On Dave Westbrook’s first day behind the bar of a multiconcept restaurant chain, a couple came in to celebrate their anniversary. The bartender gave them a couple of shots of tequila on the house, but told Westbrook not to ring it up because management would not approve. The bartender, however, didn’t know Westbrook was not a real staff member of the restaurant company. He was a “mystery employee.”
Much like a mystery shopper who patronizes a restaurant incognito to ascertain the level of customer service, Westbrook works undercover in restaurants to help owners and operators learn how well their employees are performing and being trained.
Westbrook, who started working in the industry as a busboy when he was 17, started his Bravo Zulu consulting business almost two years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz.
How long will you work as an “employee” in a restaurant?
About three weeks, but it depends on what the owners want. We’ll go through the regular interview process, the training. I’ll fill out the paperwork with HR and even get a fake paycheck.
Why do owners bring you in to observe their employees secretly?
Sometimes they want to know why they are losing people. Is the staff happy? Are they stealing from me? Are the managers telling employees what they talked about in their meetings with the owners?
What kinds of problems do you see?
I was at one restaurant where employees would go outside to drink during their shifts, the bartender was giving away drinks to employees and guests, and the managers spent most of their time in the office. They rarely walked the floor. The owner couldn’t believe it.
What about in places with better management and training?
Morale often is still a factor. I come in as a new hire, excited to work here, and no one is excited to have me here. Owners want to know how happy the staff is working for them, but a lot of employees want to know they are being appreciated and the owners are paying attention.
Have you observed any places where the owners seemed to get it right?
There’s no perfect operation. But we do find some where the staff is happy and the training is awesome. Trainers took their time, there’s a positive attitude, and everyone was very welcoming and happy to have you there.