“WOW!” Service: Empowering your people & inspiring your guests

At Gusto 54, we are on an exciting journey to building the most culturally relevant and celebrated collection of restaurants in the world. I would never admit that it is an easy task but certainly, one that we are all dedicated to and passionate about. I often get asked how our restaurants have been able to stand the test of time in some of the most competitive markets in North America.  Is it the food? Is it the design?  Is it the service? All very good assumptions and the answer is most likely a combination of all of those things. With every restaurant and initiative that we have going on, our mission and purpose is to consistently deliver a transporting customer and employee experience complete with delicious relevant food, inspiring design and passionate, soulful hospitality.

Prior to cutting my teeth in the restaurant business, I spent many years in the agency world building brand loyalty for the world’s most influential and valuable brands. A big part of this role was customer experience design and consulting for organizations that wanted to create a culture and environment that drives true loyalty. The same question would surface- how do brands sustain the test of time? And the answer was never a simple one; however, creating a culture and environment that empower every team member to create a transporting and soulful experience for their customers will inevitably create, well, loyalty for life. That’s the goal.

We would also rely on case studies and stories of successful brands that have done this to inspire this kind of change in culture. Tommy Spaulding, who is a New York Times bestselling author, was often a resource that we would pull these examples from.  Imagine my surprise and pure delight to now be included in his collection of amazing stories with his latest article on ‘WOW Service.’

This story makes us all incredibly proud and reminds us that we are in the business of creating transporting experiences and treating everyone like family. Enjoy the read.

– Juanita Dickson, President, Gusto 54 Restaurant Group

WOW! Service by Tommy Spaulding

A few years ago, I took my son Tate to Toronto, Canada to attend one of my speaking gigs. We stretched the business trip into a long weekend. Caught a Maple Leaf’s game, drove 90 minutes to see Niagara Falls and visited with some special Canuck friends. 

On our last night, Tate wasn’t feeling well. Only six years old at the time, he kept asking for his Mommy. We went out to dinner at this great little Italian restaurant called Cafe’ Nervosa in the upscale neighborhood of Yorkville. The place was packed. By the time, Tate and I got a table he was asking to go back to our hotel. When our waitress came to the table she immediately turned on her “mom” instincts. “You don’t look so good little boy,” said the waitress. “I want my Mommy,” replied Tate. “Let me feel your forehead. I have a little boy your age at home. It looks like you are coming down with a fever.” Turning to me she said, “Children’s Motrin will do the trick.” 

If Jill had been traveling with us she would pull out a bottle of Motrin out of her purse. It always seems that she has half a pharmacy inside that magic bag of hers.

“I don’t have any Motrin,” I shared with the waitress. “Don’t worry, there is a pharmacy across the street. Does your son use the dye-free kind,” she asked? Embarrassed, I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. “What flavor is die-free,” I asked? Picking up that I was clueless without Mom’s magic purse, she told me that she would run across the street and pick some up for me. I was completely grateful – Tate now lying in my arms.

Minutes later she came back to the table empty handed. “The local pharmacy across the street is closed on Sunday nights. My manager sent one of the busboys in a taxi cab to a 24-hour pharmacy about ten minutes away. As soon as he comes back we will get Tate feeling better.”

Twenty minutes later the Italian born manager, named Christian Alfarone from Rome, hands me a bottle of dye-free grape Children’s Motrin. And when I pulled out my wallet to pay for the medicine and taxi fare, the manager insisted that I put my wallet back in my pocket. 


That was all I could think and say. In all my years. In all my restaurant visits. In all my travels. I have never had a waitress or a manager go out of their way like this before. I mean, they sent their freaking busboy on a twenty-minute cab ride to provide WOW! service to their customer.

Just about every business, every company and every job has customer service attached to it. Good companies have an actual customer service department. But great companies and organizations train every employee and every team member that they are ALL in the customer service department – no matter what your position or title. And you don’t need a magic purse to provide WOW! customer service. All you need is an empowered team of people using their heads and their hearts – even if you have to send the busboy on a twenty-minute taxi ride!