The 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Restaurateur

Our writer dices the thoughts and works of Richard Melman, the impresario of the Lettuce Entertain You dining emprire, to discover the secrets of his success in and out of the kitchen

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It sounds like the most trite cliché but, unaccountably, Melman is a regular guy. He wears jeans and sneakers. He is not bombastic. Unlike some restaurateurs who will go nameless, he would never dream of embarrassing his staff. I witnessed this equanimity firsthand during a lunch at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, his Miami import on East Grand Avenue. Sampling a seafood salad, he paused to extract a small pea-size tidbit from between his teeth. “Cartilage from the crab,” he explained.

Who but Melman would admit to such a gaffe while dining with a reporter? Furthermore, I doubted the chef would be receiving a tirade after I left. Melman is not of the screaming restaurateur school. Demean people, he believes, and they make more mistakes, not fewer. Arrogance has no place in the Lettuce culture or in Melman’s personal ethos. He says things like “It’s the responsibility of the leader to make other people successful” and “The business is not about you. It’s about how we connect to our guests. We’re in the service business.”

Of chief executive officer Brown, he says, “He does all the work and I get all the credit.”

Melman has several high-end restaurants, such as Everest, run by the award-winning chef Jean Joho, and Tru. But you will not find him exclaiming over towers of root vegetables in pools of raspberry sauce. “Give me a nice bread, a salad, and a bowl of pasta,” Melman says, “and I’m a happy guy.”



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