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Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington Hosts Industry Leaders at "Five Star Service" Panel

May 18, 2016

Representatives from Washington’s vibrant restaurant scene came together with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) on May 10 to discuss developments in the restaurant and foodservice industry. Allison Aubrey, Food & Health Correspondent for NPR, led a discussion that touched on restaurant growth in Washington, the unique opportunities restaurants provide, and how to maintain excellence as guest expectations evolve.

Panelists included 2016 RAMMY Awards Finalist for Service Program of the Year, David Fascitelli (Bourbon Steak), as well as finalists for Restaurateur of the Year including Mike Isabella (Mike Isabella Concepts), Jamie Leeds (JL Restaurant Group), and Paul Ruppert (Warehouse Industries). Formal Fine Dining Restaurant finalists Victoria and Stefan Trummer (Trummer’s on Main) and Adnane Kebaier (Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier) were also present. Also joining the panel was Jon Barry (Iron Gate), a finalist in two categories (Service Program & Formal Fine Dining). The panel weighed in on best business practices, how to maintain brand longevity, and what it takes to succeed in metropolitan Washington’s rapidly expanding restaurant community.

Washington as a Leading Dining Destination

Panelists praised the flourishing restaurant industry in Washington. “I do think, over the years, we’re putting our name down as one of the top destinations for food,” shared Victoria Trummer. The panel agreed that new diversity in flavors, providers, and concepts has elevated the scene in the nation’s capital. Stefan Trummer excitedly remarked on the vibrant fast-casual scene, many new concepts in which are chef-driven concepts. “The fast casual scene is amazing… You can walk into many places and it’s casual but it’s the most amazing food.” Leeds and Isabella agreed that growth will only continue as Washington expands on waterfront development such as Navy Yard and The Wharf. “I think in the next five to six years you’ll see more and more restaurants going into those [waterfront] developments,” shared Isabella.

Changes to Restaurant Business Models

Panelists weighed in on ongoing national conversations about reservation policies, putting down deposits on dining experiences, and increasingly aware guests. Deciding whether to take reservations or not depends on the concept and location for most panelists. “We took reservations at Crane & Turtle because that became a destination restaurant,” explained Ruppert, who continued to say this creates challenges with guests who do not honor reservations. Isabella favors reservations because “when I go out to eat, I need to know what time I’m getting there.” Leeds’ no-reservations policy, founded in her belief to allow neighborhood walk-ins, further shows the difference among concepts. Similar to determining reservation policies, panelists were in agreement that restaurants should each determine tipping procedures for employees. Sustainable and local choices are becoming more important to guests who are savvy about what they eat. Barry said diners frequently ask, “Where is this coming from?” before selecting meals, while guests in Leeds’ restaurants even carry information about sustainable choices with them.

Giving Back and Building a Team

Carefully curating a staff is critical to a restaurant’s success. “We consistently have new trainees coming in,” shared Fascitelli. “Our goal is not only to attract and retain them, but it’s to promote [from within].” Barry emphasized the importance of opening doors for staff to allow for advancement, elaborating, “Our goal is to find out what they’re passionate about, and get them involved in it.” At Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier, Kebaier said, “We promote half of my staff in the front of house if we can.” Restaurateurs rely on staff not only to run current restaurants, but also when expanding. As Leeds opened Hank’s Pasta Bar, she found, “A lot of growing and support staff need to happen to let the brand expand.” Isabella agreed, sharing that his former cooks now run his restaurants. “As you allow your team to grow and evolve, they’re probably going to relieve you.”

Maintaining Perfect Service

Delivering an emotional component is a hallmark of outstanding service. “It’s all about how guests feel, not what you cook or what you do,” presented Victoria Trummer. Barry remarks that special occasions are a chance to up the ante, when Iron Gate “handwrites cards to say how much we appreciate guests coming to dine with us.” While some restaurants are more formal than others, all must feel welcoming for guests. One of Leeds’ managers goes above and beyond to create an exciting atmosphere, which she calls “running the place like he’s throwing a party every night.” Isabella reiterated that warm hospitality is key, and that guests in his restaurants should feel as welcome as if they were in his own home.

The winners will be announced at the 34th Annual RAMMY Awards Gala on Sunday, June 12, 2016, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. For more information regarding the awards and sponsorship opportunities, email or call 202-331-5990.


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 since 2009, 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.