The Importance of Pre-Meal

On January 13, 2009, we opened our restaurant, Shogun, in Delmar, NY and my father held our first pre-meal inside the kitchen. As the first of the soft-opening customers trickled through the front door, he shared this nugget of instruction:

“This is how you pour miso soup.”

We were about to open a Japanese restaurant — and we didn’t know how to serve the soup.

This is like asking for garlic bread at The Olive Garden and your server saying, “Garlic what?”

Case Studies: The Difference Pre-Meal Makes

I always thought pre-meal was the best part of a shift. Our pre-meals improved steadily: my father eventually moved past the soup, and instead, he’d remind us what was ’86ed, what the specials were, and what we should push that evening.

But it wasn’t my favorite part because I learned anything new, or made me feel more prepared.

I’ll get to what made pre-meal special in a moment. First, it’s worth noting how seriously other restaurants take their pre-meal. 

At Eleven Madison Park, for example, the maitre d will Google the name of every guest that evening. If he finds out a guest is from say, Detroit, and he knows a server is from there, he’ll put them together. If it’s a couple’s anniversary, he’ll figure out which anniversary

Before guests even step foot into Eleven Madison Park, they’re looking for ways to blow their minds.

This is part of the reason why Eleven Madison Park dominates — even though they only offer a $195 pre-fixe meal.

In a paper titled Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers applied principles similar to the pre-meal to the fundraising process.

At the University of Michigan, researchers arranged for one group of call center works to interact with scholarship students who benefited from the school’s fundraising — a five-minute, informal chat where they discussed the students’ studies.

How much of a difference did it make?

Callers who interacted with the students spent twice as long on the phone, and brought in an average of more than $300 more a week ($503.22, up from $185.94).

It’s the Act That Matters

What made my father’s pre-meal meeting special wasn’t the information, but the act. The act of taking the time to gather everyone together, to put everything on hold to talk to us.

The act spoke for itself. It said, “this is important. The work you do here, treating other people with respect and providing service, is important.”

If you’ve worked in restaurants, you know how difficult it can be to summon an ounce of good will into your shift. I swear, something about dining in a restaurant can bring out the nastiest, prickliest, and rudest demeanor in a person.

(Anyone who disagrees with that statement… you haven’t worked in a restaurant long enough.)

Looking back on my 13 years of working in restaurants, the evenings we had a pre-meal were the occasions I brought my best to my work.

Thinking about this leaves me with two questions:

How do we bake pre-meal into  any organization, regardless of the industry? Take for example, the Hollywood internship: I’m not convinced interns sue because they’re not making money. They sue because they feel they’re being exploited. But if an unpaid intern knows she’s appreciated, and her work matters, does it matter she’s temporarily working for free?

How do we build this into our lives? For those moments of the grind, when we’re in the dip, how can we systematically remind ourselves, “Keep going – this work is hard because this work is important”?

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