For anyone that has worked in the customer service business, specifically food service, you will appreciate this post.
My husband and I love wine. Oh, and food. So when we read that we had one of the top rated restaurants for BOTH in our backyard, we had to try it. And when we found out how much it cost and that it took at least a month’s planning to get a reservation, we thought we’d make it our Christmas present.
The Herbfarm is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. They don’t follow any of the rules of high class dining. They have no view. Part of the experience (if you choose) is to go outside and feed a pig. You sit with people you don’t know and you meet the dishwasher.
It’s a 9 course dinner that takes about 4 -5 hours to experience. There is “one sitting” per night and they are only open Thursday – Sunday. The restaurant holds 50 people. The kitchen is in the same room as the diners. At the beginning of the meal the staff lines up in front of the kitchen counter and the owner/founder and his wife introduce everyone from the head chef to the sommelier to the dishwasher. Each and every one of these people has an impressive resume’. At age 19 our sommelier graduated from Vassar. One of the “servers” worked at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and the list goes on.
The sommelier and head chef discuss the menu for the evening. The menu is printed out in a beautiful souvenir program and we are informed can change right up to hours before the meal because it’s all about what is fresh from the garden — their garden — just outside with the pig. Basil.
In between courses, guests are invited to walk around the house, take in the antiques, and the amazing bathroom with the most accouterments you’ve ever seen in your life. Herbal lotions, gels, soaps and sprays they make themselves. Each time you leave your table, a fresh linen napkin is placed on your place setting with the herb or flower of the day. Ours was a sprig of fresh pine. Which we will experience later when we cleanse our pallets with douglas fir ice.
The most amazing thing about the experience (besides the incredible food and wine and champagne and port and chocolates, oh my) was the service. Because they literally serve 50 people at the same time, it requires a complete team effort. Everyone from the owner to the sommelier to the sous chef is moving around the dining room clearing plates, filling water goblets, replacing napkins. There are no busboys, waiters, and hostesses. EveryONE is EveryTHING. It’s the ultimate expression of teamwork.
There is no bill presented at the end of the meal either. When you reserve (or rather, first request a reservation) you give them a credit card. They take a $100 deposit and inform you that the balance, which always includes gratuity, will be deducted sometime after the dinner date. You don’t sign a thing. There are many items in the house that are for sale. I had to buy the Herbfarm cookbook written by the chef. I asked one of the staff if it would be possible, when he had time, for the chef to autograph it for my friend Michelle. In all of this hustle and bustle she said, absolutely and walked away. About an hour later the book was presented to me, with the right inscription and the amount of the book was added to the bill. I didn’t have to fill out a form, or go to some cash register and stand in line to pay. There was no process. Their goal is simply to make your dining experience as wonderful as possible.
Which brings me to the pig. Since the beginning, they have had a pot bellied pig on the property. The original pig was Hamlet (god rest his soul) but now they have a pig named Basil. He is being trained to be a truffle pig. But they invite you at anytime during the dinner to just “ask your server” if you can go feed the pig. I did. She said that John would meet me in the parlor. John was waiting, with a cute hand painted bucket of pig food and directed me down a lighted path through the herb garden. Basil was waiting for me. He’s done this before. I did as instructed (pigs don’t know the difference between food and fingers) and even got to pet his little furry head.
Back to the restaurant, it’s time for french pressed coffee and homemade chocolates. 50 of my new closest friends have carefully chosen their blend of coffee and are accurately receiving their order at almost the exact same time.
The final amount was billed to my account yesterday. Grand total $549.00. It was worth every penny. I think we’ll make it a holiday tradition.
I have clients in the financial institution arena who are struggling with customer service. Their staff opens checking accounts and books consumer loans. And they do it one customer at a time. The experience is nothing to write home about. It’s your typical errand.
It’s much harder to make seared duck foie gras with vanilla parsnips, quince and cider sauce for 50 and pair it with a 2005 Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Riesling and serve it beautifully. If you want to see great leadership and teamwork in action, make your reservations today for the Herbfarm. It’s cheaper than sending your branch managers to some lame conference.