Published on November 2, 2017

Annie Stoll of Delfina on Achieving Longevity in the Hospitality Industry

One of Reserve's first partners and ambitious restaurateur, Annie Stoll has five restaurants (and one more on the way!) with her husband and co-owner Craig Stoll. The San Francisco power couple is about to celebrate 19 years at Delfina, and have since added 4 pizzerias to their portfolio, as well as Locanda in 2012 which is a full-service, full-bar restaurant in the Mission. 

The amiable restaurant owner is devoted to her family, and her staff that's become family. We chatted with her about keys to maintaining longevity in the hospitality business and the big reason she loves working with Reserve.

Untitled design (62)-1.pngPhoto of Annie Stoll by Craig Lee, SFC

You and your husband opened Delfina almost 20 years ago, and you've since expanded. Can you give me a quick breakdown of your concepts?
We’re about to celebrate 19 years at Delfina on November 19th. Delfina was our first baby. It was a small 37-seat restaurant. A year later, we doubled in size and expanded. We have four pizzerias, going on five — we’re about to open another one. We also opened Locanda in 2012 which is a full-service, full-bar restaurant in the Mission.

What do you think has been critical to your longevity in the hospitality business, especially in such a competitive landscape? 
The two things that guide our decisions are longevity and butts in seats. If anyone says, “do you want to do a TV shoot in LA,” we ask ourselves if it’s gonna add butts in seats or longevity to our business? That’s how we answer those questions.

Also, we expanded extremely slowly. Most importantly though, our longevity has everything to do with the people we have that work for us — that’s kept us excited and kept us successful — and of course our guests more than anything. We’ve always had such great customers. Even after 19 years, when I work the floor, I get excited — I feel like I’m hosting a dinner party every night. That feeling was expanded to all our locations. You get that family neighborhood, hospitality feel — it’s filled with soul. It’s not a chain restaurant. That has to do with our guests and who we are and what we do as we open up neighborhood restaurants.

I understand that you heavily invest in your employees, and many have gone on to do great things in the hospitality space. Can you tell me a little bit more about your business philosophy?
We hire great people who are ambitious and passionate, want to learn and grow, and want to open their own restaurants. We always tell our GMs to find their replacements, and to work with that person and develop that person. Education is such an important part of getting there. Craig goes to Italy twice a year, and he takes chefs and sous chefs with him. We’re also an open book with our P&Ls, and want to teach our management team what it looks like, what it means, and how it translates into the day-to-day. We send them to classes with our accountants and also teach them in-house.

We also have mandatory educational meetings once a month where we cover one specific topic. Often it’s a lot about wine but recently at Locanda, it was about service. We talked about hospitality, steps of service, and how we can improve and be better. Another educational meeting this month was about Barolo since we had our truffle and Barolo dinner this month. We test everyone, and they taste everything. It’s all very expensive but it’s completely worth it because we want everyone to know our projects and to learn and grow for themselves.

delfina_sf.jpg Photo provided by Delfina.

You chose to partner with Reserve very early on, and recently upgraded to our new version. How was the switch to Reserve?
We’ve been with Reserve almost three years now. I’ve never used OpenTable but this is our fourth product, and it’s always a shakeup when you switch to any new technology. Change is really scary for people. Finally I decided to do it, and it was really seamless. At first, the new version seemed confusing. It was just a change for me to not see the open slots and going to the grid to see what’s going on. And now I’m really in the books and I love it. This system is so intuitive and really gets it. We just had two killer weekends since the new system, and it’s helping with butts in seats which is great.

Another one of the many things that’s so great about Reserve is the service, the hospitality on your end. I know the team will be with us every step of the way, whether it's day or night. There’s so many purveyors of restaurants that don’t work nights and weekends. At Reserve, Chandre (Restaurant Success Manager) came and did the initial training, but we also know that if someone didn’t get it she’d be back in a heartbeat or she would answer my texts and if she couldn’t, Alexa (Implementation Lead) in New York would.

There are a number of different table management systems out there at this point. What pushed you over the line to Reserve?
We switched off Yelp’s product because of Reserve’s service and the understanding of the business. Reserve understands the restaurant business and we really feel like you’re on our side — that Reserve’s here for us. With other products, it’s about them being the middleman. I know Reserve is a middle man too but it doesn't feel that way. Reserve’s made changes based on some of my suggestions and observations, and I really feel like the team is on our side. I can just email the team and someone gets right back to me. I really feel like we’re partners.

Having a good technology partner is key to running a restaurant in 2017 but it can never replace a human operator. Do you agree?
Yes, to me, being in the books is key — that’s our business here. My morning ritual is looking at the books and moving things around and opening things up. It can’t be robotic. You’re dealing with people. A robot can’t do it. If we have a table coming in for a regular couple that we know only sits for an hour, and they’ve made a 5:30pm, no system can know that and adjust accordingly. No matter what product you use, you should still be in the books.

A big thanks to Annie Stoll of Delfina for offering her time to speak with us and for her partnership with Reserve. Do you too want to be featured? Email your Restaurant Success Manager and let us know!

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