Here are a few restaurant philosophy maxims for you that can help to structure your behaviors and decisions in the workplace: When it comes to anything having to do with the guest, ALWAYS advocate for the guest. When it comes to dealing with staff, ALWAYS advocate for the business.
Sounds cruel, right? All of the best business books and all of the esteemed business gurus will tell you that your success depends on your people, and that people are your greatest resource. All of that is absolutely true. But at the same time, putting the interests of your individual employees ahead of the greater interests will always yield poor results, and very frequently will destroy your business. So, are we looking for “the enemy within”? No, not at all. We’re establishing a culture in which your employees are all focused on doing what’s best for the business at all times, and understanding that when this occurs, all employees stand to benefit along with the business.
In my travels with clients and with business associates I see it over and over again: Independent restaurateurs who have a patriarchal relationship with many of their staff. They invite their closest staff members to their homes and to their life’s celebrations; they exchange gifts; they all hug one another—it’s a big lovefest. All well and good, but along with all of that love come habits and not all of them so well and good (I hate to call them policies because they are not codified, although these habits do become de facto policies by nature of repeat occurrences). For example: you don’t give a hard time to someone when they are habitually late; or you allow staff members to switch shifts without getting prior approval; or you allow a server to have a particular section because he or she is having a financial crisis and needs to be in a section that will generate the most revenue. You may not see it, but what is happening is you are allowing your staff to take advantage of you, and frequently to the detriment of the business. To address those very examples: others staff members will come to regard their start time as a “range” and your shift transitions will be a mess; your schedule will become something that only reflects the hours that your staff wants to work, eliminating the strategic components that enable you to balance strong and weaker team members and keep overtime to a minimum; and your other servers will become unhappy because, after all, they’re not there to watch other people make money—they have their own financial burdens and it’s not fair to have their piece of the pie trimmed because someone else is having problems.
If you see yourself in the examples above, we need to get it in your head that you are the manager, and your employees—although they are your most valuable asset—will look to manipulate you to their advantage if you permit it. It’s the classic Us vs Them scenario, unfortunately. And regardless of how good a teamwork culture you have created, it takes just a few bad decisions to create a mess. Underlying all of the team spirit, you are still dealing with individuals. They each have their own interests and when you boil it all away, it’s still Us vs Them to one extent or another.
One of the best illustrations I’ve seen of this phenomenon was in my stint as Chief of Staff to the CEO/Chairman of a publicly traded global technology company. The company did about $500 million in annual sales and I was the point man connecting the dots to the top man in the company. At the time, the company had a manufacturing facility in northern England. It was the only facility in the company’s network that had a union that represented the workers in the fab (the term we used for our manufacturing floor). The union, like many, looked first to protect the interests of the workers, which is admirable. However, those interests—which gave the workers a lighter schedule, better benefits, etc—had a detrimental impact on the profitability of the facility. The other manufacturing sites within the company’s network had happy employees, and did not offer the same benefits. A big part of the issue was that the Human Resources director at the facility was viewed as an advocate for the employees over the business, and the site eventually was closed and the employees all lost their jobs. Had he been more of a businessman and less of a “shop steward,” there may have been a different outcome.
The way to avoid the “union” mentality and the pitfalls of capitulating to staff manipulations is to set the tone. In all of my restaurants I have always expressed to my staff the importance I place on their individual well-being. During staff meetings, orientations, shift meetings, I frequently reiterate the following: “I have a wife and two children, but I support over 100 people.” At that point they don’t understand what I’m saying, so I continue: “Each and every one of you, along with your spouses and your children, depend on me doing my job well. If I don’t do my job well, then you have less money to take home, less opportunity to grow. My job is to run a successful restaurant. And the only way to do that is to ALWAYS do what’s best for the business, because if I don’t, you will suffer.”
I go on: “You may not like every decision I make, and some decisions may be perceived to be against your individual interests. But I cannot run the restaurant to serve your individual interest or need, because if I do, the business suffers and the other 40 people that work here will suffer.”
At the end of the day, this idea of “always advocating for the business” must be a part of your culture. It should be conveyed with compassion and with understanding, and your team needs to know that you are there for them, but not to the point that it is against the best interests of the business and the other individuals that make their living when business is healthy.