Infusing Family Recipes with Innovative Dining
Chef Jason Helfer has created an employee culture at his family restaurant, Peasant Village, that shines through in the elevated customer service they provide.
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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.
The menu at Peasant Village may have family recipes dating back to the 18th century, but the feeling inside the San Angelo restaurant is anything but old fashioned. Warm and modern, it's unlike any other dining experience in the small West Texas town where it has thrived for almost thirty years.
Everyone who walks in the door at Chef Jason Helfer's restaurant is given the VIP treatment, and Yelp Elite reviewer Josh H. felt that on his very first visit. "From the moment you walk in, it feels high end but not pretentious. You feel VIP even though you're not necessarily VIP. The caliber of professionalism of the hosts, the look in the modernity of the venue, just feels different than anything else in San Angelo," he said.
The VIP treatment-for-all is an intentional customer experience that started from the chef's own dining frustrations. "We got tired of going to restaurants and being ignored. Our waitress would come around, five minutes, 10 minutes [later]," Jason said. When opening Peasant Village in 1995 with his father and business partner, "It was to be understood at the very beginning that quality service and making sure that [customers are] comfortable and happy is a good chunk of the experience."
Jason also revealed that if the experience is top notch but the food is having an off day, customers will give the restaurant another chance based on the service, but not if the situation were reversed. "The food has to be equal to customer service because some people will come back because the service is just incredible. They will."
The fantastic customer experience starts with the staff and employee culture at Peasant Village. After working in top restaurants across the U.S. and Europe, Jason grew weary of the way restaurant staff were treated. So when he opened his own restaurant, he decided to take a different approach, citing that self-care is crucial to the happiness of his employees.
"I give them the opportunity to take care of, first of all, themselves. I wanna make sure that their mind is right when they come in. I wanna make sure they're in a good mood, they're happy, and they wanna be there. And then we go into service, and I let them create their own persona. It gives them the opportunity to either be themselves or be someone else," Jason said.
That can mean taking time off or a quick breather if things aren't going well. It's not often that staff in a busy restaurant are encouraged to take a moment to rest, but Jason believes it's crucial to their well-being and happiness, which in turn encourages great customer service.
"I just make sure that they're comfortable and that they're happy. When that happens, it all works itself out. And if they're having a bad day, I say, 'You know what I'd like for you to do? Go sit outside, go across the park for 15, 20 minutes. Gather your thoughts together. And if that doesn't happen, and you're still in this frame of mind, then go and take the evening off.'"
While the Peasant Village team prioritizes the customer experience, Jason knows that critical reviews will happen—but that they also have their place in a small business.
"Everybody deserves their opinion, and sometimes their opinions are either spot on or they're not correct. And I would address it accordingly. So when people give me good reviews, I am very appreciative. And if they give me bad reviews, I'm also appreciative because it's maybe something I need to correct or something I have ignored," Jason shared.
He is also keenly aware that upon occasion, a critical review can have very little to do with the actual experience at Peasant Village, and he recognizes the importance of keeping that perspective when reading all reviews.
"I'm as honest as you're gonna get with whether the reviews are good or bad. I have good reviews. I have bad reviews. The bad reviews, I listen to it, I see it, and then I also talk to my staff and say, 'Can we go over this and why this individual wrote this?' And sometimes it's the client that came in, they were in a bad mood, and there's nothing you can do to get 'em out of that."
Besides extending VIP hospitality to all and taking care of his patrons, Chef Helfer shared a number of additional tools for maintaining a successful business, including:
- Consistency in product offerings can be balanced with new things, if done correctly. Keeping a balance between customer favorites and new menu items is crucial for small restaurants; it eliminates boredom on the chef's side but keeps favorite items on the menu for regulars.
- Involving your staff in changes to menus or products can help build morale. Giving employees a chance to implement change can give them a sense of ownership in the business.
- Connection to the community is essential in building and maintaining a small business. Jason believes involving yourself in the neighborhood and community shows you want to invest in the area around your business and make it better for everyone.
Listen to the episode below to hear Emily's conversation with Jason and Josh, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.