In helping to kick off the Restaurant Insider Roundtable series on Oct. 29, Providence restaurant owners Regina Lester and Ron Koller sat down to discuss operations and strategy, and to field questions from guests in attendance.
Both Lester and Koller decided to open their restaurants later in life. Koller had noticed a need for a craft beer bar in Providence, so he opened The Malted Barley, a full-service bar and restaurant featuring a pretzel-based menu and extensive beer selection. For Lester, a former legal professional, the decision was made to open The Dorrance, a full-service restaurant, bar and event space, in part due to her husband’s love of restaurants and food. “We dove right in and did it,” she said.
Especially for first-time owners, the experience has not been without its challenges. Koller noted the pressure of public scrutiny every night. Even though the customer is not always right, he said to applause, “When you’re open to the public, you have to be there, you have to be ready to run, you have to put on your ‘A-game’ every day. That’s the challenging part.”
Koller uses his business consulting background to make sure that he always keeps public perception in mind. He explained that he tries to walk into his business with fresh eyes every day: “When you’re the outside eyes coming in, you see it all. You have to do that with your own business as well. Come in every day and [say], ‘If I just bought this business today, what would I do differently than they did?’”
Lester said that her strategy is based on stellar communication with staff. The Dorrance hosts a pre-shift meeting every day and offers employees ample chances to collaborate between the front and back of the house. Each staff member knows who to go to if an inevitable problem arises. “You’re not going to make everyone happy. There’s going to be some moments when something’s going to go wrong,” she said. “The challenge is to turn around and make it right before they leave.”
Both Lester and Koller said technology has helped provide them with opportunities to continuously improve the guest experience. By utilizing Upserve’s full platform of products, including inventory, analytics, and POS, they are able to dig into real-time data and historical trends about menu and server performance. “What I love about it is the ease of use on the front end, but the power on the back end to pull my data and reports and to analyze my business,” Koller said.
The Malted Barley has each server take orders via tableside handheld devices, a move that speeds up each transaction by allowing orders to be sent directly to the bar and kitchen. “When we get super busy, every second counts a lot,” Koller said. “Product velocity to the table is one of the things I’ve been focusing on for a long time. Upserve is the best tool to make that happen.”
Even though they have the difficult task of keeping multiple plates spinning through every single shift, both Lester and Koller agree that fostering positive experiences for guests is worth the effort.
“For me, fun is when everyone’s here and everyone’s having a blast,” Lester said, referencing a recent Halloween party that had The Dorrance filled with costumed revelers. “That’s why we do this. That’s what it’s all about.”
Koller agreed. “At this point in my life, I wanted to do something that I enjoy doing every day. I could’ve done other things, I just thought this would be such a great business to get into,” he said. “By and large, I really enjoy our customers, our vendors, our employees. When you have a busy night and everything works the way it’s supposed to, that’s gratifying.”