With more than 12 restaurants and a lease already signed for a 13th location, Here To Serve Restaurants’ owner and executive chef Tom Catherall offers a variety of concepts and cuisines to diners throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area. No matter what the fare or the price point, however, Director of Operations David Abes says the pervasive theme at each location is the hospitable atmosphere maintained by more than 1,000 employees trained to treat each customer like a member of the family.
“Whether they’re spending $5 or $5,000, we want our diners to get the same experience,” Abes says. “Our motto at Here To Serve is ‘“yes” is the answer to any question.’ If someone wants to go behind the bar or meet the chef, we let them. We treat everyone like family.”
Here To Serve Restaurants has had a presence in the Atlanta dining scene for the past 20 years. Catherall maintains a hands-on approach with each concept he launches as a certified master chef, and today the company operates 10 concepts in 13 locations throughout the Atlanta area. Cuisines and atmospheres include steakhouses, seafood and sushi and Spanish-style tapas. The company also owns Crust, its own in-house bakery.
Gourmet in a Recession
Although diners are slowly but surely leaving their homes again for a nice meal out on the town as the economy slowly improves, they still seek value for their dollars. Abes says Here To Serve Restaurants have met this demand by attempting to keep price points in check, especially when compared to the competition in the Atlanta dining scene.
“Guests are looking for great quality but at a certain value,” Abes says. “For what we’re delivering on our menus, we’re trying to make the price points a little lower than our competition. If we’re charging $32 for something, the competition across the street might charge $42, so diners think, ‘They’re not trying to gouge us.’”
Here To Serve also offers a loyalty card program for diners who frequent its restaurants. Although the company has had its “Friends of Tom” rewards program in place for eight years, Abes says participation in the program has grown 32 percent over the past three years. Participants are treated to various incentives, such as 50 percent off of certain items at specific locations as well as other specialty programs.
Hiring for Personality
Abes says Here To Serve takes the hiring of its staff seriously at every location. The company seeks employees with more than just an experience-filled resume. It also wants individuals with personable demeanors who know how to make diners feel welcome.
“We don’t have robots here,” he says. “We hire those with a personality.”
For all new employees, Here To Serve runs a hospitality meeting the first Tuesday of every month. Leaders not only discuss the company’s overarching philosophy about customer service, but they also take time to get to know their employees better.
“We’ll ask where they’re from, and since this is such a diverse town, we have a lot of people from a lot of other places,” Abes says. “We also ask what their favorite cartoon character is. This loosens everyone up and shows that we’re not just here strictly for business; we’re here to enjoy ourselves, also.”
With so much training invested in its employees. Here To Serve also promotes from within instead of going outside the company’s ranks to find management candidates. Abes says there are a number of employees who started at the dishwasher level and have worked their way up to managers and even executive chefs.
Catherall and his team at Here To Serve Restaurants realize the company would not be as successful as it has been without the ongoing support of the Atlanta community.
With that in mind, Abes says Here To Serve supports a number of philanthropic endeavors, including the annual Hunger Walk/Run, which supports the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Between 150 to 200 Here To Serve employees participate in the Hunger Walk/Run. The Hunger Walk/Run – an annual 5K walk and “fun run” founded in 1984 – is operated by the Atlanta Community Food Bank to raise awareness and critical funds for local hunger relief. Proceeds from the event benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank and other local nonprofits that support people in need of food assistance.
With a goal of opening one new concept annually, Here To Serve is ready to continue growing throughout the Atlanta market. Abes explains that the aim is to give the city’s diners an opportunity to experience a different atmosphere whenever they venture out for a meal.
“Tom is talented at finding new concepts,” Abes says. “If guests are dining out five nights a week, we want them to dine at a Here To Serve restaurant five nights a week.”