Data Lessons from a 2-Star Michelin Restaurant in The Bear

Thursday, June 27, 2024

If you're like me, you can't get enough of the show The Bear. In fact, if you're like me, you might be watching the Season 3 premier at 2:08 am while writing a blog post about data and kitchens.

What restaurant did you go to?

I grew up in the city of Chicago (city not suburbs) and I have been blessed for it. One of the best treasures of living in Chicago is the food scene. Just as impactful as Michael Jordan was to all sports and as Frank Lloyd Wright was to architecture, Charlie Trotter was to fine dining. From Charlie Trotter came some fantastic chefs like Grant Achatz of Alinea and Curtis Duffy of Ever.

In fact, Season 2 Episode 7 (Forks), was filmed at Ever. If you haven't seen that episode, Chef Carmen sends his cousin, Richie, to work a week at a fine dining restaurant so that he can experience excellent customer service and attention to detail. For an entire week, Richie has to just dry and polish forks. At first he thinks it's stupid, but after spending a week there, he understands why people love the restaurant industry and learns to love attention to detail. The character undergoes a pivotal transformation necessary for this team to grow.

what did you learn?

I love fine dining, because I really appreciate all aspects of the delivery. When I went to Ever, I was talking with our server about the kitchen. I asked so many questions about how it was run that at the end of my 10-course meal, they asked if I wanted to have a behind the scenes kitchen tour. Obviously I said yes.

Here's what I learned and how it applies to data:

1) Treat Customer Experience Like an Addiction
When you first walk in, you are greeted by a server who walks you down a hallway with glasses of wine for you to try - it's like Willy Wonka for adults. When you are at your table, you have several servers that deliver and take away plates and there are floor managers who are watching the servers. Essentially, they are the communication/ nervous system/ alert/ Slack for the restaurant. Their job is to alert the kitchen of fast eaters, slow eaters, bathroom breaks, special occasions, etc.

As data people, we should also be obsessed with customer experience. For instance, you can give your stakeholder a pie chart, but can it be better? Truthfully, I ask myself that question every time I make a deliverable for a client. Push yourself to make their experience with consuming data as delicious as consuming a scallops sitting a white white butter sauce.

2) Communication is as Key to a Kitchen as Fresh Ingredients
For most restaurants, the director/quarterback/conductor is called an Expeditor. The expeditor's job is to call the shots, make decisions based on new information and ensure perfect delivery of dishes, while overseeing the pace of kitchen. Normally, the expeditor has a board with several sheets of paper, a timer, and several markers. I asked "why do you call out the dish and why do all the chefs respond?" He told me that it is basically call and response. It is a way to communicate and to make sure everyone is on the same page. For instance, even when a customer goes to the bathroom, the expeditor tells the chefs "hold on hamachi" and that tells the chefs to pause until the they get the green light so that the customer gets the best experience when they sit back at their table.

We should not be afraid to communication when building charts, graphs, ETLs, SQL code, API integrations and more. That is, we should be consistently telling our stakeholders and data partners what we are doing, where we need help, etc. One of the ways I like to work is to have a lot of little frequent meetings about the scope and task as opposed to one big meeting. For me, this allows me to ask a lot of questions after I learn a bit more so that I can consistently deliver great tasting deliverables.

3) Embracing Modifiers is How We Keep Moving Forward
Part of the expeditors job is to call out modifiers to dishes as they are given new information. For instance, he showed me the paper cards he managed for each table. Each card has the party size, table number and list of the courses. On each card are different colors from markers which indicate modifiers such as wine pairings, gluten allergies, shellfish allergies, etc. Furthermore, there are two sections on the board. The top part tells which tables are on pause due to bathroom breaks or where they are enjoying a plate. When cards are moved to the bottom section, it means that table can be serviced.

Just like restaurant orders, data requirements are constantly adjusting and we can choose to push against those new requirements or make fast adjustments to accommodate as we would a food allergy. For instance, sometimes I am told data has to be cut a certain way because there is a new complexity. While it would be easy to throw my hands in the air and express frustration, I have learned my energy is better served trying to ideate and form a solution. This attitude adjustment will yield dividends. 

What's the Main Message?

Be obsessed, be in it, be it. The people who work in fine dining are obsessed with their art. They are immensely proud of the work they due despite how grueling and soul crushing it is. As data people, we should be the same. Data visualization and engineering is as much art as it is math. Be proud of the dishes you are creating and I promise, you will love what you do and you will be motivated to keep improving and making mouthwatering data dishes.

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