Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Experience Factor

One of our major fears when we decided to start the business was that we knew nothing about the business we were about to enter apart from the fact that we had been faithful patrons for the whole of our lives. Luckily, there was an easy remedy for this concern and that simply was to find jobs in a quick service restaurant setting. After we were laid off, Tanya landed a part-time job at a marketing and pr firm and, since then, has gathered a legion of talented, creative minds that will be helpful when Saus is ready to perform some marketing magic. Chin is working part-time at a very popular bakery/sandwich shop and I have been working at a quick-service burger joint. Our respective employers and customers recognize us only as front of house staff people, but little do they know that behind the grease stained uniform t-shirts and fleeting pleasantry there's a clever and calculating apprentice (alright, maybe not always clever...) to an otherwise transitional establishment.

While we won't learn what it's really like to manage a restaurant until we actually have our own, we have drawn from our experiences to consider how we will and absolutely will not run our operation. Let me first say that standard management principles we learned in school apply only so far as general bookkeeping, efficient operations and inventory management (in other words, ensuring customer orders are filled with speed and finesse and making sure to avoid stock-outs, shortages, and waste), etc. What's unique about restaurants is that variables outside anyone's control often dictate volume.

Anything can happen. For instance, how do you prepare for the possibility of a bus full of 60+ hungry tourists who have decided to make a pit stop at your store? Do you keep the place fully staffed at all times in anticipation and risk spending more than anticipated on labor costs? If not, are you doing your employees a disservice by not giving them enough hours? I mean, what if this tour bus comes and you're short-staffed? The staff would be overextended, in turn making them unhappy, not to mention the tourists who may become frustrated with bad service and leave. These are the decisions we must make, in spite of having no clear direction as to how to make them. Sometimes it's easy. We know that busy lunch hours are usually between the hours of 12-2. We know that 3-6 is generally a lull period. Beyond the general assumptions, however, that bus can come at any moment and throw hunky-dory, business-as-usual operations out the window.

Variables aside, there are some constants that serve as underlying values for any restaurant organization. The problem is that many food service establishments neglect their true lifeblood: employees. The fact of the matter is that employees will deal with the uncertainty and unpredictability so long as they think it's worth it! If the employee does not think it worth their while to go the extra mile, then the employers are screwed (I did try to make it all rhyme) and probably doing something terribly wrong. In other words, bad service is not always the employees fault, folks.

I'm sure you will hear from us again about valuable lessons learned (I'm sure most being from mistakes we will have made), but in the meantime, the most important thing learned thus far: we have only a general idea of what to expect in terms of day to day volume, but what we do know for certain is that we need to keep our employees happy and make them feel like they mean something to the organization.

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