Kevin Ramsey, General Manager
The brunch rush at Birch & Barley is no joke. On any given weekend, the restaurant, which opened in 2009 and quickly vaulted to popularity, can turn a table three times in a few hours. That keeps both the kitchen and front-of-house staffers on their toes. Yet brunch there never feels like a mad rush. It’s a highly coordinated enterprise that looks almost effortless. That’s mainly due to general manager Kevin Ramsey. He marshals dozens of staff members who rise bright and early on the weekend to pull off this seamless operation.
You’ve drawn the crowds to Birch & Barley. How do you keep them?
I think any great restaurant is defined by how well its service can operate, whether it's breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Consistency in everything we do is key, but the number one thing that drives us is ensuring our guests have the best possible experience.
How do you stay ahead of the competition?
D.C. is a great brunch town. What Chef Bill [Williamson] has been able to do here is take some classic brunch staples and put his own spin on it. You might have had steak and eggs before, but our steak and eggs feature locally-sourced beef from Roseda Farm in Monkton, Maryland. Instead of home fries, we use house-made tater tots that our culinary team spends hours preparing each day.
What are the keys to keeping your cocktails on point?
First and foremost is seasonality. It doesn’t make sense to offer a mulled cider in the middle of July. Another key is creating drinks that have house-made ingredients and serving creative cocktails alongside classics.
How do you manage table turnover during the brunch rush?
Table turnover is important. Every little detail, from getting the guests menus to taking the order promptly, contributes to table maintenance and our ability to run a smooth and efficient service. The challenge every shift is to try to welcome as many walk-in guests that we can fit around our existing reservations.
What about waitstaff turnover and training?
Staff turnover is one of the realities of the industry. What I love about my staff is that each of them are passionate individuals, and although not every one of them views the restaurant industry as their career, they are all dedicated to providing the best possible experience for our guests. Training for new employees usually takes about seven to 10 days, and hires learn not only what we serve, but how we serve it.
Have you ever had things go sideways during the rush?
I remember one brunch when two out of three of our waffle irons went down.The kitchen was struggling to keep up, and it seemed like everyone’s brunch entrees were dragging. I noticed that our pastry section was perfectly fine, so I worked with the pastry cook to prepare a bunch of treats for tables that had a long wait for food. I walked around to a half dozen tables with breakfast pastries in my hands to apologize for the delay on their food. That’s a big thing for me—if things go wrong, you need to be upfront with them and work tirelessly to rectify the situation.—Tim Ebner