Cafe Society

Matt Selby dishes up an advice-driven Denver Restaurant Week survival guide

Denver Restaurant Week -- or, as Row 14 chef Jensen Cummings coined it, "Denver Restaurant Half Month" -- began in earnest on Saturday night, with 340 food temples across the metro area offering multi-course menus for two for $52.80. Chef Troy Guard and his crew from TAG and TAG RAW BAR were gearing up for the culinary circus on Saturday afternoon with a pizza party; at Luca d'Italia, the staff is shaking off the stress by doing pilates every morning; and Matt Selby, chef of Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben's, wrote a thoughtful precursor to Denver Restaurant Half Month last Thursday on his blog, serving up sage advice to servers, chefs and diners alike.

Here are some of the most salient excerpts from his post.

For me personally, the first day of Restaurant Weeks, I kiss my wife and kids, and lovingly tell them, "See you in a couple weeks". The first night is chaotic, scary, and full of nervous energy. Did we order enough food? Have we spaced our reservations properly? Do we have enough staff? Are we truly ready for Sunday through Thursday to be just as busy, if not busier, than Friday and Saturday? Are our RW menus up to par with the regular menu, yet streamlined to maintain current cook times? And, oh lord, there is nothing worse than the terror of waking from a restaurant nightmare at 4 in the morning, just before the crush, questioning whether or not we stocked up on plates and glassware. The answer to all of these questions? Truth be told? You can do all the planning, strategizing, positioning, and research you want, only to have the answers revealed, good, bad, or otherwise as the weeks unfold. Only thing you have control over is your emotions, actions and thoughts.

This year I sat on a DRW advisory board facilitated by Eat Denver and Visit Denver, and I was asked by a new participant what the secret to our Restaurant Week success was. I answered his question with this question..."why would you change your everyday hospitality philosophy for Restaurant Week, and why change your high level of standards for any two weeks?" You don't. Sure, you look for ways to streamline, leverage costs, and keep the family glued together, but ultimately, your goal is to provide the same level of hospitality you do through the year, and make damn sure that you treat every guest, new and regular, so well that they can't wait to come back for more, regardless of the price. You see, I look at DRW as a challenge. A challenge in the spirit of which it was created, to elevate the reputation of Denver dining and hospitality.

As Denver Restaurant Week draws near, I have some advice, praise and compliments to mention. First the advice to my brothers and sisters in the industry: stay strong, stay positive and kick some ass. Take care of yourself, take care of your em' a round, bring in some healthy snacks for the night, bring in a masseuse, and reward them for staying energetic and positive. Most important of all, take care of your guests. Give them a reason to come back again and again. Bring them into your family.

Now a plea to Denver diners. Understand that we are overwhelmed. Some of us are new to this, and some of us pros make mistakes. Know that it kills us, breaks our hearts, when we do make mistakes. Not because of the bottom line, but because we truly measure success by how many happy guests walk out of our doors. Tip well and celebrate with us just how far Denver dining has come. Above all else, when mistakes are made, speak up...give us the opportunity, right then and there, to make things right and exceed your expectations. Don't take those missteps to the social media graveyard where mistakes go to die, never to be corrected. Save social media posts for praise, insight, and positive word of mouth.