Tuesday, 14 April 2015

What IS It About "The Aberdeen Tavern"? A Loving Birthday Analysis from Pop Up Hamilton

Our love of The Aberdeen Tavern is a matter of public record.  When they opened their doors a year ago on Aberdeen  Avenue at Dundurn, there were some in Hamilton that questioned the wisdom of their chosen location.  It wasn’t like a restaurant hadn’t been in the architecturally stunning former bank but with every new eatery jockeying to find a space in Hamilton’s hot downtown core or Locke Street, opening an upscale-yet-casual eatery that serves chef-inspired comfort foods; a wide selection of craft beers & remarkably innovative (and delicious) cocktails in an area where there were none at all was ambitious, to say the least.  One year later and The Aberdeen Tavern has not only succeeded in attracting legions of regular customers (who are easily their greatest champions) but has built such truly impressive momentum that their star will only continue to rise. 

So what IS it about The Aberdeen Tavern that has captured the hearts and palates of so many Hamiltonians, out-of-town guests, celebrities, politicos and foodies alike?  We took a moment to analyze what has led to their unparalleled success…


1) Consistency in Execution One of the most fascinating discoveries in the field of consumer research in the last few years is that consistency in execution is, in many ways even more important than delivering memorable customer experiences in a single interaction.  Imagine two restaurants: the first is known for attentive, knowledgeable serving staff; the second is known for great food but is largely indifferent to the customer experience.  Having a less than favourable experience at the second restaurant would entirely meet our expectations and our overall opinion might even be positive.  Having a less than favourable experience at the first – even if it were a better one by all recognized standards of service than the second – would be infinitely worse because your expectations were much higher.  In this area, the Aberdeen has set their “bar” very, very high and is fascinatingly able to consistently meet or exceed customer expectations.  A quick glance at restaurant user review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor confirms this with many entering multiple positive reviews.

2) The Service Experience No matter where you dine, the service experience is critical and can mean the difference between a satisfactory experience and a truly memorable one.  One of the biggest mistakes restaurants make is to “over define” the service experience in the same manner that business processes might be defined: This is how we greet customers. This is exactly how we ask for drink orders.  This is exactly what we say when we describe the daily specials.  What that approach leads to the majority of the time is a palpable insincerity in the service.  Even the brightest, most cheerful smile can’t necessarily hide the “scripting” of the experience.  At The Aberdeen, the service experience is noticeably different depending on whom is serving you (in an entirely positive way).  Their professional serving staff are individuals first and employees, second which creates a welcome air of authenticity and warmth.  The mechanics of food and drink service are all executed similarly but the interpersonal experience between servers and guests is genuine and THAT is largely what defines the standard of service.


3) Staff Attrition or “churn” in the restaurant business (employees leaving the organization) is a factor that all restaurant owners and managers have to anticipate and plan against.  That means that, in addition to the demands of operating a restaurant; they must also recruit, hire, train and manage performance and administration which can substantially divert attention from other key operational activities.  25 – 45% within any calendar year is a commonly referenced number in the restaurant industry meaning restaurants are tasked with replacing from a quarter to almost half of their staff every year!  However, at The Aberdeen Tavern, their attrition is very, very low.  We don’t have statistics on employee "churn" at The Aberdeen Tavern but we CAN confidently observe that most of the people that were with them when their doors opened a year ago are still working there and appear to have no intention of leaving.  So what are they doing differently?  Two things: culture & autonomy.  Owners Jason and Andrea Cassis have created a working environment that is quite rare in the hospitality industry.  They operate on the assumption that their employees are true professionals; are respected as such and afforded the freedom to make relevant choices on behalf of the organization.  What that has done is create a greater sense of ownership and accountability among their staff; fostered a strong and meaningful loyalty to the Aberdeen Tavern AND has the added benefit of largely ensuring consistent performance with less supervision.


4) The Food While we love a memorable, positive customer experience; without gorgeous food, there is no restaurant and here The Aberdeen Tavern shines.  Taking inspiration from “tavern cuisine”, classic comfort foods and allowing superstar chef, Matt Beasley and his team the opportunity to influence, enhance, transform and experiment with the fundamental guiding principle being “Taste always wins”.  At play in the Aberdeen kitchen at any moment are global influences and re-invention with a demonstrated commitment to delivering superior taste experiences.  Their guests may stay late because of the service and atmosphere but the food is definitively what brings them there.

5) The Drink Too often, the word ‘artisan’ is thrown around by mixologists to describe their cocktails.  What you often discover later is that the term is referring to the ingredients, not the method and that they’re ‘piggybacking’ on the strength of their brands while the cocktails themselves may be ordinary.  In Avi Constam, The Aberdeen Tavern has found true cocktail greatness.  With the same principle at work - “Taste wins” – Avi and her team create bold, fanciful, exciting and, most importantly, delicious cocktails.  On any night, invention might be in the air and a beautifully balanced cocktail might be created. On another? A creative, wonderful reinvention of a traditional favourite.  At all times, Avi and her mixology team use the freshest, high quality ingredients and masterful mixology techniques.  Watch the care and precision that goes into virtually any cocktail – herbs are being infused, leaves are being crushed, rims are being ‘scented’ … even time can be a factor in her drink preparations.  It is a beautiful marriage of art and science and the reward is an unrivalled drink experience.

We are fortunate to live in a city with an original and wonderful place like The Aberdeen Tavern and Nicole and I whole-heartedly wish Jason, Andrea, the Melissa’s, Matt, Avi, Aaron and the amazing team a very happy birthday.  Looking forward to many more years of success, boundary pushing and gorgeousness… CHEERS!

Pop Up Hamilton