In 1985, Steve DiFillippo took over an Italian steakhouse on Boston’s Newbury Street named Davio’s. Since then, he’s not only turned this restaurant into a premier Boston dining destination, but also expanded his success to seven popular Davio’s locations along the East Coast.
Offering a fine dining experience at its most elegant, Davio’s is known for its impressive steaks and handmade pastas, paired with an intimate atmosphere and attentive service. Their restaurants are recognized by industry authorities and celebrities alike, and DiFillippo was inducted into the Massachusetts Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2008.
As the Davio’s team prepares for their anniversary celebration tomorrow night, DiFillippo took some time to share with us his experience and the industry insights he’s gained over the past three decades.
Let’s get right to the big question: What do you think has been your secret to success with Davio’s over the past 30 years?
Hiring the right people because at a restaurant, it’s all about the people who work in the company. By the time your food hits the table, it goes through ten people’s hands — you need to have the right staff from the beginning to the end to make sure the guest is taken care of.
In the past four years, you’ve opened locations in Atlanta, New York, and Lynnfield, Mass. What do you think is the most important piece of advice you could offer a restaurateur looking to expand their business with a new location or a new concept?
Put together as much as you can. If you don’t have financial backing, it’s very difficult to be successful. Open a restaurant where the people are. There is always an exception, but that’s the exception. Don’t plan on being that exception.
In 2013 you published your book “It’s All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life the Davio’s Way.” What made you want to write the book?
So many people have come to me for advice wherever I go, and I have been opening and operating restaurants for over 30 years. I thought the book would really help anyone in the service industry.
Why is it really “All About the Guest”?
It’s a double meaning: you need to take care of people who walk in the front door and your employees who walk in the back door. If they are happy, it’s going come across in your restaurant. It doesn’t work unless you take care of both sides of the equation.
Is there anything you’ve learned about the industry since writing “It’s All About the Guest” that you wish you could add to the book now?
I would add more about expansion. I would talk more about the pros and cons of expansion because I see a lot of restaurateurs expanding and I think many of them are making a mistake. Restaurateurs need to find and build their brand instead of just opening multiple concepts.
Having already built such a successful brand yourself, do you plan to continue expanding Davio’s in the future?
Yes, I feel like after 30 years I am just getting started. I have a great team and I love what I do.
Speaking of teams, Davio’s has had a business relationship with Rewards Network since the mid-90s. What do you think has changed most about your business since then?
Technology. Before online reservations, the phone used to ring off the hook. With smartphones, I can be anywhere in the world and I can still watch over business on my phone.
What value has Rewards Network brought to your business?
I think Rewards Network is a great partner. When we signed up, their members came right out from the faucet, and they are very loyal guests.
What do you like most about the programs Rewards Network offers?
We get information about who’s dining with us, and what they like and don’t like. Those customer surveys are extremely helpful. The more information we receive from reports, the better, and the insights are excellent.
Your team is very active in using our Comment Management System. What is your process for responding to those comments? Why do you think it’s important to engage with your customers through the system?
We have one of our team members respond to every guest inquiry on a daily basis. We think it’s very important to respond to both good and bad comments. You can’t not respond to a comment. We find it rewarding because the guest usually says, “Wow, no one ever responds to us,” and I think it makes a big impact. The toughest critic usually turns into our most loyal guest.
And that dedication to the community goes beyond your guests and employees – Davio’s has done a lot of great work with charities like Taste of the NFL, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry, and Rodman Ride for Kids. Why do you think it’s important for restaurant owners to give back to their local communities?
I learned as a young boy that people want to help people who want to help them! When you help a charity, they remember you. When you participate in an event, the attendees will most likely choose you when they decide to go out to eat. It’s the old saying, “What goes around, comes around.”
Want to read about how restaurants have benefited from a partnership with Rewards Network?