Long before reality shows and basic cable were creating celebrity chefs, Kansas City had Chef Jasper Mirabile. He was a second generation restaurateur who ran the legendary Jasper’s restaurant. Between his cookbooks, radio show, and cooking demonstrations, Chef Jasper is probably the best known chef in town. I was fortunate after my book was released to get to meet Chef Jasper and have some great conversations with him. So when Valentine’s Day can recently, I knew where I wanted to go for dinner. Seeing Chef Jasper in action was a pleasure. It only took one meal to take away some very important lessons on running a successful restaurant from Chef Jasper.
What differentiates Chef Jasper Mirabile from most restaurant owners and chefs is the energy he projects to his guests. Whether it is in the restaurant, at a live appearance, or on the radio, he conveys a passion and a true joy for what he is doing. You get the impression that there is nothing in the world he would rather be doing. People who can convey this to their guests create a following of raving fans. Most of us don’t feel on most days that we are living our dreams. We still love seeing other people live theirs and help in some small way. You know that this is sincere for Chef Jasper in the gratitude that he shows his guests. You feel as if his commitment to excellence is a result of his appreciation to his guests for allowing him to live out this dream. It is a rare trait in such a talented individual. I see it in very few other chef/owners, but I spend every dollar I can eating at the restaurants of those select few.
You may not work in a family owned restaurant or have your name on the door, but here are three lessons you can learn from Chef Jasper:
The Power Of MITH: Chef Jasper proudly proclaims his adherence to a policy he calls MITH. This stands for “Mirabile In The House.” If the doors to the restaurant are open to the public, there is a member of the Mirabile family in the restaurant. At first I looked at this from an operator’s perspective as management floor coverage, but I missed the power of MITH. The guests who walk into Jasper’s know that at all times there is someone in the restaurant empowered to address any issue that may arise. In an industry where guests have become conditioned to believe that complaints should be saved for letters to corporate or Yelp reviews, Jasper has figured out the proper response. Convey to your guests that someone is in the restaurant is completely empowered to handle any complaint, and you will find guests much more likely to bring complaints to light in the restaurant.
Bring The Show: Over a decade ago, I was deboning Dover Sole tableside and igniting Baked Alaska. I watched the excitement this brought to the dining room. Guests love the attention and uniqueness of this sort of tableside presentation. Chef Jasper has taken this to another level with his signature presentation (which has been captured on YouTube below)
Do you think that any guest can leave the restaurant without telling their friends about this part of the meal? Chef Jasper, or his nephew “J3”, performs this demonstration dozens of times a night. Each presentation is done with high energy and each table waits for it to be their turn. This has become their most popular and most profitable appetizer choice.
Don’t Just Touch Tables: I have grown tired of the phrase “table touch.” Corporate restaurants have issued the edict that a manager must touch every table. I have seen too many times when this has turned into a manager going down a row of tables asking, “How is everything tonight?” while barely waiting to hear a response. At Jasper’s a member of the Mirabile family will visit your table. Their goal is not to fulfill a corporate mandate. They are there to form a connection. They intend to express their honest concern about the quality of your meal and express their sincere appreciation for your patronage. This is what every guest at every restaurant wants during their meal. This is infinitely more than a “table touch.”
It is rare that a single visit to a restaurant can teach so many lessons about how to be a better restaurant manager. That is a testament to the level of professionalism and passion of the Mirabile family and Chef Jasper. It is also why after being in business over 30 years, Jasper’s is still a destination restaurant. Chef Jasper understands what his guests want and he delivers. He still gives every impression that he is having more fun than anyone in the dining room. It is the truest expression of the Zig Ziglar quote, “You can have everything in life you want if you if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Jasper delivers for his guests and it keeps his loyal guests coming back to him.