Producing a memorable meal isn’t the lone act of a rock star chef. Anyone in the business knows that cooks, hosts, dishwashers, servers, sommeliers, runners, and managers all work together to craft an experience for guests (and contribute to the bottom line). While most restaurants fail to convey that team spirit to diners, 2004 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Jose Garces wants everyone dining at Philadelphia's Tinto to know exactly who’s responsible for their meals, which is why Garces includes staff names on his menu there. The menu caught our eye last October, with more than 60 staff names proudly emblazoned on its pages. We asked Garces about this simple act, and how he continues to inspire a restaurant group that has grown from one restaurant in 2005 to 15 restaurants and a food truck—and about 850 employees—in 2013.
Caroline Hatchett: Why do you include the names of your staff members on your Tinto menu? Jose Garces: I have long said that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without my talented, dedicated team of fellow professionals, both front of house and back of house. Including their names on our menus is a powerful way for me to give credit where credit is due—and introduce my guests to our family of up-and-coming culinary stars.
CH: How long have you printed your menus with staff names? JG: When I worked with Douglas Rodriguez at Chicama in New York City, and later at Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, we included the staff’s names on our menu, and I liked the way it drew guests’ attention to everyone responsible for their meal with us, not just one chef. I first began crediting the staff when I opened Tinto in early 2007, and it appealed to me. A restaurant is a group effort, and a memorable meal is a team undertaking.
CH: What are the benefits? JG: My staff knows how important they are to me, but I like to be sure that our guests know it, too. It’s a small gesture, really, but it’s one that helps to direct the gratitude that people feel for a special experience among everyone who helped to create it.
CH: How long do cooks typically stay in your kitchens? Is it above average, or do you have to change the menus fairly frequently? JG: As the executive chef at each of my restaurants, all of my menus are ultimately mine, but I firmly believe that I have the best team of chefs de cuisine and sous chefs in the business. I like to give them freedom to experiment and grow, particularly with nightly specials and menu additions. I think that when people know they are trusted and supported, they are able to do really exceptional work, and, in turn, they tend to stay in one place longer. To that end, our turnover tends to be much lower than in other restaurant groups I’ve seen.
CH: Does it incur any extra cost for the restaurant group to reprint menus with new names? JG: Because my cooking is ingredient-driven, our menus change often to reflect seasonal adjustments, as well as new and different dishes alongside our favorites. So we print frequently enough that it’s not an issue. To be honest, our menu items probably change more often than the staff does!
CH: What is your overall philosophy on staff retention and promotion? JG: Hire the best people you can find. Train them carefully and thoughtfully. Give them room to thrive. Reward exceptional effort. This approach has never failed me.
CH: What other steps—small and large—do you take to keep your team happy? JG: We’re a close-knit group—which sounds funny for such a large crew, but it’s true. Many of my team members started with me at Amada when we opened in 2005 and have stayed with us ever since, whether in the same capacity—yes, some of our floor staff is the same!—or in a management or supervisory role at one of the other restaurants. My original general manager, Melissa Scully, now serves as the VP of operations for the entire group, and I couldn’t have custom-ordered a more effective person to take the reins as our group has grown.
CH: How has your philosophy on retaining staff evolved as Garces Group has grown over the years? JG: Truthfully, there isn’t much to retaining good people. You have to seek them out and hire them in the first place, and then you have to nurture and develop their talents and give them room to grow as appropriate. I consider myself incredibly lucky every day to be surrounded by this team, and there isn’t much that I wouldn’t do to keep them happy.