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Zagat: What are some of the special challenges of owning a restaurant in LA?
One of the challenges is that so many of the staff here in LA look at the restaurant business as a temporary job. It is not their vocation; it is not their ambition. Most people in the restaurant business here are like the old joke - “Actress! I mean, Waitress!” They come to town and they need temporary employment. But often it becomes permanent before they go home with their dreams unfulfilled. But most of my staff have really been working with me a long time. That’s what I think is so interesting about Vanderpump Rules because it is a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on between the staff, and a lot of their bad behavior. I have seen it and have not been happy about their behavior outside the restaurant. I honestly say that if a lot of employers saw what their employees got up to outside of work most of them wouldn’t have a job on Monday morning.
Zagat: What are some of the most important qualities you look for in staff when you are hiring at Sur?
A lot people have asked, “Are they hired because of how they look?” That would be ridiculous because nearly every single person who works at Sur is a friend of a friend of a friend, so it’s like we actually never had to actively look for staff. It is always, “Can my girlfriend come and join us?” But they do have to be somewhat gregarious and maybe somewhat more precocious than others to work at Sur, because it is that sort of an environment and the whole feeling is quite avant-garde. It can be pretty fast-paced and it gets busy and a little crazy, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. I need servers that step it up.
Zagat: What is the Vanderpump “golden rule” of restaurant management?
There are so many I could write my own handbook on this one. I know I got criticized last week on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, when I said, “The customer is always right.” I was criticized last week for saying to Stassi that, “Your opinion is not important” after she had upset an important customer. But it had already gone down, and there were already witnesses. I was aware of what had gone down so I wasn’t going to indulge her in her side of the story. I know how precocious Stassi could be, so she wasn’t going to win this battle. I know it sounds cliché, but the customer is nearly always right. The customer comes in there, they want a great experience, and that is my responsibility to give it to them.
Zagat: How do you describe your approach to restaurants?
I am very ambiance driven. As important as the food is, I love the huge flower arrangements, I love the great lighting, I love music, I love a complete experience. When people say to me, “Come to this little hole in the wall where the food is great,”…I’m not interested. I want the whole nine yards. At my restaurants I like people to feel like they could relax, like they could have a glass of wine at lunchtime. I like it to feel eclectic and European. In Europe many people drink at lunchtime. Here, not so much. People here think, “Oh my god! I’ve been drinking at lunchtime, I should be off to Betty Ford!”
Zagat: What are some of your favorite restaurants around the world?
Gianni Pedrinelli’s in Sardinia. San Lorenzo in London. Cinquante-Cinq on the beach in St. Tropez. And I love La Colombe d’or in Saint-Paul de Vence.
Zagat: How much do critical reviews affect your business?
They do affect my business. I’m not looking to compete with world-class restaurants in any shape or form, because that is not going to happen. But we are what we are. Nobody does a better crispy chicken than we do at Sur. Nobody does a better meatloaf, mashed potatoes and white gravy, or a bit of sangria. And if it is not working, we take it off. Of course it hurts sometimes if you do get negative reviews but you have to look at them constructively and then adapt it. At the same time you can’t let one person change something if you believe it is working. Everything is a learning curve and with being on Housewives, I have never said in the 85 episodes I shot, “Take it out!” or “What’s in there? I don’t want you to show this or that.” I think life is a learning curve and if you see things you don’t like on screen and if you read reviews you’re not sure of, take from it what you may, learn from it. I always say, “I said it. I don’t like that I said it. Maybe I shouldn’t have said it. But I own it and will learn from it.” I think that’s the same in a restaurant. If someone doesn’t like something, then just learn from it.
Vanderpump Rules premieres at 9pm/EST, January 7 on Bravo