At a recent dinner, the plates were being cleared when a utensil dropped and broth splattered all over my husband's shirt. The busser apologized but didn't offer to pay the dry-cleaning bill. Neither the server nor the general manager came over, so the matter ended there, with my husband blotting stains as best as he could. This blunder, on the heels of some service mishaps I've encountered lately, left me thinking about hospitality, which has been in the spotlight recently, thanks to last month's Welcome Conference in New York. See also: Best Chef Ambassador 2013 -- Jeff Osaka
This high-profile gathering of dining-room professionals was founded to foster new ideas and build community among people who work in the front of the house. Or, as the organizers wrote on the Welcome Conference website, "The connectedness between kitchens has made restaurants all over the world better places to work, and better places to dine. As dining room professionals, we believe we have some catching up to do."
The conference reminded me of something that takes place in Denver, though on a more organic level. Several years ago Jeff Osaka, chef-owner of twelve, invited 25 chefs to join him to talk shop, trade ideas and get to know each other better. He said he founded the group because he missed the camaraderie fostered at farmers' markets in California, where he worked before moving to Denver. The group, which now numbers 140, meets eight times a year, usually late on Tuesday nights when kitchens are closing down. "I want us to have a tighter bond than [chefs do in] most cities," says Osaka. "It's easier to get to the top with help than step over people."
These regular gatherings have knit together a closer restaurant community, but so far they have focused on chefs and sous chefs. Aileen Reilly, general manager and co-owner of Beast + Bottle, says she would welcome such a network for general managers and assistant general managers. In fact, just hours before I called her to talk about hospitality, she said she was listening to her brother Paul, fellow co-owner and chef of Beast + Bottle, talk about a conversation he'd had with another chef. "I made the comment that it would be really great if we could get something like that for front-of-house professionals in this city," she says.
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Rather than trying to host the Olympics or the RNC, perhaps our city should make a bid to host the next Welcome Conference instead.