Service is the lifeblood of a restaurant. Regardless of how good (or bad) the food is, the service is often the lasting impression. Recently we asked you all to nominate and vote for the best service team, best individual server, and best service oriented bartender in our second annual Best Service awards.
Throughout both the nomination and voting process it became clear that restaurants who hire customer focused talent tend to do well as an entire team. All 5 finalists for best overall service team also had multiple individuals nominated for their categories. You can also see a large company-wide philosophy of hiring quality servers from restaurant groups like Yellow Rocket Concepts who received a large number of nominations across Big Orange, Heights Taco, and Local Lime, as well as smaller groups like the Pantry, Raduno/The Fold, Cheers/Samantha’s Tap Room who all received high nominations for multiple people from each organization.
“We have made huge strides in service, and a lot of it was compartmentalizing our company. When we hired Jennifer (Armstrong) she really pushed us to pay highly competitive wages to attract and keep the best people,” Yellow Rocket Concepts owner Scott McGehee says. “She showed us that if we invest strongly in our people then we will get the money back ten fold without ever having to increase prices. We found out it was absolutely true.”
Amazingly, when we comparing the winners, runners up, and top nominations, there is a correlation to revenue. Looking at the last version of the restaurant revenue list, most of our top customer service restaurants also bring in the best revenue. Customers come back more frequently when a restaurant has quality service, leading to fewer slow nights.
“I feel like we get a little better each day,” McGehee says. “We are a lot better than we were a year ago, a little better than yesterday, and hopefully not quite as good as we will be tomorrow.”
This year we received over 200 unique individual nominations and over 40 individual restaurant nominations. The fact is that there are some very good restaurants putting customers first in Little Rock. When you have a great service experience thank your server, tip them a little extra, and drop us a line about how great it was and we will even help you brag on them. Good service can make the local food scene incredible.
Here are your 2016 winners.
Best Service Team – Big Orange
This category was close all the way to the end and very little separated first from last. All of these restaurants put a tremendous focus on customer service from the moment you walk in until you leave.
From our experience, Big Orange and all of Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurants have made a huge improvement this year over last thanks to a tighter focus on overall experience. If something goes wrong the team not only wants to know about it, but they make it their mission to learn from it.
Runner up – The Pantry
Best Server – Joann “JoJo” Sims (Cache)
Fewer than four votes separated the top two in this category. Each of these individuals do an amazing job raising the overall profile and service reputation of their restaurants.
There is just something special about JoJo, she is equal parts caring and total badass. It is her unique personality and amazing attention to detail that has people fighting over tables in her section at Cache. It is not just Cache either, her long history of amazing service in Little Rock has inspired others since 1992.
Runner Up – Brad Knighten (Big Orange)
Best Bartender – Jarrod Johnson (Big Orange)
We tried to make a clear distinction in this category. Bartending is equal parts cocktail skill and service. A good bartender is your best friend because they spend more time with a customer than any other service position.
All of the bartenders listed can make great drinks, our winner Jarrod Johnson honestly makes the less of them than anyone else. “There are a lot of guys out there who make better drinks than me,” Johnson says. “I just try to put my heart into the position when I am behind the bar.” Johnson has a loyal following at Big Orange, a lot of it comes from his compassion for others. Same can be said about every other bartender who received a nomination.
Runner Up – Cody Mayes (Heights Taco & Tamale Co)