Heyday's Lorin Zinter on what makes a good server and why he covets criticism

Open for only a few months, Heyday is easily an early contender for best new restaurant of the year. In addition to the exceptionally well conceived and executed menu, the Lyn-Lake restaurant also offers exemplary service. Co-owner, front-of-house manager, and La Belle Vie alum Lorin Zinter gives the lowdown on just what goes into putting together a new restaurant of this caliber and why he wants your criticism.

See also: Heyday and the new face of New American dining

[jump] Hot Dish: Let's start with the origins of Heyday. How did you develop the concept?

Lorin Zinter: Jim [Christiansen] and I first met when we opened La Belle Vie in Minneapolis (we opened it together when it moved) and instantly we had a really great rapport. When Tim [McKee] got the opportunity to do Sea Change he invited both of us to go over and do it and that was a big factor for both of us. We both knew that we were getting to work with somebody that we trusted and believed in and that had the same work ethic and mentality about it. After working at Sea Change for a bit we started talking about how we should do something together. I think a lot of it at first was, you know how chefs and managers always talk about how "we should do something together" and of course it never comes to fruition. I think both of us kind of thought that's the way this would go too. Then we met our third business partner, Mike Prickett, and it all really started to come together.

So tell us a little bit about finding the space.

It was a nightmare. I don't envy anyone that has to go through that process. We came close on a number of spaces and they fell through and things like that, but once we found the space we have now, at 27th and Lyndale, and once we started to walk through it and see, we really fell in love with the space and knew it was the right location to do what we wanted to do. Then it was just a matter of tweaking the concept around the space that we had. I think a lot of times, restaurateurs have their concept in mind, but they don't realize sometimes that the concept has to adjust to the location, and we tried to do that as best as we could without straying from our core and our principles.

Once you found your space, how did you start to plan for the layout and aesthetic for the front of house?


Jim and I worked together on the layout and Mike Prickett did the design for us. We definitely talked about all the pieces of it all the time, but the design was definitely Mike's driving force and he did a great job with that. We really love it.

What were the most difficult pieces to put in place as the restaurant started to come close to opening?

The difficult piece for us was really timing. Things get delayed in construction. We had a 100-year-old building and when you start tearing things apart, you're bound to have issues. That's to be expected, but sometimes it still takes longer than you thought. When you're figuring out your timing and your money and everything like that, it's a big juggling act and it's a challenge, but it's one I wouldn't trade at all. It's the steepest learning curve ever, but it taught me a ton and I'm glad we went through that.

What were the most difficult aspects of assembling the front-of-house staff and getting them trained and ready to go?

You know, we've done this for quite a while in town and we'd like to think that we have pretty okay reputations. Thankfully we had a lot of people that really wanted to work with us or gave really great recommendations. You know, we'd tell them, "Yeah, we hope to open in two months, but maybe it'll be three months," and people really stuck everything out, which really meant a lot to us because it showed they had a lot of faith and belief in what we were doing and the project itself.

How did you get the front of the house trained on your menus and cocktail lists?

We tried to type up menu descriptions as far in advance as we could. We had drink descriptions, wine descriptions typed up in advance. Reading materials are always great, but of course actually tasting the food, trying the food, seeing the food, tasting the beverages always makes the biggest difference. How can a server sell you food if they haven't tried it? As a server, if you've been off for three days and you see there's a new pork dish you haven't tried, you just walk up to the line or to Jim and say, "Hey, I haven't tried this dish yet and I'd like to," and they'll put one up for you because you need to see it, you need to taste it to know exactly what it is. We do staff tastings and trainings all the time, especially on our wine list. It's constantly about trying and tasting things.

We were in shortly after Heyday opened and we tried to order a dish, but the server recommended we order a different dish instead based on what he thought we'd enjoy more. Do you generally try to empower your servers to make those kinds of suggestions?

It's all about talking to your guests to see what they want. It's never about, "Hey, you have to push this or you have to push that." It's staff reading the guests and understanding what they like. When a guest asks a server what he or she likes, it's kind of an odd question for me. Just because I like something doesn't mean you're going to like something. You know, I could wax poetic all day about scallops, but if you don't like scallops it's all for nothing. So we really try to dig for more information from our guests so we can understand exactly what they're looking for.

How do your servers deal with that "Minnesota Nice" customer -- the customer who doesn't really love their dish, but doesn't want to speak up about it?

We do experience the Minnesota nice. I appreciate that sometimes people are trying different things and they're trying to be polite about it and they're like, "Yeah, it's okay" or "Yeah, it's fine." Hearing "It's fine" to me is one of the worst things I could ever hear. It cuts me to the core. We don't want things to be fine; we want it to be so great that you can't wait to come back again. That's the kind of situation where I want to go back to the guest and solicit more information. I usually try to put the guest's mind at ease and I just want to tell them, "Hey, I'm thick-skinned. You can tell me what you really think and I'm not going to be offended." We want to know because we want to make it better. If you're having an experience and you don't like it, no matter what it might be, whether it's the service or the food or the beverage, we just want to know.

Our own food critic, Emily Weiss, referred to Heyday as the Ocean's 11 -- the dream team -- of the restaurant world. Would you generally say that's an apt description?

I really liked that actually. It really pointed out the other members of our team that make it all excellent. Jim, Mike, and I always said that this isn't a restaurant that's just Jim, Lorin, and Mike. This is a restaurant that's Britt Tracy, our cocktail maker. It's Dani Megears, our wine director. It's Peter Thillen, our chef de cuisine. It's Brian Werner, our sous chef. It's Jo Garrison, our bread maker. It's Diane Yang who does our pastry. There are so many people who are so important and to have all those people in place is huge. It's not the same restaurant without all of them there.

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