Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Calm After the Storm

I grew up in New Jersey. I still have a few relatives and many friends living there that I keep in touch with. Hurricane Sandy really concerned me, so, this morning, when I found out that everyone I know survived the mess safe and sound, I was quite relieved. Yes, there are massive power outages and downed trees all over the northeast, but no one I know was hurt. As of this writing, 89% of the population of Hunterdon County, where I was born and raised, is without electricity. Thank goodness for gas stoves, although not everyone has them.
Speaking of stoves, I spent eleven years in the restaurant business in the Garden State. I, quite literally, worked my way up from sweeping floors and dumping trash to, what my old boss once told me, becoming the best manager he ever had, and I did it in record time. I took great pride in that due to one thing; one person. I had the utmost respect for my boss, Jack Little, and I still do. He was the best boss a person could ever have and he helped raise me, whether he knew it or not. If I was his best manager, it was because of what he taught me as an employer, a father figure, and a decent and honest human being. It was the respect he showed others that was instilled in me. And from him, I learned how to be as cool as a cucumber under fire. Don’t panic! Think fast on your feet.
Inherent in any business, in order to be successful, is customer service. That’s the single most important factor, especially in a restaurant, where a customer wants to walk into a clean place, filled with smiling faces eager to serve you. It’s one of the cardinal rules of the service industry; service with a smile — and what you serve had better be just as good.
I was much younger then and it was not unusual for me to put in 80-hour workweeks; nominally, 60. I was quite sharp in those days, too. There was a time — I kid you not — that a series of events (call them major breakdowns) hit me all at once and I had to render split-second decisions. In the middle of a lunch rush, of all times, a deep fryer stopped working, a toilet overflowed, a customer complained that their order wasn’t prepared right, and two of the front counter girls decided it was the proper time to pick a fight with each other. Yup, in front of hungry customers, anxious to get their food and go back to work; customers who couldn’t care less about Debbie and Sue, nor their boneheaded boyfriends and who they flirted with.
From Jack, I learned how to work under pressure - how to deal with the daily events in the life of a restaurateur. Find ‘em and fix ‘em fast. He also taught me how to deal with people at all levels. After all, that’s what customer service really is, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the interaction between employees. How can a business run smoothly if there are underlying problems?
On that particular day, I called each girl to the back room, one at a time. By taking them out of the argument, I accomplished the first thing; they couldn’t fight. I told them that if I heard another word, I would fire them on the spot and handle the lunch rush without them. I had other boys and girls working at the time and we’d just have to work harder. Most importantly, they would be out of a job and I stressed that a thousand other kids were banging at my back door begging for work. Yes, they were kids.
“But, but, but,” they tried to explain in their whiny voices, “Debbie did this” and “Sue did that” and each boyfriend was somehow involved. I didn’t want to hear about it. 
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but this is not the time or place. Customers don’t want to listen to your petty fights, do they?”
Basically, all it took was a minute to talk to each of them alone and things quickly settled down. I had learned a long time ago not to take sides, too. That was most important. NEVER TAKE SIDES because, in the end, I would be the only loser. And darned if it wasn’t the truth. After the lunch rush was over and things got cleaned up, wouldn’t you just know those two girls had already patched things up? There they were, taking their lunch break together, sitting at one of the tables and laughing up a storm. It was as if nothing ever happened. Had I taken sides, I would have been the real bonehead and worthy of the title.
Since those days, I don’t know what happened. I left the restaurant business in the early 80s. Today, at 60, I’m no longer interested in running a business, nor am I healthy enough to open one, but, somehow, I seemed to have lost that touch. While I still know a thing or two about customer service, something is amok on my blog and only I am to blame for not keeping it under control. No one else. Understandably, I must grab the bull by the horns. Right now.
As with any business that deals with the public, it’s the meet and greet people who make your business successful. While management works diligently behind the scenes, it’s the front counter people that make and break a business. While I was all about hands-on management, I couldn’t do it all. No one can.
I understood, and still do, that I could serve the best hamburger in the business, but all it took was a couple of employees to throw it all away; not by being mean to customers, but by what the customers saw and heard coming from the front counter. If I walked in off the street, I wouldn’t care if you’ve got the best burger on the planet. By running a sloppy ship, I would wonder if your kitchen was just as messy, and I seriously doubt I’d want to come back, let alone order anything. Do you wash your hands?
While no one on my blog is an employee and readers are not customers, please remember that half of Marinade Dave is what I write and the other half is what commenters have to say. That’s the entire menu – the recipe for success and it’s the beauty of blogging. Failure is not an option.
I realize that today is Halloween, but coming here should not be a frightening experience. I want more readers! I want more comments! I don’t want people to be afraid of anything. While I would never expect everyone to agree with one another, let alone what I write, hiding behind the mask of anonymity does not give anyone a right to be uncivil. Be nice to each other. I realize that many years of writing comments about the Casey Anthony case (and now this one) have hardened us. Today is the day to wipe our slates clean! At least, on this blog, because it’s all that’s left. Please believe me when I say this…
Marinade Dave is not the name of a hurricane and now is the time for calm after the storm. I refuse to write if it ends in a fight. We are a team and that means all of us!