Coquette: Front of the House

Scott Luetgenau

Scott Luetgenau, Director of Operations for Urban Food Group, is calm — too calm — when you realize that in 12 days he’ll start training 50 employees to handle the front of the house activities of Raleigh’s new brasserie, Coquette, which is to open on October 27th.  Thorough staff training is vital at any restaurant — particularly a new one of this size — but Luetgenau literally has his training manual scripted out to the last detail.  Whether it’s how to pronounce a particular French apertif or providing a basic overview of French cuisine or how to deal with customer allegations of food poisoning, it will be covered.  But most importantly, Luetgenau stresses, is that the service will be spot on.  “We try to separate ourselves with our service, being crisp, professional, knowledgeable.  One of our models is the type of service found at Danny Meyers’ restaurants in New York.”  The servers at Meyers’ Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants and the ones at Urban Food Group don’t try to be your friends.  They don’t squat down and chat with you.  They try to learn what you like to eat and drink, perhaps offer a couple of suggestions as a result, and then get the damn job done without being intrusive.  

I asked Luetgenau what he looks for when interviewing potential waitstaff.  “Most of it comes right down to what kind of a person you are.  Do you make good eye contact while talking with me?  Do you engage me?  Do you have the ability to carry on a conversation?  I can’t teach personality and human interaction, but we can teach the technical skills.”  Once Luetgenau is convinced the individual could have the people skills to be a waiter, “I scare them.  I let them know how hard this job will be, particularly with the opening of a restaurant of this size.  We need people who are ambitious and are willing to be part of a team.”  Egos are sublimated under the Urban Food Group “model,” all for the benefit of the customer.  

This will be the first restaurant opening for the 31 year old Luetgenau, but his relaxed demeanor suggests that he’s done this many times.  Luetgenau, however, isn’t your typical manager.  First, he’s ridiculously organized and meticulous, as evidenced by the detailed pre-opening schedule he sent me weeks ago, parts of which I’ve reproduced below.  Second, he has one of the most amazing memories of anyone I’ve ever met (he recalls the wine he served to me four years ago when he worked at Enoteca Vin).  All of this creates a sense of calm, which is even more amazing when you realize Luetgenau interviewed and hired all of the waitstaff, busboys, bartenders, and runners, put together an extensive all French wine list, cocktail program, and beer menu, and crunches the numbers regarding the profitability of every dish.  If you just talked to Luetgenau about wine, you’d quickly realize that he is a geek — granted, he’s a wine geek, but a geek nonetheless.  And that’s a good thing for us, the customer.  Oh, Luetgenau doesn’t hesitate to embrace that geekiness. 

Luetgenau will need to maintain his peaceful attitude, as all hell will soon be breaking loose.  Coquette will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 5 days a week and brunch and dinner on the weekends.  The place has 200 seats in the dining room and 45 in the bar area.  They’ll start with 50 front of the house employees, but Luetgenau knows that some of those individuals may not be able to cut it.  Anyone working the front of the house not only has to be familiar with the menu, they have to know it inside and out.  They’ll need to know all the ingredients that go into every dish, and they’ll be tested on it — if they don’t pass the test on the second try, they’ll be shown the door.  I wonder if I could pass the test, with my feeble memory.  I sense the waitstaff will be given a bit more time to work on their French pronunciations, but there will be instruction on that, too.

Luetgenau has hired a Managing Partner for Coquette, Galen Prisbrey, who will be responsible for the day-to-day affairs of this restaurant.  Luetgenau still has to oversee the operations at the three other Urban Food Group restaurants, and he’ll be tasked with opening a second version of Vivace in Charlotte next summer.  But when Coquette opens, Luetgenau will be on the floor, helping customers, bussing tables, serving wine (his true love).

I plan to sit in on some of the training sessions to see how Luetgenau operates.  Is he a hard ass as he intimates, or does he manage to transfer his dedication to customer service in a more level-headed manner.  I’ll certainly let you know.

(What follows is a portion of Luetgenau’s schedule for training the front of the house.)

 

–  9 AM DAY ONE FOH Staff Training

 

-Collect W-2’s & New Hire Forms      9:00 – 9:15

 

-Training Manual Review          9:15 AM – 12:00 PM (with 20 minute break)

                             Welcome Letter – Urban Food Group Background

 

-Lunch Break 12:00 – 1:15 PM

 

-Dinner Menu Training  1:15 –  3:45 PM

                             -Dinner Menu Overview, Structure & Insight into French Cuisine

                             -Hors d’Oeuvres – Appetizers

                             -Les Soups – Soups

                             -Les Salades – Salads

                             -Les Plats Petits – Small Plates

                             -Fruits de Mer – Raw Bar

                             -Plats Principaux – Entrees

                             -A la Carte – Sides

                             -Plat du Jour – Concept & Descriptions

 

-Floor Chart Walkthru (Communicate Table & Seat Numbers) 3:45 – 4:00 PM

                             -Pass out floor chart for test in the morning

 

-Restaurant Scenarios   4:00 – 4:30 PM

                             -Allergies (Literature)

                             -Emergencies

                             -Credit Card Declined

                             -Health Inspector

                             -ALE Agent

                             -Food Poisoning Accusations

                             -Employees in as Diners

 

 

HOMEWORK: Study floor chart for tomorrow’s test.

 

 –  9 AM DAY TWO FOH Staff Training

 

-Floor Plan Test    9:00 – 9:10 AM

 

-Water Training     9:10-9:20 AM

     -Beverage Service (proper handling of glassware, the importance of maintaing water and alcoholic beverages)

                             -Tap Service

                             -Our Sparkling

                             -Our Flat

 

-Wine Training      9:20 – 11:15 AM

                             -Sparkling Wines Btl

                             -White Wines Btl Part I

 

-Break                  11:15 – 11:35 AM

 

-Running Drills       11:35 AM – 12:00 PM

 

-Lunch                  12:00 – 1:15 PM

 

-Beverage Trng.    1:15 – 1:40 PM

                             -French Cordial/Aperitifs

 

-Menu Training      1:40 – 3:10 PM

                             -Lunch Menu Overview, Structure, Testing Format…

                             -Hors d’Oeuvres – Appetizers

                             -Les Soups – Soups

                             -Les Quiches

                             -Les Plats Petits – Small Plates

                             -Les Salades – Salads

                             -Les Sandwiches

                             -A la Carte – Sides

                             -Plats du Semaine

                             -Crepes

-Table Setup         3:10 – 4:00 PM

   & Dining Room Etiquette

                             -Demonstrate table setup explaining expectation of attention to detail

                             -Communicate dining room etiquette for resetting tables

                             -Proper table bussing demo

                             -Dining Room posture/demeanor

                             -Greeting Guests in the restaurant

                             -Teamwork as a standard

HOMEWORK:  Study for test on Hors d’Oeuvres – Appetizers,

Les Soups – Soups, Les Salades – Salads, Les Plats Petits – Small Plates

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5 Responses to Coquette: Front of the House

  1. elmer hobbs says:

    well done article…this guy scott is also one hellava nice guy who just happens to be my son in law…he’s a super business man and apparently even better husband….continued success,elmer.

  2. burgeoningfoodies says:

    I’m just wondering what the grand opening will bring? An escargot eat off? Something more grand perhaps?

  3. Dana says:

    That looks like a nice, intensive training program. I’m imagining this happens with the whole waitstaff, newly hired. What happens when, say, they lose 3 servers and they need to add staff one-by-one? Are they given one-on-one training of these items during prep times, then tag along for meetings and busy times?

  4. Dana,

    Anyone brought on after the opening will go through an abridged version of the opening training. They will, however, be tested on all of the same information; menu items, service techniques, wines by the glass/bottle, etc..

    Thanks,

    Scott Luetgenau
    Director of Operations
    The Urban Food Group
    http://www.coquetteraleigh.com

  5. It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides pragmatisdc solutions.

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