Behind the Bar Bar Talk

Kevin Diedrich of San Francisco's PCH on Opening Your Own Bar

Image: Tim Nusog

From a background in bars on both coasts—D.C. and San Francisco—Kevin Diedrich put places like Burritt Room and Jasper’s (both under different hotel management when he helped open them) on the cocktail map with his inventive, balanced and always drinkable cocktails.

He ran bars for Ritz-Carlton, Mina, Starwood, Four Seasons and Kimpton, so he’s experienced working with a range of hotel and corporate bars/restaurants, from high-end to casual. “All were drastically different from each other—very structured to very strict, allowing free expression to no care at all,” says Diedrich. “Each of them added a lot to my career, though at the moment, some were either rewarding or difficult.”

Having just opened his own bar, Pacific Cocktail Haven, aka PCH, on June 16 in the legendary Cantina space in downtown San Francisco, Diedrich muses on the key ways corporate environments actually helped him open his own bar.

Virginia Miller

Service above all else

“With some of the big corporations, F&B was an afterthought, especially in hotels. Making the money on rooms, the management team or hotel chain would draw limits on the restaurant/bar. There was really little creative growth. But I’ve been lucky to work with companies like Mina and Kimpton that cultivated creativity [where] I was given the building blocks of what service is. I say service, because that’s the business we are in: We serve. Hospitality is something we do—a culture—like how we greet people at home or at the bar. Service is the business we are in.

“Corporate environments have got it on lockdown. A lot of these steps of service were driven into us over and over, in classes, seminars, orientations. While it would seem tedious to have to carry around hotel cards or memorize basics and pyramids, feeling even cultish at times, it achieved something great. You may not remember all of the steps of service, but the education resonates and gets ingrained in how you act. As much as I try and stop, I always say ‘my pleasure’ after a thanks. It’s hard to turn off, like a robot, but honestly it really is my pleasure.”

Tim Nusog

Patience and saying “no”

“These trainings teach you verbiage: how to say ‘no’ while saying ‘yes’ to a guest. You learn patience—sooo much patience—especially dealing with some clientele at higher-end hotels. I remember a guest coming in and telling their friends, ‘Go ahead and ask him for something. They’re not allowed to say no.’ That alone pushes you to think outside the box. It also teaches you empowerment—how to make a guest happy, about going above and beyond.

“I learned about key steps of service: greeting your guests, sense of urgency, compassion, guest perception, learning to listen, how to handle upset guests, ownership of problems, accountability. Along with all this service and hospitality, I learned about labor and operating costs, budgets, how to write menus and how to make projections.”

Hiring and how to ask the right questions

“Then there’s hiring in these environments. In corporate structures, it’s never just one interview; it’s a flurry of interviews—personality questions, service questions. I once was asked 100 questions about a range of situations and scenarios. That was intense. But I learned about how and what to ask.”

Tim Nusog

Breaking the ice with customers

“I definitely have to tribute my success and where I’m going to corporations like Ritz, Kimpton and Mina. I took with me those things like the ‘warm welcome’ and ‘fond farewell.’ I learned about how to wow a guest (‘surprising and delighting’), as cheesy as that may sound, or about useful icebreakers with customers. It’s not about how funny or corny the icebreaker is; it’s more about trying to get a sense of where that person is coming from—their past, their experiences and preferences.”

Leading by example

“For me, it’s about hiring the right people and asking the right questions. I’m transparent with what I do, how I do it, why I do it and where I learned it from. I also believe in leading by example. I do everything: I’m behind the stick making drinks, getting in the weeds, getting yelled at, making guests happy and instilling the service values that have been taught to me. I would never tell anyone to do something that I don’t do on a daily basis.”