It’s not babysitting if it’s your baby

Listen: Hired Help 1
Listen: Hired Help 2

We sat on the little patio, just like we had many times before. Some places haven’t had to do much to adapt to changing seating requirements, and some places have, that is why a one shoe fits all approach is problematic at best in the restaurant business. Almost no two restaurants are run the same way, and that was true long before Covid.

“May I get a menu?” I asked the hostess at the front door.

“Yes,” she said.

Then I stood there. And she stood there.

“Do you mean now?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Now would be nice.”

She then pointed at the table behind the stand.

I stood there for a second and then finally, walked around the stand and grabbed a menu.

In the restaurant business there are several types of ownerships. There are corporate restaurants, absentee ownership (investment groups) and owner operated restaurants. The first two usually have high turnover and rely on views, gimmicks, or location. The last type often relies on the charisma and hard work of the owner.

At the little restaurant with the patio, I had always assumed it was the owner whom I saw there every time. It wasn’t, and now that manager was gone, and it was apparent that the actual owner had no idea how to run his own business.

One entrée came first, then one appetizer, then a salad, then another entrée, then another salad, then the dessert, and finally the last appetizer.

In between we had two drinks. The wrong beer and the wrong wine. Two attempts to rectify the situation failed and by the time the first salad had arrived we had really lost all hope of a particularly positive experience.

I watched the owner bellow out orders at a harried younger man who instead of doing anything himself just turned to the poor busboy and yelled at him. The hostess just kept standing there.

That busboy was getting ice, bussing tables, serving drinks, delivering food, and it even looked like he was making some of the salads. He was a marvel to watch.

The familial resemblance between father, daughter and son was striking. The busboy clearly wasn’t related. Now I know many family owned restaurants where the family always works there in some capacity or another, but this was the first restaurant I have ever encountered where it was apparent that the family had never worked there before.

Sometime back, I watched an episode of “Undercover Boss” that took place in a hotel/restaurant. The “boss” started in the dish station. The man training him showed him how to turn on the dishwasher, how to fill it and then pointed at the shelf of cleaned dishes in their neat little piles. Pretty self-explanatory. But the boss had questions. Lots of questions. Stupid questions in fact.

“Why don’t you do it this way?”

“Why don’t you do it that way?”

“Just do it the way I showed you,” said the trainer.

“That’s all the training I get?” asked the boss in disguise.

“That’s more than I got. Just figure it out as you go along,” replied the trainer.

The undercover boss lasted 10 minutes doing that job. He pulled the manager aside, identified himself, and took that trainer in a back room where he derided him for longer than he had washed dishes.

I thought of him as I watched the chaos ensue from that patio table. In the current environment restaurants are having a tough time staffing, and some are having a tougher time than others.  

When the check arrived, I also noticed something else. While the quality of the service had declined significantly, the prices hadn’t, and the suggested tip printed on the check started at 25%. And the people we were supposed to tip were the owners.

I didn’t leave 25%. Not even close. But on my way out the door I slipped that busboy $20.

Leaving me with these thoughts

-“If we can’t circumvent the laws than our business model will fail” is hardly a good argument.

-There are some restaurants where the owner or manager has absolutely no idea how to do any of the jobs in that restaurant. And there are others where the manager is better at every job there than any of their employees. One guess as to which one is more enjoyable to work at.

-Only 17% of restaurants in the US have closed permanently due to Covid 19 according to the National Restaurant Association. But did you know that 60% of all restaurants typically fail in their first year and 80% usually fail within 5 years? Food for thought.

-I believe whole heartedly in helping support local businesses, but it is also not the responsibility of others to support bad business models.