He became an executive and thought. “What should I do to make customers happy, like my master?”
How did you train as Nikata?
I worked for Koizumi after “Kohaku” opened in 2008, then moved to “Ren” in 2009. In total, I served as Nikata for 7 years, counting from the time at “Ishikawa.” The job of Nikata is to create the flavors the executive chef is looking for. When I was able to satisfactorily fulfill this role, I was asked for my ideas for the menu. I would come up with the ideas when I have time, and present them, “how about these?”.
They were hardly used. Courses have an overall structure, therefore it is difficult to change 1 or 2 dishes without disturbing the overall balance. Nevertheless, my ideas were welcomed, and the good ones were actually incorporated into the courses, so it was greatly encouraging.
You became the executive chef at “Ren” at age 30. Did your attitude toward work change from before?
I had been at “Ren” since it opened, but because I was busy with behind-the-scenes jobs, I learned many things when I started working at the counter as the executive chef. I felt that the expression on customers’ faces, when they were leaving, seemed different than what I remember from working for Oyassan or Mr. Koizumi. While they seemed to have enjoyed the food, the degree of happiness was a bit less. I wanted to make them happy like Oyassan, and thought that there must be more that I could do.
Since you had seen what customers look like when they are truly satisfied at “Ishikawa” and “Kohaku,” you were able to realize that “something is different.”
Yes. While I was not exactly sure what I should do, because of my lack of experience at the counter, I was not used to interacting with the customers, and I felt that customer service was something I needed to work on. While I always tried to pay close attention to the customers, I ate at Sushi restaurants on my off days, and observed the mannerisms of Sushi chefs at the counter to learn the timing of conversation and use of language.
Eventually, I was able to serve food according to the progression of the meal, and naturally sense likes and dislikes of food from the conversation. The number of times I felt “happy to have satisfied” as I saw the customers out began to increase around this time.
You can directly sense customer’s reaction at a restaurant with counters as the main seating area.
Being able to immediately see the reaction to my food is a great encouragement. When I was working in the back, even though I knew that “it was for the customers,” it was easy to make it about self-expression. However, when I saw the happy faces of the customers at the counter, I felt my sense of “selfishness” disappeared. It may sound boastful, but when I began standing at the counter as an executive chef, I think my resolve to “work to make the customers happy” was reestablished.
The customers come not only for the food, but to experience the atmosphere of the restaurant.
This is a personal matter, but we ate at “Ren” the other day to celebrate my wife’s birthday. The food at “Ren” is not flashy, but its flavors and texture were quite memorable.
Thank you very much. I am happy to hear that as I aim to create dishes by combining ingredients as little as possible, for the food that is simple and nostalgic, yet makes you think that “something is different.” While it is fun to eat complex dishes wondering, “what is this?”, we are completely opposite. Since our dishes are discernible at first glance, customers do not have to think about them, and instead, they can relax and be normal to enjoy them.
Perhaps because they can comfortably relax at the restaurant, there seems to be many older patrons.
The majority of customers is between late 40s to 60s. I rarely see customers younger than I am (LOL).
Mr. Mishina is currently 32 years old. Do you think it is difficult to manage a Michelin-rated restaurant at such young age?
I never really thought about my age. Actually, I feel fortunate because there are many customers who are supportive because I am young. My customers have more life experiences, and are knowledgeable about food, however, they do not criticize the food on the spot. If I ask, sometimes they speak up about what they thought about the food, and I can judge from the expression on their faces when they are eating. I am thankful to learn so many things from the customers.
The other 3 staff members of “Ren” are also young, being in their 20s and early 30s, but I was impressed by their thorough service.
The quality of the food is of course important. However, the customers come to enjoy not only the food but also the atmosphere of the restaurant. As such, I think a solid customer service is very important. I teach basic manners to my staff, of course. Some things must be learned through experience, but we do practice how to help put on a coat on each other and to properly handle customers’ clothes.
It is true that a restaurant, where the staff skillfully helps to put my arms through the sleeves, does stand out. It is very pleasant (LOL).
If the small details give good impressions, it is easier for us to show how we value our customers. In particular, we only have male staff at “Ren,” so we give extra attention to make sure that the service does not become crude.
In order to learn about formal service, I personally visit high-end clothing stores to experience the atmosphere and have meals at high-end restaurants. There are things that need improvement that I can only find by seeing them from the customer’s perspectives. Therefore, to be successful in this industry, I think it is important to experience many things outside of work.