There are few things more flawed than generalities. They are breaches in logic and are often hurtful to those being minimized. For example, if I said that all chefs are nuts, you’d be correct in dismissing the statement as absolutely false. And while I think we all agree that most chefs are slightly mad, it’s obviously false to conclude that all chefs are therefore tetched.
The same logic applies to the assertion that bar owners and restaurateurs are their own worst enemies. Regardless of how many thousands of frontline employees mutter those very sentiments on a nightly basis, the statement can’t be true because prominent exceptions exist.
It’s quite true that this is an extraordinarily challenging, labor-dependant business. While maybe there should be prerequisites to owning a restaurant or cocktail lounge other than just possessing the financial wherewithal to open one, there aren’t. By the way, last I heard there are no competency standards necessary to being an author, spirits writer, or beverage consultant either.
Anyway, in my estimation what distinguishes a great restaurateur and bar owner is how they conduct themselves when the front doors are open. It basically boils down to their treating employees with the same respect and deference that they show their guests. How rare of traits is that?
Well, last week I spoke at a trade function, after which there was a banquet dinner for sponsors, speakers and association members. By chance or design, I was seated in the corner of the hotel’s ballroom with other beverage folks, a group comprised almost entirely of current and former bartenders.
It wasn’t long before we were swapping stories of nights spent behind the bar, nearly all involving an owner who did something inappropriate, or loathsome. It soon became apparent that we all recalled being mistreated through deeds, words, or ill temper by most of the owners we’d worked for. Collectively we acknowledged that there exists bar owners and restaurateurs who don’t fit the mold, yet something about the shared experiences rang true.
If perchance you know an owner who doesn’t treat his staff with the same abiding respect and consideration he bestows his guests, the following might make for some good reading. Were there a set of commandments that clearly established a code of conduct for owners, the tablets would certainly include the following.
• GET WITH THE PROGRAM — When on-premise, an owner needs to think of himself as part of the crew and work within the established chain of command. Few utterances can derail constructive communication more effectively than the phrase, “As the owner, I think I have the right to...” Aside from stating the obvious, it’s typically followed by an emotional outburst. Especially when doors are open, rank has no privileges.
• LEAVE THE JAGUAR AT HOME — It’s a cruel fact, but most owners are financially comfortable and not necessarily living paycheck to paycheck like the rest of us. So how about leaving the Jaguar at home and driving the family sedan when stopping by the bar or restaurant? Likewise, don’t hold the staff holiday party on your yacht, or palatial estate. Flaunting your good fortune can spark negative consequences.
• THINK FIRST — If you can’t think of anything positive or supportive to say to the staff, consider stealing a page from the State Department’s playbook and staple your lips shut until the impulse to speak subsides. If your comments are timely and operations related, address the issue with the appropriate manager. On the other hand, if your observation can wait until the morning, make a note and let the managers proceed unimpeded.
• ON THE CLOCK — Say your hellos, but don’t engage the staff in conversation while they’re working on the clock. You’re stopping them from doing their jobs. And by the way, unless you go out and party with the employees, whenever you do see them they’re on the clock. That basically means don’t engage the hourly employees in conversation. Let the management team be the beneficiary of your insights and experience.
• BEST CASE — To better protect their investment, owners need to appreciate their role in the profit/loss equation. Among those is to ensure upper management creates a positive environment in which to work, that employees are thoroughly trained and well compensated. Collectively they foster stability and reduce costly turnover, which inevitably leads to a more cohesive and professional staff. Can success be far off?
• REQUIRED SKILL SET — When the doors are open, an owner can usually only perform one invaluable function, namely schmoozing the guests. That having been said, don’t make the mistake of frequenting your own establishment as good rarely comes of it. An owner’s presence is like a virus in an organism. You’ll certainly attract undue attention from the staff, but shouldn’t that be lavished on your guests rather than your ego? Stay at home and let the managers and staff do their job.