The One Ingredient Found in Every Top Restaurant and Cocktail Bar


Finely ground coffee, extracted at 200° F, with 9 bars of pressure. A deceptively simple method resulting in an exceptionally complex expression of the coffee bean. The welcoming aroma and oily crema invite you to enjoy the sweet nectar immediately – or so I thought. I overheard a conversation this week in which a gentleman was explaining to a barista that he preferred to wait 10 to 15 minutes after he pulled his espresso shots before consuming them. The man passionately explained that his preference for this method was due to the change in mouthfeel and flavor. While no one could argue the validity of his observation, many know that espresso should be consumed immediately because the oils sour and the volatile aromatic compounds dissipate. What I witnessed next was not what I would have expected from a coffee shop known for enforcing strict rules regarding how their coffee is consumed. The man’s enthusiasm was not stifled by swift criticism of his unusual method of consumption, rather the barista continued to listen and recommended ideal beans for espresso. I then realized that while my path to learning about coffee started about 10 years ago, there are people who have just had that light bulb moment and realized what good coffee actually tastes like.

We are currently in what has been dubbed the “third wave” of coffee. This “third wave” positions coffee as an artisanal product rather than a commodity, and I think that this broad appreciation of coffee has opened the doorway to the same level of respect for food and cocktails. The number of books, apps, websites, and YouTube channels is endless, and Amazon Prime has kitchen and bar tools a click away from arriving at your doorstep. Information on how to replicate these experiences is more accessible than ever, yet enthusiasts’ desire remains insatiable. Not only is the era of exclusive knowledge extinct, but the DIY epicurean experience is a reality. However, replication is not duplication, and there is a reason that even knowledgeable enthusiasts are willing to pay for these experiences.

“Not only is the era of exclusive knowledge extinct, but the DIY epicurean experience is a reality.”

Renown restaurateur, Danny Meyer, does not simply strive for great service in his establishments, but aims for what he calls “enlightened hospitality”. (The same Danny Meyer who caused a stir last year when he said that he was going to ban tipping in his restaurants.) Meyer boils this philosophy down to five core principles which all revolve around empathy. He hires people who exhibit those empathetic qualities, then teaches the supplemental skills. These core qualities allow employees to develop emotional one-on-one connections that go beyond the bounds of basic customer service.

Education is one of the simplest ways to reinforce this connection, and it provides a great value proposition to both parties. For the establishment it means securing a regular customer with an appreciation for a particular niche. This enthusiast also becomes an evangelist, recommending the establishment to peers who see him as an authority on the subject. For the enthusiast this means receiving education from someone they respect for their experience, but it goes beyond education. Education is just the dissemination of knowledge, and the era of exclusive knowledge is extinct. In this way, education is just another tool. It’s something that adds value, but no longer has the ability to differentiate in a significant way. With the right knowledge and tools a recipe can be replicated, but when an establishment provides a unique experience and elicits an emotional response it can’t be duplicated. The secret sauce can’t be found in a recipe book, it’s found in dynamic experience combined with social connection. Despite gadgets that pour precise cocktails and sous vides that cook the perfect steak, we will always find value in social connection regardless of how much more cost-effective it is to replicate the experience at home.

“The secret sauce can’t be found in a recipe book, it’s found in dynamic experience combined with social connection.”

I’m not certain how the budding espresso enthusiast fared. I would like to think that he has since established a rapport and will continue to expand his palate and learn. There was probably a time in each of our lives when we raved about Starbucks, loved endless salad and bread sticks at Olive Garden, and maybe even drank Budweiser. Maybe you still enjoy one of the aforementioned items, but what I think is more likely is that you have a connection with someone who does. Rather than being condescending towards their preference, we should reinforce the connection and share our epicurean knowledge to those that are genuinely inquisitive. Share the experiences we savor in the presence of those we have made a connection with. Not only will it be more meaningful, but we’ll all have a more fulfilling experience as a result.


Update: I came across this short video featuring Danny Meyer giving his 10 tips to being a better host. These tips are a great addition to this post, particularly for individuals looking to invest a small amount of additional effort in order to maximize the experience of their guests.

Additional Reading and Information:
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
This is my current read, and I’m loving it. Not every business needs to be built to scale in order to be successful. Specific info on Danny Meyer was referenced in Chapter 4 – Ties That Bind.)

Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
This is a book by Danny Meyer that’s in my reading queue. I’ve heard great things about it from industry friends.

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
I recently read this older Huffington Post article on addiction and it’s underlying cause. I think it does a good job at reinforcing the importance that connection has in our lives.

Shout out to David Gilbert for letting me use his photo for this article. Give him a follow on Instagram.

If you need a humor break, this old SNL skit came to my mind when I was thinking about how pretentious people can be with their knowledge.

I personally wanted to say, thanks for reading this. Sometimes the best inspiration comes when you least expect it. I had no plan on writing on this topic, but it came out of an amalgamation of conversations, observations, thoughts, and reading over the past week that all meshed together. I hope the thoughts came out with some level of cohesion. I’d love to hear any feedback on this post whether it be in the form of a comment, email, or face-to-face conversation. I want to know what you think.

2 thoughts on “The One Ingredient Found in Every Top Restaurant and Cocktail Bar

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your observations here. Jon Taffer, of Bar Rescue, has said of the bar and restaurant industry “We’re not in the bar business, we’re in the business of positive reactions” (paraphrased). Positive reactions create repeat customers and brand enthusiasts.

    It’s not “hard” to create these positive reactions when you know what you need to look for. Positive reactions are not always a post on social media, review on Yelp! or other verbal / written response, while they certainly can be these things often times positive reactions are body language. It’s the way a guy sits up straight when a sizzling plate of fajitas is placed on his table, or the way girl’s eyes light up when you flame an orange peel over her Cosmo.

    It’s old industry know (which I’m sure is documented somewhere, I just don’t know where) that guests who have a positive will only tell a few people about their experience, whereas guests who have a negative experience will tell 7-10 of their friends. Clearly this puts us at a disadvantage which in my mind only enforces the importance of the need to cultivate positive reactions.

    Positive reactions also present themselves when we’re out from behind the bar or after we’ve taken off our chef’s hat. Several months ago I was at the liquor store looking for a new gin to try and a lady lightly tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could help her, I think she thought I worked there. She sheepishly asked me the difference between a bottle of Hendricks gin and Bols genever. In my mind I thought what an excellent opportunity to teach someone about two different but related spirits. We engaged in conversation for a few more minutes and it was a pleasure to see a small spark in her eye as her mind was opened to a new nugget of knowledge. Not sure exactly what she ended up going with but these are my favorite positive reactions.

    Again, great observations.

    – Cheers!

    1. mm

      Thanks for reading Seth. I also appreciate the added feedback. It all comes down to the experience and connection. 🙂 I need to check out Bar Rescue!

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