Yesterday, as I was watching the sun appear for the first time in what seemed like months, I was thinking about how to begin today´s blog. Staff shortages are a major problem in the business, not due to lack of people, but, instead, due to lack of qualified people. Often, owners set their standards higher than the staff they employee can deal with. Then my phone rang.
The caller on the other end of the phone was stressed. Her voice was quivering as she asked advice about hiring people. She told me that her relationship with her husband was stressed, that she doesn´t really enjoy going to her restaurant anymore. She spends get time there picking up after the staff. The wait stations are a mess. On Easter Sunday she walked in and there were cake stains on a wall in a wait station and nobody even thought of washing the wall. And, on top of this, she had a manager that seemed to be pretty reliable, except he succumbs to the double ticket practice- one for himself, one for the house. That certainly is better than a bartender who brings in his own bottle of Vodka to pour every third drink from- New York, 1983.
After the first few minutes of the conversation, I thought it was a prank call that Pacific Grove restaurateur, Joe Rombi, had put someone up too. Rombi is frequently on the receiving end of the fake reservation the night before the Pebble Beach Classic. I get him every time. But, a few more minutes into the call I knew the caller was real-unless Rombi called central casting, nobody could describe these feelings without experiencing them daily.
Eventually, after sharing a few stories, I talked my new restaurant friend into some semblance of calmness by assuring her that everyone suffers from the same problems-especially this time of year. And, although I wish there were a simple answer- a solution to the pain- but there isn´t. A few things that can happen that may make life a bit more palatable.
Remember, you are going to get busier in the next few weeks so the financial stress that everyone is feeling now will be lightened.
Make sure that everyone on the staff is a team player. For the past five months you have probably been letting everything become a bit more lax as you have felt the financial burden that a slow season brings to everyone in your restaurant. Shifts were shorter, tips were lighter, business was slower. Everyone suffered. And, I am sure that you let some people get away with a few things that you normally wouldn´t have tolerated.
Now is the time to have the group meeting. The Rah, Rah, Rah, session where everyone becomes a team member again and lives up to the mission statement of the company.
Give everyone an enthusiasm boost. Let them know that they mean a lot to your company and everyone should be on the same page with the same focus.
At the same time, you should be looking for staff in every place you can. It is time to build that team. Spring training is over for baseball and for you.
Don´t forget to make sure that everyone in your restaurant knows the sections, and the tables numbers and he ordering system, and the food running procedures. Give a hostess that has always wanted to wait on tables the opportunity to take a few when thins are slow. She could be a life saver when things are busy and you are short staffed.
Sow everyone how to clean a wait station. Expect everyone to do their share. And, talk to them about it if they don´t. Many staff members just don´t know. Don´t assume they do.
And, most importantly, don´t let the stress of your restaurant interfere with your personal life. Remember, you see more things that are wrong than the customer ever will. That´s because you are the owner. Your eyes are supposed to notice what others are blind to.
When the phone call ended, my new friend in New Jersey seemed a bit more relaxed about what she had just gone through. It is apparent though, that the passion we all feel for the business we have a love-hate relationship with is often so powerful that it blurs our vision. Often, I tell people that it is a wonderful trait to be passionate and immersed in this business. But, on occasion you have to come up from the belly of the beast and unstress, otherwise the sweet enjoyment of the business is alleviated by a bit of frosting on a wait station wall.