Never Close the Doors. NEVER….
Or so the mantra goes. Corporate restaurants never want to turn business away. EVER. On the surface, this may appear to be logical. Restaurants are a business and businesses want to make as much money as possible. However, corporations take things to a whole different level. Our restaurant could get to the point where all we have left to serve was oyster crackers and barbecue sauce and we wouldn’t shut the doors. I’m not being outrageous to make a point. That really happened at the Steakhouse. More than once.
How do you get to that point you might ask? When a restaurant runs out of something, it’s usually because a) a manager forgot to order critical ingredients for the dish, or b) the customer volume was higher than expected. Either way, it comes down to a manger and, consequently, the restaurant not being prepared.
Corporate front offices HATE this.
A regional corporate manager would rather keep the restaurant open in the direst of situations then close the doors early. The logic goes something like this:
A customer in a restaurant spends money. A closed restaurant makes no money. Therefore it is better to have a customer in a restaurant than be closed.
This, of course, leaves out the fact that if a restaurant is out of steak, for example, the customer is going to be angry (“how can a steakhouse be out of prime rib!”), try something they wouldn’t have normally tried, be disappointed in the substitute meal, and leave disappointed… possibly never coming back again. This is not that far fetched. I have seen it happen repeatedly.
So, what does more damage to a restaurants image? Closing early because you can not maintain the level of quality your business model calls for or pissing off the unsuspecting customers who inadvertently walked into a crashing restaurant without the food advertised on the menu? In my opinion, hands down, keeping the door open at all costs is a terrible idea.
I will never forget this night as long as I live. It was a Friday night in the middle of the Christmas holiday rush. Because the Steakhouse was situated so close to a mall, we were always insanely busy when the mall was. Logical right? Well, inevitably, there were nights when we simply could not handle the volume we were receiving. The management refused to admit they did not have the proper number of staff both in the front of the house (servers) and in the back of the house (cooks). They would not close the doors when it became obvious we could not handle the business we already had in the seats or on the two hour wait. TWO HOURS. The severing staff was feeling the stress. The managers were all over us to get people in and out as quickly as possible.
On top of this, the cooks in the kitchen were pushed to the brink by the constant “waves” of food orders. A “wave” is the worst word in a cook’s vocabulary. When a cook says “you waved us” what he’s really saying is “you sat too many people at the same time and now all the food in the restaurant is going to come out slower and at a lower quality”. A “wave” is a very bad thing and it can bring a restaurant to its knees. Traditionally, cooks would rather have a steady flow of meal tickets into the kitchen as opposed to a huge deluge of tickets all at the same time. Even on the busiest of nights, a kitchen can keep up with a steady flow of orders. If you wave, even an experienced kitchen, you might not recover until you stop seating guests. On this particular night, the host staff (the people who seat the restaurant) waved the kitchen very badly early in the shift when a large number of six and seven people groups appeared out of nowhere. Dinners were taking upwards of an hour to cook. This was forty minutes longer than normal for our restaurant. As you can imagine, customers were not happy.
The servers, the kitchen, and the hosts were all failing miserably. It was brutal. This is one of those moments when leadership is needed. The management staff should have cut it losses, closed the restaurant, and concentrated on taking care of the people eating their meals and digging out the kitchen. Instead the management ordered the hosts to keep seating the restaurant at a furious pace.
At this point, a good friend of mine was having a world of trouble at one of his tables. The customers were angry at a number of things. First, they waited two hours for the opportunity to order their food. Second, the restaurant was out of the steak they wanted to order. Third, my friend was being sat by the hosts with new tables at a cruel pace by the hosts at the management's direction.
My friend repeatedly mentioned to the management staff how upset his customers were. The management never visited the table, refused to buy them a drink, and basically hid from this situation. Why you might ask? Because 50% (or more) of the customers in the restaurant at that moment had the exact same complaints. The restaurant was as busy as I’ve seen in it seven years. As you might imagine the restaurant made a lot of money that night. But, at what cost?
We quickly found out. Many customers left unhappy that night. It was no surprise that a number of complaints were filed with our corporate offices about that night from unhappy customers. Many people said they would never come back to our restaurant. One complaint was about my friend.
He was fired as a result.
It didn’t matter that he did everything he could to bring this problem to the management staff’s attention. It wasn’t his fault that the restaurant wasn’t sat properly by the hosts and the kitchen was perpetually behind due to wave after wave of food orders. It certainly wasn’t my friend’s fault that we ran out of steaks. The server is the most visible representative of the restaurant and takes most of the blame for any problem.
He was caught in the middle of bad corporate policy and even worse restaurant management. Everyone was covering their own asses. Corporate blamed the store manager and the store manager, rather than take responsibility for his own poor leadership, blamed the server. Problem solved. My friend was out of work for months after this happened. He was forced to use his credit card to pay bills in the meantime. He is still paying off these debts today.
The Today Show - On Wednesday, March 22nd, I will be on The Today Show somewhere between 9:00 – 9:30 AM. We’ll be discussing how you can get good service in a restaurant,...