Dining at Amoo’s, Where Hospitality is the Main Course

Amoo’s Restaurant, nestled in the heart of McLean, Virginia, became my chosen destination to observe. I was curious about the factors contributing to this establishment’s success and how customer preferences, cultural adaptation, and market positioning influence its performance in the restaurant industry.

Amoo’s Restaurant is a renowned Persian eatery that opened in 2004. It stands as a shining example of a successful family business that embraces diversity and inclusion. During my recent visits, spanning six weeks, I had the opportunity to observe not only the familial nature of the industry but also the significant presence of female staff members. The familial atmosphere is profound, extending beyond the ambiance to include owner Osman Oveysi, affectionately referred to as “Baba,” or his son, Michael.

Amoo’s RestaurantFrom the moment you enter the restaurant, you are greeted with warmth, respect, and hospitality. The female staff hold various roles, including chef and front-of-house positions. Their interactions reflect a cohesive and supportive work environment. The staff’s dedication enriches the restaurant’s operations, and the family places a high value on their talent and efficiency. They are courteous, knowledgeable, and attentive, ensuring that every dining experience is handled professionally and with care.

Upon arrival, guests are welcomed by a charming exterior that sets the stage for an elegant, flavorful dining experience. Each guest is greeted by Osman, or his son, Michael. The décor pays homage to Iran’s cultural heritage, featuring portraits of the Shah of Iran, his wife, and son, framed Persian rugs, and a large Iranian flag. This represents the restaurant’s commitment to celebrating Iran’s rich history and traditions. The family has brought a piece of their life and culture from Iran to the United States. One might wonder, what makes customers return and become regulars? Is it the taste or the quality of the food, the service, or the atmosphere?

Amoo’s menu features a diverse selection of authentic Persian dishes, each meticulously prepared to showcase Iran’s rich flavors and culinary heritage. From traditional kabobs and stews to four types of flavorful basmati rice dishes served with lamb, beef, chicken, or fish, they offer a delightful array of options to satisfy various palates. Fresh, top-notch ingredients are used, with a masterful utilization of spices, and saffron stands out as the star in their culinary offerings. Saffron, often referred to as the “red gold” of spices, is a hallmark of Amoo’s culinary expertise and Persian cuisine. It is not only featured in dishes like chicken kabob and seabass but is also garnished with basmati rice. Amoo’s even offers saffron ice cream as a standout dessert, leaving a lasting impression.

Osman Oveysi, known as 'Baba'
Osman Oveysi, known as ‘Baba.’

In addition to the meal, Amoo’s enhances the dining experience with Persian hot tea and the melodic sounds of Farsi songs. The hot tea, infused with rose and saffron, is served during or after the meal in delicate glassware or handled mugs. The music playing in the background adds an evocative layer to the dining atmosphere, involving patrons in the melodic sounds of Persian music and creating an immersive experience that transports some customers to places imbued with Iran’s cultural nuances and emotional resonance. Amoo’s also offers a branded red wine curated to complement its Persian cuisine. This red wine, exclusively labeled with the Shah of Iran’s portrait and a sketch of Tehran, features the word Amoo’s in capital letters in red, white, and green, the colors of Iran’s flag.

In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Amoo’s has implemented new methods for carry-out orders to ensure the safety and convenience of its customers and staff. Although life has gradually returned to normal, the expanded carry-out method has become a new norm. The restaurant has adapted by offering streamlined and contactless options for pickup through online ordering platforms, a mobile app, and occasionally curbside pickup. They have also adopted measures to accommodate walk-in guests while adhering to health and safety guidelines. These include a carefully managed seating arrangement that allows for appropriate distancing between tables and enhanced cleaning protocols in the dining area, kitchen, and washrooms to ensure a clean and sanitized environment for diners. All staff have been trained to uphold strict hygiene standards to ensure the safety of guests, whether they are dining in or picking up carry-out orders.

Social media and online orders have benefited the restaurant in two essential ways. First, online videos have been seen and liked by many who did not know Amoo’s existed before, prompting positive comments and encouraging others to try the restaurant. Second, there has been a 30% increase in daily total sales. While Amoo’s pays a 25% commission to Uber Eats and DoorDash, Osman and Michael believe it is worth it. On rainy days, when people prefer to stay home or do not feel like cooking, they order online, which has increased sales.

Amoo’s RestaurantAfter reading Erving Goffman’s 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, I turned my attention to Osman’s characteristics and self-presentation. Osman is kind-hearted yet business-savvy, using his intellect rather than his emotions when making business decisions. Michael, on the other hand, is compassionate toward the staff and uses his emotions more. Osman’s identity formation, self-presentation, and cultural values have significantly influenced the restaurant’s structure and success.

Osman’s father’s values have profoundly impacted Osman’s identity. Additionally, Osman’s uncle played a significant role in shaping his generosity. Osman is working to secure the future for his family, just as his father did, and he is living out his father’s legacy by keeping Michael involved in the restaurant. Michael, who only agreed to work at the restaurant to assist Osman, aspires to become as generous as his father. He follows in Osman’s footsteps in managing the staff. The staff appreciates the family dynamics and, with a sense of management support, continues to strive to offer diners a satisfying and pleasant atmosphere collaboratively. Osman is quick to address any mistreatment among the staff, demonstrating his commitment to a respectful and supportive work environment.

The collaboration among Amoo’s staff creates a cohesive front-stage performance for customers. Osman or Michael holds a staff meeting every Saturday morning, discussing what is happening, who will handle which sections, and what the expectations are. They encourage the staff to sell wine and maintain high standards of customer service. The staff’s behavior and interaction methods, inherited from Osman, include greeting everyone and treating all customers with respect. They are genuinely determined to focus on customer satisfaction and to make each experience pleasant and memorable. Osman, Michael, and the female staff successfully manage their front- and back-stage personas, working together as a family while keeping customers at the center of their attention.

Osman emphasizes the importance of impression management to maintain the restaurant’s reputation and success. He believes professionalism is essential. When a customer or supplier is upset, he strives to make them happy and satisfied, taking responsibility and demonstrating accountability. If a customer complains about the food, he will bring a fresh plate, omit the order from the check, or offer a complimentary dish to resolve the issue, ensuring their experience becomes positive. Similarly, he values his business relationships with suppliers, whose consistent and efficient manners lead them to offer him the best quality food.

The primary goal for Osman, Michael, and the staff is to provide quality customer service. They believe a memorable experience and satisfaction start with warm and pleasant greetings. Online reviews may highlight the food quality and taste, specifically the seasoning, as contributing to Amoo’s success and the restaurant’s lovely atmosphere. However, I learned that more factors contribute to Amoo’s uniqueness and longevity. Osman’s self-presentation, family dynamics, respect for cultural diversity, customer service, food quality, atmosphere, décor, and the recent online ordering initiatives all play a crucial role. Amoo’s Restaurant is a celebration of personality, performance, and cultural representation.