Cooper’s Hawk: How to Excel in Customer Service

By: Brad Shorr – Business Unplugged

When a restaurant goes the extra mile, it gets my attention. When it goes the extra 5 miles, it’s time for an article.

Recently some friends and I went to Cooper’s Hawk in Naperville, IL – a popular, upscale restaurant/winery featuring a Napa Valley-like wine-tasting bar. As we were leaving, my wife pointed out some nice wine glasses in the gift shop, and I thought, Whew, now I know what to get her for Christmas! 

The next morning, in a blizzard, I happened to be in the same area. It was only 9 a.m., but I called the restaurant on the off chance the gift shop was open. A woman answered the phone and informed me the shop opened at 10. When I said I’d have to come back another time, her response was,

“If you want, come by now. I’ll open the store for you.”

Eh? What?  “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Absolutely. We always try to help people out if we can. Just come to the door and give me a call – I’ll let you in. My name is Kat. I manage the store.”

Stunned, I headed over. A few minutes later, Kat Szeszak, Assistant General Manager (Naperville location), who couldn’t have been nicer, was helping me with the purchase and further charming me with her wine and restaurant business insights. She made me feel figuratively as well as literally as if I were the only customer in the store.

Naturally, thanks to the red carpet treatment, I bought more than I had planned.

Afterwards, when I started working on this article, I contacted Cooper’s Hawk through its website for more information, and got a quick response from Jennifer Gaba, Member and Guest Services, and soon thereafter photos and background from Melanie Pierce, Manager of Marketing Communications.

Four things about my experience are worth emphasizing:

  1. When Kat opened the store in the hope of satisfying one customer, she didn’t know whether I wanted to make a $10 or $1,000 purchase – her response was not tied to a transactional objective. How often do sales and customer service people go beyond the deal and see the bigger picture?
  2. The website response was fast, personal and enthusiastic. How often do you get all three of these in an online customer service experience? Doesn’t this combination turn casual customers into regulars, and regulars into brand evangelists?
  3. Consistency is key for delivering a great customer experience. My great experience with Kat could have been completely undermined by a poor website experience – or an inattentive server or hostess, for that matter. Customer service is everyone’s business.
  4. “Annoying” customers are opportunities in disguise. When a customer wants to disrupt your store opening in a blizzard, you can respond with a “yes” or a “no.” A “no” may be totally justified – but will it lead to repeat business and referrals?

Food for Thought 

Does your recipe for success include great customer service? What exactly are you doing to make fast, personal and enthusiastic customer service part of your staff’s DNA?

Disclosure: I was not compensated by Cooper’s Hawk or any other party in any way for this article.

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Naperville Dining: 10 Top Picks for Valentine’s Day & Beyond

Have you ever wanted to go out to eat but ended up spending more time trying to figure out where to go than you did actually enjoying your meal? It happens to all of us. The Naperville area has many great restaurants filled with fine food and great ambiance, but which one is the right fit for your meal?

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we asked some members of the local community about their favorite spots for a great meal, and some suggestions for the perfect Valentine’s treat for those that like to plan ahead. Read on to find out what they recommended.

Turn Down the Lights

“My husband and I really enjoy Cooper’s Hawk. We both like wine and joined the wine club. It’s like getting a surprise every month. We go there for date night and get our bottle of wine. Sometimes we miss a couple of months and get a box of wines. It’s quiet, which is nice for having a conversation at your table. They turn the lights low for dinner, so it makes for a nice, soothing environment – so nice after working in a noisy office all day.”

- Trena Brannon is a woman of Faith, a wife & mother, an artist, a business owner, a manager, a change agent and an encourager. She has a passion for people and a passion for color. Visit The Brannon Factory for custom designed artwork and workshops in artistic stamping and paper crafts.

Read full article

What’s Going On Today

Home building seminar: The city of Naperville will host a seminar for builders of single-family homes as well as residents to learn more about the city’s home-building review process. Register by calling project manager Rick Trujillo at 630-420-6692.

Naperville Junior Woman’s Club: The club’s monthly general meeting is at 7 p.m. at Mimi’s Cafe in Naperville. RSVP at or call 630-575-9567.

DuPage Woodworkers: The next monthly meeting of the DuPage Woodworkers will take place at 7 p.m. at St. James the Apostle Church, 480 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn. Mike Brady will demonstrate hand tools for every woodworker. Visit


Job fair for veterans: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Naperville Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Chamber of Commerce will partner with Suburban Advocacy for Veterans Employment to host the Hiring Our Heroes Naperville job fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tellabs in Naperville. The event is part of the 100-city nationwide initiative that the U.S. Chamber launched this year to help veterans and military spouses find jobs.

Massacre Haunted House: The Massacre Haunted House and Fear Factory 3-D on the second floor of Odyssey Fun World, 3440 Odyssey Court, Naperville, will offer more than 15,000 square feet of scary entertainment at 7 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday in October. This haunted labyrinth has 35 rooms and 40 ghastly clad actors. Tickets start at $20, and will be sold at the door and online at Visit

Naperville Township Democratic Organization: The political group will host a community forum at 7:30 p.m. at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., in meeting rooms B and C, on the lower level. Naperville resident Melissa Urda, who serves as co-chair of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project, will discuss the vulnerabilities of the voting machines in our elections. Visit

Finance Director Rings Up City’s Success to Retail

By Hank Beckman

Stacy Kral, left, greets guests with samples of sparkling wine Monday evening during the grand opening of Cooper’s Hawk in the Freedom Commons development. Jeff Cagle / For Sun-Times Media

While the rest of the country continues to struggle, Naperville’s finances are slowly improving, City Finance Director Karen DeAngelis said Monday.

However “it’s very, very early now (in the budget process),” DeAngelis said of the city’s preparation for its fiscal year 2013 budget.

Speaking before the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Committee luncheon at the Hotel Arista, DeAngelis said that retail sales taxes were a key factor driving Naperville’s recovery.

She said the city has seen a $1 million improvement in retail sales tax revenues in fiscal year 2012 compared to the previous year. This is helping to offset a continuing slump in real estate sales, she said.

The city has also seen a slight reduction in population due to foreclosures, which reduced the city’s share of state income tax.

DeAngelis, however, sees hope for the city’s real estate sector, noting that commercial real estate, helped by a few large deals, is starting to show signs of life.

“We are starting to see commercial property move,” she said.

Earlier projections were that the city would have to cope with an $11.2 million shortfall in fiscal year 2013. But estimate revisions of $4.8 million and an excess fund balance of $3 million bring the projected gap down to less than $4 million.

The overall budget for fiscal year was $27.3 million, the highest since the fiscal year 2007 budget of $27.1 million.

“We’re getting back to where we were before the recession hit,” DeAngelis said.

DeAngelis said that some credit for reducing the shortfall between revenues and expenses should go to city departments, all of which came in at or under budget.

“There is no sign that expenditures are out of line,” she said.

She also noted savings in claims reductions in medical and worker’s compensation cases.

Things are still difficult, though. DeAngelis pointed out that, for the first time, the city’s total equalized assessed valuation has dropped for three years running.

State Reps. Michael Connelly (R-Lisle) and Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) also briefed the Chamber members on state legislative matters.

Senger said that efforts to reform state pensions were starting to bear fruit, including progress on SB-512, the legislation aimed at giving state employees a range of options for their retirement.

“If we don’t do something with the pensions, our next year’s budget is going to be a disaster,” she said.

Senger said that state officials were staring to study the creation of the exchanges necessary to implement national health care reform.

To facilitate the program, the state is seeking a $92 million grant, which Senger stressed would only be for the creation of the system.

“Then we will have to maintain it,” she said.

One audience member asked if the exchanges would be, in effect, an unfunded mandate.

“You’re right,” Senger responded, stressing that many other states have sued the federal government in opposition to parts of the law.

“Our attorney general is not interested in joining the lawsuit,” she said.

Sister Mary Jeanne Haley, of St. Patrick’s Nursing, Residence and Rehabilitation, asked about legislation proposed last year that would have hiked the per-bed state tax on nursing homes, currently $1.25.

Haley noted the problems a hike would cause nursing homes.

“Nursing homes are going to close,” she said.

Senger said that the proposal was voted down last year.

“I haven’t heard anything about it coming back,” she said.

Connelly told Haley that the proposal was another example of the state having finite resources and urged people to support pension reform as a way of freeing up revenue for other needs.

“Something’s got to give,” he said, “or taxes will have to be raised.”

Senger agreed, saying that the most important step citizens could take was to let their state representatives know how they feel.


Table for Two: The Oenophile’s Guide to Ornithology

By: Mark Loehrke

Previously spotted in nearby suburban enclaves such as Burr Ridge and Arlington Heights, Cooper’s Hawk recently migrated to the crowded Naperville dining scene, alighting on a small patch of prairie amid the growing cluster of eateries along the Freedom Drive corridor off Interstate 88. While this places it in competition for survival among formidable foes such as the White Chocolate Grill and Morton’s, it also ensures a steady stream of prospective hungry patrons into the area.

While many of its fellow species in the “upscale casual” genus certainly acknowledge the concept of wine as an important part of the dining experience (not to mention their bottom lines), Cooper’s Hawk sets itself apart with its attempt at full integration of wine and food throughout the meal—not surprising, perhaps, given the winemaking aspect of its business concept. From the tasting room to the on-site aging barrels to the gift boutique stocked with bottles bearing the house label to even the placement of the word “winery” before “restaurant” in the moniker, the message is exceedingly clear—the wine list here will be no mere afterthought.

The first thing that diners will notice as they enter this handsome wood and stone nest is their immediate, and rather abrupt, arrival smack dab in the middle of the gift shop. No hostess station or bar area to soften the blow here—before that door could even come to a close behind us we were face-to-face with endless bottles of wine and a display of lighthearted wine-themed T-shirts and novelties (several of which were bedazzled beyond recognition). Normalcy resumed just a few steps ahead, however, as we approached the bar and the semi-private “barrel room”—six to eight tables sequestered and arranged amid carefully stacked casks of aging vino. After a bit of confusion as to which one of the many enthusiastically smiling faces to speak with as we arrived at what appeared to be the front desk in a hotel lobby (I think I wound up addressing the group as a whole by default), we were shown to our table in the sleek main dining room.

Given the focus at Cooper’s Hawk, staff members clearly must possess a broader intellectual approach to wine than simply knowing how to work the old corkscrew. Taking a cue from the menu—which features suggested bin numbers to accompany each appetizer, entrée, salad and dessert available—the servers here display a deeper understanding of and appreciation for wine than most. That said, we were relieved to find that this heightened knowledge did not manifest itself in the kind of off-putting snobbery that can often be found in this field. To the contrary, our server was refreshingly personable and down-to-earth, even taking the time to explain to us the purpose of the laboratory-worthy glass decanters dotting many of the tabletops throughout the room (aeration for the reds), which we had mistook for fancy wine bongs.

While the extensive wine list comprises the first two full pages of the Cooper’s Hawk menu (tastings are free and sampling is vigorously encouraged), any concern that so much focus on the grape juice might mean a compromised or shortchanged dining experience was quickly and emphatically laid to rest by the wide-ranging selection of appetizers, pastas, meats, seafood, sandwiches, and salads that followed. Quite frankly, if your companion cannot find something appealing on this slate, it’s time to consider changing partners, not restaurants. The southwestern egg rolls got us off to a solid start, and the maple-glazed pork medallions and BBQ chicken chopped salad more than kept that momentum going right into dessert—a hefty apple tart drizzled with caramel and topped with cinnamon ice cream that emerged from a tense, drawn-out elimination process. As for the wine, we opted for a glass of the night’s special—a rich barrel blend of five different reds.

The Hawk has landed—Naperville wine lovers rejoice (quick, somebody put that on a T-shirt!).