“Restaurant Stakeout” is the undercover new program on Food Network hosted by Willie Degel, owner of several successful steakhouses in New York City. He plants hidden cameras in failing restaurants and discovers the reason/s they experience low sales, unhealthy happenings in the kitchen, and poor service. His claim to fame is that he does the same thing in his own restaurants, which are well run and thriving.
On this episode, titled “That’s Money Out the Door,” he heard from Anna Maria Santorelli, the owner of Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant in Larchmont, New York. Recently her restaurant has struggled, and the online reviews give bad service as the main reason. So in comes Willie Degel with his hidden cameras and microphones to get to the bottom of the problem, once and for all.
The restaurant was her mother’s legacy, and she died four years ago. Anna Maria wants to keep her mother’s memory through her recipes and for everything she learned from her. The food is excellent, but without service, customers get disillusioned.
As Anna Maria and Willie watch, they see a waiter who does not know the menu, a manager with no people skills. Customers wait for menus and finally leave without being served.
Another customer sends back a plate and is charged for both that and the replacement dish. The customer asks for the manager and gets no satisfaction as Anna Maria and Willie watch in horror as they nickel and dime the place right out of business.
A waiter has no clue what wines would go with entrees. So in go the decoys from Willie. An older and younger woman come in and ask for a sampling of the gluten-free pasta, and the kitchen staff is not happy. Willie keeps reminding Anna Maria that there is another restaurant down the block.
The place has no systems and no protocols. Anna Maria has to either retrain the staff or find new people. When a lover’s quarrel breaks out in the restaurant, the manager does nothing to quell the argument, then finally when she goes over, she is apologetic and not firm. The woman finally throws a drink in the guy’s face and hits another customer. When the manager goes to see the customer that got hit with the drink, she offers him an after-dinner drink. The next couple come in and ask to substitute spinach for broccoli rabe and are told that there will be a $2 extra charge. So the customers get up and leave.
Finally Willie and Anna Maria go in to talk to the staff. He reprimands the manager for her penny-wise/pound-foolish. Willie met with each staff member to give them the info about what they needed to do. Jennifer, the manager explained her theory of why she was the way she was and explained that the front of the house is different from the back of the house.
Six weeks later, Willie returned to find a busy restaurant with happy knowledgeable staff and an owner with a smile on her face who knows that the front of the restaurant is running efficiently thanks to Willie Degel and “Restaurant Stakeout.”
Photo of Larchmont train station: Wikimedia by author Larchmonterite