Leadership and Hospitality
I recently learned that the General Manager of a restaurant I had worked for had resigned. What surprised me was not the fact that she resigned, but the fact that she resigned so soon. Within three months of opening, the restaurant had gone through two General Managers, two Kitchen Managers, three Shift Managers, and an Assistant Kitchen Manager. The restaurant business is a high turnover business, but turnover at this rate made no sense. In hind sight, it made perfect sense, the restaurant had no leadership, I had left the restaurant for that exact reason.
I was part of the opening team for a multi-unit casual restaurant. Everything appeared so promising, the restaurant had a great concept, a product that is universally liked, and several locations, including a location in the heart of Washington, DC. There was supposed to be a corporate structure in place and the restaurant had no illusions of grandeur - they knew what they were and focused on what they specialized in. This was an opportunity to learn from an established multi-unit. After many years of founding, owning, and running my own single unit establishments of varying types, this was a chance to see how an established multi-unit expands and experience the process from the ground up. After the management team was assembled and trained, the staff hired, and the corporate team arrived, it was time to start putting the pieces together... but the cracks were already beginning to show.
The first crack to show was the resignation of the Kitchen Manager. This happened on the day we were to start staff training. The Kitchen Manager did not necessarily resign, in so much as he did not show up for the first day of staff training. I have opened restaurants, I have experienced staff not showing up or walking out, but I have never experienced a senior member of the management team doing a "no call, no show". The presence of the corporate team allayed all concerns as both the Corporate Executive Chef and the District Kitchen Manager were on hand. I assumed that corporate had a plan in place as one of the first tenets that Corporate had bestowed upon us was; "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." With that in mind, staff training commenced.
Staff training went as most staff training does when opening a restaurant. There were stand outs and fall outs, but the most surprising thing was the lack of involvement from the corporate team. The Founder, the Chief Operating Officer, the Regional Manager, the Corporate Executive Chef, and the District Kitchen Manager were on hand. In addition to the corporate team, the longest tenured General Manager and Front of House Manager from other locations were on hand as well. Instead of leading staff training or guiding the new management team on implementing Corporate structure and instilling Corporate culture, the Corporate team sat back and watched.
In all fairness, the Corporate team did have a substantial checklist of items to handle prior to opening - construction was not complete (tables, chairs, back bar, walk-in cooler, draft lines, point of sales, were all yet to be received and installed), recipes and back of house processes were not finalized (the restaurant decided to open this location with different equipment than what is found in other locations), and we still did not have a liquor license.
Even though the staff was partially trained and the restaurant was not completely set up, Corporate made the decision to open as scheduled - the only change being the decision to not open for lunch until mid-week. Considering the restaurant was being held together by rubber bands and duct tape, the week went fairly well - until the entire Corporate team and additional managers announced they were leaving before the weekend. That was an inexplicable decision as it led to the worst dinner service that I have ever witnessed in the hospitality industry.
It was the first weekend dinner service of the restaurant and we did not have a Kitchen Manager - we only had the General Manager, Shift Manager, and an Assistant Kitchen Manager scheduled for the evening. Even though we were short staffed, we had a plan. The Shift Manager will lead the dining room, the Assistant Kitchen Manager will lead the kitchen, and the General Manager will be the expediter for the dinner service. The evening started off innocuously enough - until servers started entering in orders and the extent of the lack of leadership and training became apparent as the wheels came off and dinner service went into a downward spiral.
The success of any restaurant is predicated on the restaurant being able to operate at capacity during prime hours. There is nothing more impressive then when a restaurant is running efficiently. There is a pace initiated by the host when guest enter the door, greeted, and sat. The servers continue to set the pace by greeting the table, providing water, taking drink orders, and then returning to take food orders. This pace allows the kitchen to maintain a constant workflow through the dinner service. This is assuming that the kitchen is trained and producing dishes in a timely fashion, as opposed to learning on the fly. Actually, learning on the fly would have been better because that means there would be improvement through the course of dinner service - the kitchen simply crashed and burned.
Order times were taking twice as long as they were supposed to. An inspection of the kitchen revealed that there was a systematic breakdown from the top down. The expo line was a war zone - the pass exploded with orders "dying in the window", the rail was a melee of tickets for starters, entree, carryout, some "sold", some "fired", and some "on deck" - the worst of which was the expo printer; the tickets were touching the ground. To say the kitchen was in the weeds was an understatement. Order times quickly snowballed from a painstaking thirty minutes to a devastating few hours. What began as a few guest complaints devolved into a mob scene as guests became impatient, rude, and on the brink of violence. The most polite responses we had from guests that evening were from the ones that simply got up and left.
The dinner service resulted in several thousands of dollars worth of complimentary orders (some were actually made!) and the General Manager resigning. It was pointless to speculate whether or no the events of the evening could have been prevented. It was more important to learn from the mistakes. Nothing changed. Instead of members of the Corporate team being leaders and filling the gaps in the interim, Corporate used the resigned General Manager as a scapegoat. Now, in addition to not having a Kitchen Manager, the restaurant did not have a General Manager. The restaurant ran for another month without a Kitchen Manager, until Corporate finally promoted an Assistant Kitchen Manager from another location. It was still another month before Corporate hired a General Manager. Within a week of the new General Manager starting, I handed in my notice. Unlike our previous General Manager, our new General Manager was actually trained by Corporate. Unfortunately, all she had to show from training was the same lack of leadership that Corporate had shown. She resigned within a month.
Does a lack of leadership equate to failure? No, but not failing does not equate to success. This is the third location the Company has opened in so many years. The location that opened prior to the location I worked in closed within three months of opening. The location that opened prior to that continues to struggle. I do not know if the Company will keep the struggling locations opened. I do not know if the Company will continue to scale. I do know that if the Company continues to lack leadership and fail to train and grow leaders the Company will continue to lose quality people and it is quality people that creates quality restaurants.