Chef Reimund Pitz: Lessons for Owners & Operators with High Aspirations
Introducing Reimund Pitz
Can you imagine owning a business, a restaurant to be exact, and not spending a single dollar on marketing?
It’s hard to believe, but the fact is Chef Reimund Pitz of Le Coq Au Vin in Orlando, Florida doesn’t spend a single dollar – not one! And not only is the restaurant packed to the brim, it consistently wins awards both locally and nationally.
In his career so far, this WACS Master Chef has been honored with the Southeast Region Hermann G. Rusch Chef’s Achievement Award from the American Culinary Federation (ACF), led the ACF as a national president, achieved a perfect – yes perfect – score in the “Culinary Olympics,” and that’s only a fraction.
Chef Pitz is also heavily involved with many organizations and passionately helps future chefs through coaching and supporting events for their growth. He’s truly doing his part to push the industry forward.
Our questions for Chef Pitz ranged from advice on restaurant ownership, mistakes some owners make, advice for entrepreneurs, philosophies on various business topics, becoming a master chef, and more.
Today, we share some of his responses, in his words, to the various topics we touched on during our time with this incredible chef.
Reimund’s Best Advice
The employees are not just “employees,” they’re extended members of our family. If they’re hungry, all they’ve got to do is ask. We take care of them. If one of them is in trouble, all they got to do is ask. We treat them totally different than companies I may have worked for in the past.
When they’re members of our extended family, we trust their judgment. If there’s a problem and they need to take something off the bill, we take it off the bill. I just want to know why, and I want to know when.
The training and development of all team members is a critical part. You can have terrible service, great food, and customers aren’t coming back. You can have great service, terrible food, and again, they’re never coming back.
Finally, you have to be able to deal with issues, diffuse issues before they become a major issue. That’s with employees and customers.
Hiring & Managing Employees
Number one, the thing that’s very important to me is courtesy, respect, and listening. Even if it’s the dishwasher saying something in the kitchen, I expect people to listen.
Call-ins for the sake of calling in, I don’t tolerate, period. If you call in with a frivolous reason, you’re finished. It’s not fair to the team or establishment.
In my entire career, I’ve called in three times in my life, all of which had a very reason.
Calling in without a good reason, being late and talking back, I don’t tolerate it. The day you own a place, then you can backtalk to people, but even then, I don’t backtalk people.
“You can have terrible service, great food, and customers aren’t coming back. You can have great service, terrible food, and again, they’re never coming back.”Reimund Pitz
A Business Idea Today
A food truck. Actually, I have one almost done. I don’t need to have one, but I’m doing it because, during the slow periods, we’ve got to watch what we’re doing at the restaurant. The food truck will add balance.
With a food truck, you can get in, start it up and drive to where the people are. You can’t pick this restaurant up and drive it to where the people are.
There’s an enormous opportunity in the revolution of food trucks right now that’s unbelievable. I could name you celebrity chefs, one after another, who have food trucks. It’s because you can drive where the business is with minimal expense. Very little expense compared to a brick and mortar business. No property tax, etc. It’s unbelievable.
Becoming a Master Chef
There are very few places in this world that require a chef to have a “master chef certification.” Certification really, to me, it’s a person dedicated to his or her craft who’s willing to do whatever it takes in terms of educating themselves.
Not only from the fundamentals of cooking aspects and the classical method of cooking, but also everything else that goes along with the certified master chef certification. The nutrition, the sanitation, the wine, the spirits, the international cuisine, pastry, baking.
It is a commitment that you should make if you want to be verified by your peers, that you indeed can perform at that level.
Before you attempt it, you ask yourself, “Do I meet those qualifications, or can I meet the points necessary in each element of the certified master chef program that I can pass that?”
It’s not a prerequisite to being successful in business or working for someone. It’s more of personal dedication, achievement, and measuring yourself against your peers.
An Entrepreneurs “Recipe for Success”
The recipe for success is having a clear vision, have a clear understanding of what that vision is, have a check and balance system in place.
I don’t buy into “ideas,” I buy into a vision. People come up with all kinds of ideas, 99.9% of the time they fail. If you have a vision, it requires planning to get there.
Once you have a vision, you then need a plan to get to that vision, to see that vision succeed. You treat this as a responsibility. To me, number one, my family and ultimately my name to make sure that vision becomes a reality, that’s my responsibility.
When you have a plan, you need an implementation process with checks and balances. Make sure the food or service that you’ve selected or offer is of high value to the customer, high quality. Make sure things are executed consistently on a daily basis whether you’re there or not.
So all in all, the most important is the vision. Ideas don’t work, visions do. After that is a plan with checks and balances, and a level of quality, consistency, and execution.
Restaurant Ownership Caution
I just ventured into something else about a year ago. I opened another restaurant. The biggest mistake, and I should have known better and did know better, I let friendship get in the way of my thinking.
Never, ever go into business with anybody that doesn’t know nothing about food. Never, ever.
The other thing that I would recommend to anybody who wants to open a restaurant is thinking about the property itself. You have to determine to lease or buy the property. If you lease, well okay, but you’re making the landowner rich. So at the end of the day, when you’re done and close the door, what do you have? Nothing. If you cannot afford to own the land and the building, watch what you’re doing.
If you are going to lease, be very, very cautious over the fine print numbers in terms of your lease or your monthly rent, whatever it may be.
The Question Before Ownership
It’s simple, can you sustain the restaurant during the slow period? That’s a very difficult question. If you’ve got deep pockets, sure. I’m willing to say the majority of people don’t.
You have to understand the market and the geographical area in terms of the busy and slow period. We all have them. I don’t care what business you’re in.
If you don’t understand your local area where you’re opening a restaurant, it’s a recipe for disaster. Absolute disaster.
You cannot start behind the eight ball, meaning, you can’t open something up in an area where there’s a slow period, and you don’t have the money to sustain. You can’t do it unless you’ve got deep pockets. That’s very important.
“Make sure the food or service that you’ve selected or offer is of high value to the customer, high quality. Make sure things are executed consistently on a daily basis whether you’re there or not.”Reimund Pitz
Marketing the Restaurant
Our restaurant is very unique. It’s a local icon. We don’t spend a single dollar on marketing, not one. Never have. Never will.
That’s because of the reputation, the repeat business and the word of mouth. We win awards consistently. Either first place by editors or by their readers.
That’s not because of my knowledge and skill. That’s because of the leadership and the flexibility I allow all of our team members. If we have a customer that’s been coming here three and four times a month, our staff will treat them to a glass of champagne on us. Those little things go a long way.
When you come here and order, we give customers value. More than they can find somewhere else. We make sure it’s cooked to perfection. And yes, we make mistakes, but 99% of the time it’s to perfection.
We don’t have to spend money on marketing when we focus on three things. Number one, it makes fundamental sense. Number two, it’s cost effective. Number three, most importantly, it adds value to our customer.
Without the customers, you’re nothing, period. I have all the awards you can think of for the restaurant. They don’t mean anything if people aren’t coming through the door, nothing. Without them, you’re finished. We focus on them. We don’t spend anything on marketing. Never have and never will.
Giving Back to the Profession
A wise man by the name of Baron Galand, he’s the past president of ACF, he said, “Reimund, you can keep going to the well and drinking that water. When it runs out, unless you put something back, what’s going to happen?”
Translate that into your profession. There are guys out there that take, take and take. You know something? They criticize and complain but don’t put nothing back.
I’ve spoken in front of 10,000 people about food and cuisine, about competition, about independent restaurant ownership. Mind you, for some stuff I get paid, but when it starts getting into helping cooks and professional cooks, I don’t take money.
I’ve been a graduation speaker at Johnson & Wales, Le Cordon Bleu, CIA, the old California Culinary Academy. I don’t take any money. When it comes to that, it’s giving back to my profession. That is a way for me to say thank you to a profession that has been very good to me over the years.
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