Client Spotlight: Mike Rufo of Eddie Merlot’s

Meet Mike Rufo the General Manager of Eddie Merlot’s. He’s been in the hospitality business for 20 years in serving and management. Most of his time has been spent in fine dining steakhouses like the Clean Plate Club in Evanston, Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, and Gibson’s. He enjoys the steakhouse atmosphere because it’s all about hospitality. People come to a steakhouse for the experience or to celebrate – a business deal, anniversary, birthday – and Mike likes to make sure their experience is special.

Venga: How does the guest experience differ at Eddie Merlot’s vs. other places you’ve worked?
Mike: “Distinctly different” is our slogan. Our setting is a little more unique than other steakhouses. We have open windows, lots of light colors, and less dark wood. Women in business is one of our focuses so we want the space to appeal to them.

Venga: How do you track and acknowledge VIPs?
Mike: We train our staff heavily to use OpenTable to its full capabilities. We capture a guest’s name and phone number and use guest codes to track our frequent dining club members. We also use reservation codes for special events like birthdays or anniversaries. Our servers and managers use chits. If we have their address we’ll have their server send a post card thanking them, which I think is a really special touch.

Venga: How do you prepare pre shift for that night?
Mike: Every night the staff who’s working will meet pre shift. We prepare a game plan for parties, special tables, chef’s specials, items we don’t have that night, etc. As a company we have guidelines or “steps of service” that we’ll remind the staff of weekly. It’s full of things like hitting every table, using the guest’s name two times during meal, etc. We take feedback from guests throughout the week and taste any item that had complaints (i.e. server didn’t know the crab cake well).

Venga: How do you handle dissatisfied guests? Which social media sites do you monitor? Do you actively request feedback?
Mike: Venga sends us a daily feedback report with reviews from OpenTable, Yelp, etc, which I immediately respond to. If a mistake in service has happened once it’s probably happened 15 times. Every morning we call three people from night before to ask for feedback, and we get tons of great insights that way. I find so many times guests who have bad experience turn into your biggest supporters if you take the time to reach out. They realize you’re there for them.