Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Can't Screw Things Up As Fast As Your Company Does

By Mike Satterwaitte

I do sometimes worry about the state of restaurant leadership these days I do believe, a substantial number of restaurant managers and employees that take pride in their work, excel at service and believe that they serve the best damn fajitas this side of de Nile. Some do it because they have a great work ethic, some because of their innate sense of competition with each other, and still others, of a desire to just make people happy.

Those that exemplify the highest ideals, elevate their performance because they have to, or its simply how they pay the bills, maintain friends and customers- and keep their job. but, as often happens in the corporate world, the economy takes a turn for the worse, some bad deals are done, prices skyrocket, leadership changes, competition gets tougher or the Vice President of Operations French Fry rebate check bounces. For whatever reason, companies decide to, or are put into a position to, run the prices up/cut corners, and raise additional funds from one area, in order to funnel into another. When this happens, it usually comes from the biggest operations costs: utilities, food and beverages, and the payroll. These areas affect us - the restaurant managers and employees.

Why mess with our world? Small increases in price or pocket change saved here or there, multiplied times many customers, and again by many units, result in piles of money. Did you really think that the chain restaurant upper management was going to give up their spa memberships? stock options? Tee times at the times in preparation for the fall charity fundraiser especially you need them most? A good sign that youre in this savings vortex is a company-wide, new-found awareness of utility waste. The temperature is warmer/cooler than it used to be, managers are bugging everybody about lighting and equipment turn on schedules, manager bonuses are impacted based upon the increase in rolls of toilet paper used this year to date verses last. Not to worry. These symptoms only last about a month or two at tops.

You may notice menu or portion resizing tricks, garnishes no longer being necessary, (I heard parsley futures will be hit hard this season) changes from linens and glassware to paper products, cleaning and armored car services - even doing away with those mints at the front desk that you swore that youd stop eating in this New Years Resolution. A big labor crunch, cutting service levels to the bone (my favorite increasing restaurant managers hours to work in an hourly position) and pushing heart-of-the-house crews to the limit, mean theres not much imagination behind this drive for the dollars. Shortcuts in cleaning regimen and training standards show that restaurant business principles arent cost effective anymore, and the leadership is willing to sacrifice the future business for quick results. All of these measures lead to a lowering of standards once preached by the very same entities that now fear for their own personal money and continued employment. If they visit your locale, be very afraid. Theyre dangerous when its their own club membership on the butchers block.

So, when your guests start to complain, a cook, dishwasher or bartender walks out because of the increased workload, the climate control is whacked out and the boss has eaten all of the good painkillers from the first aid kit, (I recommend pain-aid it is loaded with caffeine) and you are suffering withdrawal symptoms due to an absence of reasonable standards. The companys current fear crisis is deemed more important than its once lofty mission and vision statement (because it is only for a short time until the economy bounces back).

A chain restaurant focused purely on cost cutting measure to please the investors for this quarter (Typically the path of least resistance) causes the restaurant employees and managers to bend, break or reinterpret the rules gradually, over a longer period of time. The companys money crunch then becomes much more rapid, and therefore, much more noticeable. Replacing quality experienced trained staff with cheaper becomes acceptable, accelerating the guests perception and reality of the lowered standards.

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