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RAMW & NRA Co-Host “Five Star Service” Conversation

The 2014 RAMMY Awards
May 12, 2014

Washington, DC (May 12, 2014)—On May 8, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) brought together over 80 leaders from the region’s foodservice and business communities for a conversation about the state of the industry in the nation’s capital. The discussion, moderated by Bret Thorn, Senior Food Editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, offered insights into operator success in an ever more competitive market. 

Panelists included 2014 RAMMY Awards nominees for Service Program of the Year including Adam Sanders (General Manager, BLT Steak), Joseph Cerione (General Manager, Blue Duck Tavern), Ashok Bajaj (Owner, The Bombay Club & Rasika), and Robert Wiedmaier (Chef/Owner, Marcel's), as well as nominees for Restaurateur of the Year including Meshelle Armstrong & Todd Thrasher (Owners, Eat Good Food Group), Michael Babin (Owner, Neighborhood Restaurant Group), and David Wizenberg (Owner, Passion Food Hospitality). Panelists weighed in on topics ranging from the future of the region’s rapidly growing restaurant community to the importance of keeping up with consumer demands and tips on developing brand longevity. 

Hospitality in Washington

Metropolitan Washington’s restaurant industry is both a burgeoning economic driver and lifestyle indicator, experiencing more growth recently than ever before. With over 115 restaurants opening in DC in the last year alone, the changes have not gone unnoticed by leading operators. “Restaurants have become a part of our culture,” explained Armstrong. Her co-owner, Thrasher pointed out how Washington took a cue from New York with the idea of destination restaurants. “People go to specific neighborhoods to try specific restaurants.” Wizenberg agreed, adding, “Dining is more of an experience now. Diners are more willing to explore, having drinks at one place and food at another.” Bajaj summed it up perfectly with, “It’s Washington’s time.” It is no coincidence that this year’s James Beard Foundation award winner for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic was Bajaj’s own Vikram Sunderam, the toque responsible for the internationally acclaimed Rasika.

Food & Beverage Trends

One thing leading restaurateurs in Washington can agree on is that wine and healthier menu items are among the leading food and beverage trends today. Wizenberg pointed out that his restaurants have “never sold so many vegetarian options.” Agreeing, Cerione added, “The dining public is more health conscious now than ever. Kale is the new pork belly.”

Growing support has catapulted Virginia wines to become a staple on wine lists all over the region. “Virginia wines have come a long way,” explained Wiedmaier, as he described a blind taste test he performed in London between Virginia and French wines, where Virginia stacked up surprisingly well. An insider tip from Thrasher: top restaurants do not offer wines unless they are phenomenal. “We’re not going to put a wine on the menu just because it’s from Virginia. It is on our menu because it is great.” He added, “Go ahead and choose the cheaper bottle. It’s the best value and it’s going to be good.”

Perfecting Service

Babin noted that staff and training have as much to do with the success of a business as anything else. “At the end of the day, the food business is a people business. We’re always out there trying to find great people.” When searching for the perfect people to work in her restaurants, Armstrong believes asking applicants about their personal life and assessing their responses gives more insight about a person than the basic hospitality knowledge questions. “You can train them to bone a fish, but you can’t train them to be a people person.”  Thrasher added his personal mantra, “You can’t teach nice.”

Business Best Practices

In the digital age online reviews can make or break a restaurant, which is why the panelists agreed on the importance of connecting with unhappy customers. Wiedmaier likes to remind his staff that regulars are not friends. “They’re paying for a service and we have to deliver.” Bajaj, believing it is important to deal with whatever issues may arise right away, added, “Screw it up one time and even longtime regulars will go somewhere else.” Sanders recognized conversely that reaching out to the positive reviewers is just as important. “This can help you develop a digital rolodex of VIPs. You can turn these people into regulars and they will, in turn, help you.”

Winners in 21 categories will be announced at the 32nd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala on Sunday, June 22, 2014, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. For more information regarding the awards, visit or email

Presented by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), The RAMMY Awards Gala honors the exceptional ability and accomplishments of the hard-working individuals and organizations of the region’s restaurants and foodservice community. Named the #1 Food & Restaurant event by BIZBASH Magazine for four consecutive years, The RAMMYS celebrate one of Metropolitan Washington’s greatest assets: its restaurants.

Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW)
The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) is the regional trade association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. Established in 1920, RAMW is an advocate, resource and community for its members. The Association works to promote and sustain the growth and development of the industry while providing its members legislative and regulatory representation, marketing and small business support, programming and events. RAMW strives to serve its members with professionalism and integrity, and provide them the training, education and support they need to grow a successful business.

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