"Run, Forrest, Run…"

My crew at the restaurant is awesome. With things being the way they are in the World today I have had to cut back the staff to pretty much bare bones for this time of year. As a restaurant manager, I need to strike a delicate balance between having enough staff to provide excellent service to the guest, yet still provide quality, professional people the opportunity to make decent money if I want to keep them around for any length of time. But, make no mistake, if I have to decide between guest satisfaction and employees making an extra $50 each, I go with the guest every time.

I have also found that we are able to do more with less. The only thing I really remember from Economics class is the Theory of Diminishing Marginal Returns which states that as you add factors of production to a job, you get increased output at an eventually diminishing rate. In my situation this means that if I have four waiters on the floor on a night that has enough business for maybe three, those four will recognize the fact that we are slow, there’s lots of people to do the work, and subconsciously slow their output to meet the demand. They look around and think, “I don’t really need to hustle. Look at all the help we have tonight. I’m not gonna make a dime anyway…” I have also found that the corrollary to this theory is if you force people to hustle, they will. Increased output at an increasing rate; and my labor numbers look great. Bonus!!

The only rub with this last theory is that you have to have people that can handle the workload. Most good restaurant folk want to be busy. It means money. They look around and say “Shit, we are going to really be in the weeds if I don’t move my ass…” and so they do. If they are good. And my crew is really good. As John Wayne would say, “No brag, just fact.”

Last night we had what I like to call a Forrest Gump Night because “everywhere we went, we was RUN-NIN’!!” We had a full dining room’s worth of reservations, a party of 24 on our patio, and a party of 14 in a banquet room that’s about a half-mile away from the kitchen. I looked at the books before service, looked at the staff that were scheduled, and got a major knot in my lower intestine thinking about all the possibilities for disaster. But like the pros they are, they rose to the occasion. I get more unsolicited guest compliments about service on nights like last night than any others. The adrenaline in the crew takes over and they all work well over their pay-grade to get the job done.

Now, as their fearful leader, I am tempted to take a little bit of the credit as I supervise and train them. But mostly, they are all pros with good work ethics who would probably do well in any situation. Also, I have found that there are really two basic types of people in the workplace: the good ones, and the ones that think they are good. We have all had this second type wait on us before, haven’t we? The waiter who is more concerned about you falling in love with him/her and the insipid details of their personal life and opinions than they are in providing you with a spoon to eat your soup. Or the cocky guy who tries to take the order on an eight-top by memory because “I’m so good, I don’t have to write this down, and aren’t you impressed? Give me some money…”; and then proceeds to screw the goose so completely that your main course is ten pats of butter. And then there’s the “drank four Red Bulls before work guy” who thinks this will help him keep up and gets about as much accomplished as someone with one foot nailed to the floor. Mostly these “God’s gift to restaurants” people have no clue about how inept and inefficient they really are.

The other type, the ones who are good, mostly never really think about how good they are. They are the pros who have endured every shitty thing that can happen to them in our business. They operate on the theory that if you don’t leave them an excellent tip even after they bent over backward for your bitchy Mother-in Law who can’t eat nightshade vegetables or claims she is “allergic to foie gras”, that there will be somebody coming into their station very soon who will just throw money at them for really no apparent reason. Except the reason that they are good. Sometimes, I am not sure which of these categories I fall into. But I still have a job, so hopefully I’m in the second group.

One of my backwaiters definitely falls into Group 2. This guy has the best attitude; he learns, remembers, and employs any new techniques and service standards I throw at him, and is fast. Last night he was on it like a cop on a doughnut. As the old barber in the movie said, “That boy is a runnin’ fool…”

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2 Responses to "Run, Forrest, Run…"

  1. Mitch Schwartz says:

    Great blog. As a person who has eaten at restaurants around the country, I have a great appreciation for great service.
    One correction though, it wasn’t John Wayne who said “no brag, just fact”. It was the character Will Sonnet, played by Walter Brennan in the TV series “the Guns of Will Sonnet”. At least I don’t think the Duke ever said that.

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