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What makes a kosher restaurant work?

  • RestaurantsFranjelicas
Some kosher restaurants in Johannesburg are around only briefly and others last so long, they become institutions. Why?
by JORDAN MOSHE | May 03, 2018

The longevity of a kosher establishment seems to depend on certain non-negotiable conditions. Chief among these is customer service.

“The first impression at an eatery is made by its service,” says Judy Mindel, full-time mashgicha and function manager at Gary Friedman Caterers. “It determines so much of the success of a meal.”

Although they commend certain restaurants on the quality of their food and their popularity, Friedman and Mindel – who both understand food and are consumers of kosher restaurant food – believe that service standards can improve at kosher restaurants.

“Interpersonal connections with customers are sorely lacking,” says Mindel. “Getting the attention of waiters at some places is almost impossible, and often going to the counter to settle the bill is preferable to waiting for the waiter to bring it.”

Situated in the heart of Glenhazel, Frangelicas restaurant has been in existence for 10 years and is one of the longest-running brands in our community. Owners Simon and Elana Godley believe that the key to a restaurant’s survival is its goodwill and its efforts to support its customers. “We feel that Frangelicas is a hub in the community, a place where people know your name and where you feel you belong,” says Elana.

“We follow up on all our complaints,” says Simon. “When we have done something wrong, we address it. Even when we’ve done nothing. Sometimes people don’t like a change in a recipe and don’t welcome innovation. Even then we apologise and maintain consistency with what people want and expect. That is key.”

Customers can be difficult to deal with, adds Elana. “We know that it can be difficult to serve Jewish customers. Our customers want immediate gratification where food is concerned, and you can never expect a hungry person to be rational. As unreasonable as their behaviour might be, we try to meet their demands.”

When a kosher community is limited in its choice of restaurants, it is likely that competition would be a key driver in an eatery’s performance. Not so, says Elana. “ A restaurant needs to up its game every single day and compete with the standards it set the day before. The desire to grow is a motivational issue from within and is not dependent on competition. When you base your performance on your competition, you take your customers for granted and business is bound to fail.”

Instead of competing, she maintains that restaurants would do better to coordinate with one another. “Outside the kosher industry, restaurants survive through collaboration,” Elana says. “Inside, it’s all driven by competition. The truth is that if restaurants focus on their key areas of expertise, stop trying to do everything and co-operate with one another constantly, they can all succeed.”

Other restaurateurs disagree. Based in Glenhazel for 15 years, Michelos Pizzeria caters for the kosher community. “Simply being kosher used to be enough,” says manager Justin Baskin. “However, every year is tougher than the next. While kosher establishments should avoid being enemies, it’s not necessary to co-ordinate and strategise jointly. It’s enough to be on good terms and to know one another, as we all face the same issues.

“People keep kosher by choice, and with a limited budget for eating out, they want to get value for their money and experience no dissatisfaction. As a family restaurant, we aim to cater for the needs of every family member and we listen to our customers, even when they’re wrong. Jewish customers are challenging to deal with at times – they won’t remember the 80 good meals they had, but will never forget the one when the waiter forgot to add something to the dish. Every time, we apologise and give them what they want.

“Although these people account for less than 5% of our clients overall, if we don’t treat them like this, business would die. If we approach everything with consistency, from customer relations to the food, we stand a better chance.

“A restaurant fails or succeeds based on its own merit. We can never rest on our laurels. Restaurants today are difficult to open and run. Rather than expand into different areas, focusing on one strength can make a restaurant great.”

Elana and Friedman agree, saying: “Everyone is trying to do everything these days to survive. But you cannot be a jack of all trades. Choose one area and invest all your efforts in it.”

Adds Friedman: “You need to know your product, your people and your place.”

He mentions that while the Beth Din’s change of policy regarding the awarding of kashrut licences is a welcome change, it opens the floodgates for restaurants to step into areas about which they know nothing.

“An open market makes for healthy competition,” he says. “It keeps us on our toes. But when anyone can do anything and there’s no control, standards can drop and quality will suffer.”

Restaurants seem cognisant of the limited budgets people have. Says Baskin: “Sadly, we do operate for profit as a business, and people need to understand this. We are forced to put our prices up every year because of our supply cost increases. I won’t deny that R107 for a salad is not cheap, but if you consider its components and the effort is requires, it makes sense. Still, we are always looking for cost-effective routes, but will not compromise on quality.”

“We don’t only transact with our customers,” says Elana. “The truth is that we lose money in trying to offer the best we can to the Jewish community and try to meet their needs as individuals.”

The restaurant business is tough, but it is clear that knowing one’s market is vital.

“Many people try very hard to get things right in a business, but don’t always get the reward,” say the Godleys. “We have been blessed with success. The restaurant trade is a work in progress. It’s all about continual innovation and establishing a sound philosophy on which to do business. The basics matter.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Dennis Feinberg 03 May
    Well done! It is about time that the above points are integrated into the very ethos of every kosher establishment. There are however still some proprietors that have not heard of the concept that "the customer is always right", but rush to the defense of an incompetent server/waiter.
    Something is fishy, do they not train their staff  in basic standards of customer care. It makes no "cents" to argue with the patron, just so that you can be in the right.

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