JEFF BENJAMIN has no plans to run for mayor. He's doing fine as managing partner of the Vetri family of restaurants - seven eateries he co-owns with founding chef Marc Vetri and two others.

He probably gets a better paycheck than the current occupant of City Hall's Room 215 does, too.

But whoever replaces Mayor Nutter in 2016 should hire Benjamin as a consultant. Not because City Hall needs craft brews on tap. (Although wouldn't that make the budget hearings a gas?) But because Benjamin knows that no business can survive if it takes its customers for granted.

No city can thrive, either - survive, sure; but thrive, no - if it takes its citizens for granted. How might we feel about Philly if our public servants took cues from hospitality-industry leaders like Benjamin?

I pondered the question while reading his new book, Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets. It's a fun, thoughtful and unexpectedly inspiring collection of 40 essays that are ostensibly about the restaurant business but are really about leadership, responsibility, kindness, duty, adaptability, egalitarianism and plain old decency.

As told by Benjamin, 46, the genial son of an Iowa rabbi, the lessons learned during 30 years in the hospitality business are applicable to every service provider.

Well, our $3.2 billion city government is Philly's biggest service provider. What lessons can its leaders learn from Benjamin's success?

Go the distance daily

Benjamin's first food job, at 16, was as a catering-hall server.

"As formally attired guests arrived in shiny limos, I had an overwhelming feeling that it was opening night of a grand performance," he writes. "To this day, during every pre-shift meeting, I feel like I'm motivating the cast of a grand show to give it their all for the audience . . . My motivating force was searching for the best ways to make our guests come back."

Imagine if the goal of every city worker was to earn our applause, and if their supervisors applauded them for putting us first, no matter what. What citizen wouldn't want to interact with people who treated us that way? And imagine how much fun it would be to work in that kind of environment.

Put your best people up front

No factor in a successful service operation is as "singularly important as the performance of - and the guest's connection to - their server," writes Benjamin. "Servers are the face, voice and calling card of our business. The importance of their role cannot be by overestimated. . . . They're friendly, happy, flexible, attentive, anticipatory, sincere and, most importantly, desirous to please."

But one thing a server is not "is a servant. I am still amazed - frankly disgusted - by the manner in which some guests treat service staff. Snapping their fingers, yelling out, blaming servers for things out of their control."

Municipal workers are not servants, either, but they have the power to help or hinder those who need assistance. Remembering that might give them patience with the frustrated public.

Word-of-mouth power

"If a customer has a good experience with a product or service they may tell a friend," Benjamin notes. But a bad experience? "They will tell 30 friends."

Social media makes it easier than ever for the disgruntled to share. Still, what should a city worker do when confronted by a frustrated or hostile customer?

"Sometimes we just have to suck it up in the service industry," says Benjamin. "That's what professionals do. The customer may not always be right, but they're always the customer. If I can help them find a little bit of salvation . . . even if it means swallowing a bit of pride . . . bring it on."

Leaders show by doing

The Vetri-restaurants management philosophy is informed by the famous French chef Fernand Point, says Benjamin.

"He said that in order to be a successful chef, one must treat the dishwasher with the same respect as anyone else on staff," Benjamin writes, describing how Marc Vetri, his James Beard Award-winning chef partner, jumped in to help the dishwashers during the opening week at Osteria Moorestown. He and Benjamin hadn't adequately staffed the kitchen to handle restaurant volume, and the dishwashers were struggling to keep up.

While Vetri washed dishes, he brainstormed with workers ways to create an assembly line that would make the work easier.

"It showed that Marc was there not just to help them but also to help them help themselves," says Benjamin. "He was invested in their success . . . It isn't enough to ensure you pay a living wage; it is the dignity with which you approach your team that matters . . . Always remember that your key to success lies in the success of the team. Never take that for granted."

These are only snippets from Benjamin's lively book (published by local Burgess Lea Press, which donates 100 percent of its after-tax profit to food-related causes. The profits from Benjamin's book will support The Vetri Foundation for Children and the Drexel University School of Culinary Arts). Its 200 pages contain so much more, including tasty tales of cranky customers, bad tippers and restaurant critics whose opinions aren't worth the napkins they daub their lips with.

On its own, it's a wonderful read. As a primer to get us thinking about how our public servants should treat us - and us them - it's a must-read for our next mayor.

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

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