Serving the clientele at high-end Manhattan law firms is a demanding job. The assignment demands that the provider not only serve food that can compete with the street — and we're talking restaurants on Manhattan streets in the heart of the financial district — but also can seamlessly accommodate the value-added aspects of the client culture.
That is what Flik International does in its operation at the New York offices of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, a heavyweight law firm with offices worldwide that works on major corporate transactions as well as litigation and investigations in the financial world.
Cleary Gottlieb's operation in the Lower Manhattan financial district is located at One Liberty Plaza, where it occupies ten floors of a modern building with a 360-degree panoramic view of New York City and New Jersey.
The office has a population more than 1,200, including approximately 450 attorneys, many of them young professionals with specific tastes and expectations.
Name: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Location: 39th floor of One Liberty Plaza, New York City
Building Population: 1,200+
Meal Counts: 250-275 (breakfast), 550-625 (lunch), 150-225 (dinner)
Flik Management: Adam Freed (VP-Culinary Development), Mark Paolini (regional exec. chef), Juan Carlos Melgarejo (café manager)
For Cleary Gottlieb at Liberty Plaza, Flik manages a main café that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner to the the firm's employees, as well as a substantial onsite catering service, including servicing the food and beverage needs of the building's conference center.
Flik's operations at Cleary Gottlieb are heavily geared around the expectations of young customers, even though they constitute only about a third of the total population.
March of the Millennials
“Millennials — people in their 20s and early 30s — are the crux of the population,” says Adam Freed, vice president of creative development for Flik, who also oversees the Cleary account. “They don't mind paying more as long as what they get what they perceive to be healthful, sourced in the right way and in line with their environmental goals. And that is how we position everything here. That is the mindset. We are there to serve them.”
“The hospitality component needs to be more than about just satisfying a need,” Freed adds. “It has to be innovative, exciting, and needs to really have a social aspect.”
Even for older customers, the strategies used to appeal to Millennials often work. “The messages of healthfulness, nostalgia and fun are appealing,” Freed says.
To meet these expectations, many of the ingredients used to make the dishes served in the Cleary Gottlieb dining operations come from local producers and from sources with impeccable credentials. “The components each need to have a story behind them and the story needs to have a social correctness,” Freed emphasizes.
Another expectation is that the dining operation accommodates a nontraditional perspective on the workday. Unlike the “9-to-5” stereotype that assumes a compliant onsite dining clientele, the young associates at Cleary Gottlieb have a flexible attitude toward work and play that requires buy-in from the onsite dining provider.
“Millennials don't see work as putting in eight hours and then leaving,” Freed says. “Instead, they leave for periods to work out or engage in social activities but then come back and work til 9 or 10 in the evening. They have lots of ‘street smarts’ that make them very aware of what is going on all around the building in the larger environment. This means we have to earn their business by reflecting their values.”
So, how exactly do you appeal to successful, smart people who are well aware of plenty of other dining options?
Freed cites “theater” as one strategy, “creating the unexpected at every station — fabulous and interesting retail, authentic and diverse cuisine from around the world that is not just a mockup with a silly name but an authentic dish served in the appropriate way with perhaps a narrative about the significance of that item to the culture from which it comes.” That is an extension of the “story” behind meal components, noted earlier, that is so crucial in the sourcing process.
Another theatrical touch is the tea station, says Cafe Manager Juan Carlos Melgarejo. “You get not just a tea bag but a beautiful loose tea brewed in wonderful clear vessels with descriptions about that particular tea. We also offer tastings, presented in beautiful,unexpected ways, a kind of higher boutique experience.”
Also coming under the heading of “theater” is what Freed refers to as“collegiality,” the preference of younger customers to interact.“Millenials don't want people simply serving them, they want to work with their friends.”
That has led to, among other things, a kind of throwback style, communal“family dining” format in catering where, instead of individual plates,food is often served on lazy susan type platforms that let each diner select from a communal dish. The format not only satisfies customer preferences for collegiality but reduces labor costs for the caterer, a true win-win (see sidebar on p. 22 for more on catering at Cleary Gottlieb).
Up Close and Personal
The“theater” also gives starring roles to Flik associates, both chefs and support personnel. For example, the culinary staff are all given the opportunity to shine in demo events called Cleary Academy, in which a chef conducts a class focused on some culinary topic. Most recently,one sous chef discussed wine and food pairings. Desserts, Asian foods and the Foods of New England have been other recent topics. The evening events, held four or five times a year, draw 30 to 40 Cleary staffers,who sign up to attend.
And when a new chef joins the dining team, “we introduce people to him,tell his story and have him create a special dinner,” Freed says. “Itgoes back to that Millenial philosophy of making a personal connection.”
Connections with staff are also made through a regular feature called Consuela's Cafe. This station, which moves around the cafe with portable cooking equipment, highlights line associates, not chefs. They work with Executive Chef Mark Paolini to develop a menu around some cuisine they want to feature.
“This is a way to highlight the talents of employees like the cashier or the utility people, a way for them to get out there and perform or interact with customers,” Paolini says.
At various times, Consuela's Cafe has menued falafel, different Colombian dishes like beef stew and stuffed plaintain, or simply pasta or comfort favorites like carved turkey sandwiches.
The rest of the daily meal choices come from a series of stations offering deli sandwiches, pizza, ethnic selections and entrees. The selections are created by the onsite culinary staff and incorporated from various Flik programs such as Flik Fit (healthful dishes), Back to Basics(comfort foods) and Flikety Split (grab and go). A regular monthly feature is Flik Around the World, a company-wide highlighting of a particular ethnic cuisine that is a cooperative effort of the entire Flik organization.
Connections with customers are made through a series of initiatives that recognize and validate their concerns. For instance, in the recent troubled economic environment, the cafe has been running daily “chalkboard specials” that heavily discount certain popular menu items.
“The idea is to discount not an esoteric item but a favorite, such as the grilled chicken sandwich,” says Freed. “It is a way to say, ‘We understand,’ but of course we also hope that once people feel they've saved, they may splurge on a dessert or the premium chips.”
Immediate customer connection is the overriding goal, says Freed. “We communicate that vibe the second they walk in our entrance, through a deliberate mix of visual, mood, service and signage” he says. “I believe you have only three to four seconds to start communicating the message that you share their values and concerns. If they don't see those points o contact in the first 20 steps in, you've lost the opportunity to create that transformational impact.”
Photo: John Lawn
Catering represents a significant part of the Flik dining operation at Cleary Gottlieb. The company manages food and beverage for an average of some 30 events each day, ranging from meetings between a couple of individuals to gatherings of more than 60.
What they get is determined by several factors, not least their individual preferences. “We do have a set catering menu but in many cases we take a more customer approach that uses local ingredients and organics,depending on what is fresh and available at any given time,” says Flik Regional Executive Chef Mark Paolini. “Rather than the typical beef,chicken and fish dishes, and sandwich lunches, many groups prefer our“lazy susan lunches.” These utilize a revolving serving tray with various selections from which each guest — usually eight to a table —selects what they want.
In the conference room area, located on opposite side of the floor from cafeteria, the buffets emphasize dishes made with local and seasonal ingredients.
“It's not set up as a traditional corporate buffet area,” says Regional VP Adam Freed. “Rather, it's like walking into the dining area in your home. We've developed trust with the client and they are very comfortable with our chef creating a menu without going through a strict approval process.”
Cleary by Night
Unlike most B&Is, the Flik operation at Cleary Gottlieb serves regular dinner four nights a week, with an average participation of 150 to 225 guests..
“The experience for the guest is dramatically different at dinner from what it is at lunch,” says Cafe Manager Juan Carlos Melgarejo. “While at lunch we have ordinary tables and chairs across the dining room, in the evening we section off an area closest to the wide view windows with beautiful Chinese dividers and change the seating experience. We set up four to six tables with white tablecloths and add candlelight and flowers for more of an upscale restaurantish experience. We also have jazz or light instrumental mood music and our associates change into black chef jackets, neckties and neckerchiefs.”
The menu of course also undergoes a revision, with more upscale selections.
“We generally offer two restaurant style entree choices along with a cook-to-order action station,” says Regional Executive Chef Mark Paolini. That action station is generally manned by a dining associate who works with Paolini to develop a specific menu focus. A recent one featured empanadas, for example.
There are also more high end items on the dinner menu, such as dry-aged ribeye, which of course demand a higher price. The menus are generally set a week in advance and communicated with signage during the day.
Dinner is served from 6 to 8:30 in the evening Monday through Thursday to accommodate associates and staff working late.