puts everyone in a better state of mind.
Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows the importance of this time, and these meetings. How do you choose to structure them at Loring Place?
Well, there is something we talk about every single day at lineup: service standards. You have to talk about it every day, ad nauseum. That’s just part of what you have to do in a restaurant, because it’s the same everywhere. At Gramercy, if you look at the Tavern versus the Dining Room, for instance: we were always talking about the same kind of service, just a different atmosphere. Maintaining the same high service standards day in and day out is a universal challenge.
And what are some of your specific challenges right now?
Well, of course I’ve been getting to know an entire new staff, and I’ve gone from a restaurant using OpenTable to one using Resy. I’m working on increasing our lunch numbers, because I feel like that’s an area of growth for us. Oh, and our private dining program is totally different. We had an event for hotel concierges here last week where we kind of reminded them, “Hey, we’re still here!” We’re almost three years old, and sometimes there’s this tendency for people to want to chase after the hot new thing in town. But often, older places are so much more special.
That reminds me, did you read that GQ article recently about the best “middle aged” restaurants around America?
Yes, it was such a great piece! And of course, Gramercy Tavern is one of the quintessential examples of that genre. In a way, I feel like the article was written for me. And a lot of my old regulars — many of whom are quickly becoming regulars here — told me the same thing. We are creatures of habit. There’s great comfort in places with that kind of consistency.
And with any luck, Loring Place will become of them.
Yes, there’s no reason it shouldn’t!
Aaron aka @pocketfork spent the last decade at Momofuku, Roberta’s, and Chefs Club before joining the team here at inHouse. Over the years he’s been fortunate enough to explore nearly every facet of the industry, from kitchen stages to working FOH, writing for major publications and orchestrating pop-ups with nearly 200 star chefs from around the world.