HOLMES BEACH -- Roses are placed at the center of every table -- and sometimes handed out by the servers.
The owner often walks around the room offering tastes of wine. And if diners are overheard pondering one entree or another, they’ll sometimes receive both their order and a small sample of the other entree they were considering.
These are just some of the special touches that have earned the Beach Bistro yet another top ranking in the Tampa/Sarasota area by the Zagat Restaurant Guide. The Holmes Beach waterfront eatery, owned by Sean and Susan Murphy, was one of only two out of 20 restaurants included that earned a 28-point ranking on Zagat’s 30-point scale.
“You buy the best stuff, you find the best guys to cook it, and you find the best people to serve it,” Sean Murphy said, summarizing what he believes are the keys to the Beach Bistro’s ongoing top-notch reputation. “The story line always reads ‘Sean Murphy,’ but really, I’m just the coach.”
The restaurant’s success is even more impressive considering that Murphy is a law school graduate who opened the Beach Bistro 26 years ago as a way to avoid being deported back to his home country of Nova Scotia.
Murphy said that within two years of opening their own business, he and his wife realized that stress was a major issue for those who worked in the restaurant business.
“People really needed to have a maximum number of hours that they work, and a minimum number of hours in a row off, to have good family lives.”
The Murphys adopted a rule that remains in place today: No one works more than five days in a row, everyone receives good health insurance, and everyone gets two days off in a row.
The rule helps him retain good employees; Murphy says almost everyone who works for him at his two -- and soon to be three -- locations has been around for at least eight and up to 25 years.
“Sean and Susan are like family to me,” says Annette Walden, the Beach Bistro’s floor manager. “And they reward loyalty and dedication.”
“It’s a joy going to work at the Bistro because everyone there is always striving for excellence,” says David Klingler, wine manager, who has worked for the Murphys for 16 years. “Everyone has a passion for their job. We don’t just rest on our laurels and think ‘we’re great.’ ”
Walden and Klingler say they and the waitstaff are trained to be extra-observant of diners’ wishes, including listening in for feedback and sensing when customers “want to have a little more conversation,” or when they “would prefer to just be left alone and have dinner for themselves,” Walden says.
Murphy is also committed to obtaining the best products, whether it be prime American tenderloin, domestic, ranch-raised Colorado lamb, or fresh grouper caught by local fishermen.
He has opened a second eatery in Holmes Beach called Eat Here, and by Nov. 15 will open a second Eat Here on Main Street in Sarasota.
The Zagat guide, produced for the past 32 years, is considered the most prestigious of restaurant guides and ranks restaurants on a 30-point scale that considers food, decor, service and cost.
The Beach Bistro has received a ranking of 28 out of 30 since 2009, and from 2004 to 2006, according to a Zagat spokesperson. The only other restaurant in the Tampa/Sarasota area to receive a score of 28 this year is south Tampa’s Pane Rustica.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.