John Dettori, director of Dining Services for Lackmann Culinary Services at Tiffany & Co. in New York and New Jersey, admits he is a “talker.” It is this skill, he says, that has made him adept at customer service throughout his more than two decades in foodservice. His work managing three Tiffany & Co. dining centers, (one in New York City and two in New Jersey) earned him the honor of being named Lackmann Culinary Services’ Manager of the Year in November 2009
“John has done some amazing things within our cafeteria operation, bringing it to the next level over this past year with promotional and theme days,” says Ron Pedersen, district manager for Lackmann Culinary Services. “Our guests are excited when visiting our café operations because they know they will always be served by a friendly team member. During the past year our café operations were showing a loss, but with menu improvements, staff training and guest relations the account has seen major improvements in the year-to-date financials and it’s all because of John’s vast knowledge of the foodservice industry.”
Renovation revolution: Dettori says of all his accomplishments with Tiffany’s, one he is most proud of is the gut renovation he managed when he took over the account five years ago.
“When I first came to Tiffany’s, I went into the New York City location and we gutted it,” Dettori says. “ We went from concrete floors and steel beams and built it from the floor up. I’ve opened a lot of cafeterias, but that one was literally from the ground up. I never had the experience of helping decide ‘are we going to tile this, are we going to paint that?’ When I got there, I worked with the area coordinator and we came up with the layout of the floor. Originally they wanted an open grill, but they wanted only a certain number of staff so I told them an open grill wouldn’t be possible. So we didn’t go with an open grill. I like to give service, but I like to give service more when customers will actually receive it. Since the renovation, that location went from selling about $500 a day to about $1,000 per day, which has since declined to about $800 per day because of recent layoffs.”
The renovation in the city also prompted calls for environmentally friendly disposables, to which the company responded by rolling out a compostable disposables program that launched last month.
“The Going Green program really started five years ago when we opened the Manhattan cafeteria and people were saying, if you’re opening this beautiful facility, we should make some ‘green’ changes,” Dettori says. “They ended up pushing all the right buttons and finally Tiffany’s came in and made a tremendous investment in these disposables. The regular plastic forks are about $20 per case. The corn resin forks are like $45 per case, and we go through a lot of them because we use almost 100% disposables in the city. In New Jersey, I’m pushing for half disposables and half china, but for whatever reason people like the disposable containers. We had unbelievable feedback leading up to the program’s first day. There were people running up to me saying they were so happy we finally made the switch.”
Watching costs: Dettori says he always knew he wanted to be work with food.
“My grandmother was a lunch lady and she was a fantastic cook,” Dettori says. “All my brothers and sisters can cook. That’s how we grew up. From that I always knew this was what I wanted to do.”
After working in restaurants during his teenage years, he graduated from Johnson & Wales with a culinary management degree. After graduation, Dettori worked in several restaurants on Long Island before taking a job with Lackmann Culinary Services.
“I didn’t even know this part of the business existed,” Dettori says. “I had a roommate from college who was an area coordinator for Lackmann, and he said, I have a job for you if you want it. I worked at the Bank of Tokyo, which was very high end. I worked at the New York Stock Exchange, where I got to serve Martha Stewart after she rang the bell. After that I went to the Rockefeller Foundation, where I got to serve President Carter, Bob Vila and Yo Yo Ma. Then five years ago, I came to Tiffany’s, and they’ve wanted me to stay ever since.”
Dettori says it was his background as a chef that allowed him to help decrease Tiffany’s subsidy by $40,000 last year. Through changes in staffing and reconfiguring the menu mix, Dettori says he was able to help reduce the subsidy.
“Decreasing the subsidy was a lot about staffing changes and looking at the menu mix and reeling that in a little bit,” Dettori says. “When you cut back on staffing and on the menu mix you don’t want people to notice. Fortunately, I have a real culinary background so I’m able to switch things out without anyone really noticing. My chefs are able to do the same. Instead of using sirloin, we’re using hanger steak—things like that.”
Pedersen was also impressed with how Dettori decreased the subsidy.
“Because of the downsizing of the population at Tiffany & Co., we have seen an effect on our dining services, causing a reduction in customer counts,” Pedersen says. “Through redesigning our menus, combo deals being offered, cross-training our team members and watching overall costs, John greatly helped in the reduction in subsidy.”
Serving satisfies: Dettori says customer service comes naturally to him because of his many jobs in the service industry. He looks at mentoring as just another way he can provide service to a different customer: his staff.
“I just show the less experienced staff proper cooking techniques such as proper knife skills,” Dettori says. “It’s nothing formal. I hire people that I know have ability and then I’ll push them as far as I can. Everyone here was trained before I got here, but I have taught chefs how to do some manager’s skills as well, which is not always so easy with someone from the kitchen. I really enjoy that. I think these days people are afraid to give colleagues skills for fear of them taking their jobs. If I teach my staff then they will have the knowledge and the capability to move up.”
This love of mentoring plays into Dettori’s management philosophy.
“My management philosophy is to let people do their jobs,” Dettori says. “I hire them to do a job and I let them do it. I can guide them and show them what I think is most important, which is customer service and really good food, but if they’re not on board with that, they aren’t going to be as successful. I’m very fortunate that in all three locations I’m working with people who have been with the company for a long time; they have that Lackmann philosophy of outstanding customer service.”
Another successful aspect of Dettori’s focus on customer service is his promotions. Daily promotions such as noodle bowls, and themed days such as a Feast of San Gennaro have been very popular.
“Our biggest promotion is our monthly raffle,” Dettori says. “If a customer spends $5, they get a ticket. They can get as many tickets as possible and at the end of the month we have a drawing and they can win anything from a bicycle to an iPod. It’s interesting because it’s hard to do that type of stuff in the city because those customers are looking for a more relaxing atmosphere. So we try to cater our promotions to each location.”
Pedersen says Dettori’s customer service-oriented attitude is what really makes him a success.
“Whenever there are issues, problems or concerns John is always the first to volunteer to assist and resolve the problems quickly,” Pedersen says. “He works extremely hard to make sure his clients receive the special attention that they deserve. On a daily basis John is always working one on one with his front- and back-of-the-house team members, training them and bringing them up to the next level in which they can grow within our company. Our Tiffany & Co. clients are very excited about having John operate their dining services. The guest survey scores have gone up and the atmosphere of the dining experience has been nothing but extraordinary.”