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What you get paid for: An open letter from the owner to the crew

What you get paid for: An open letter from the owner to the crew

“I believe in people and think they are more effective when given principles rather than procedures, strategies rather than tactics, whys rather than wants.”—Harvey Golub

DEAR TEAM MEMBER: In the last 10 years the customer has been really good to our business, despite the fact that we may not have always been at our best for them.

Americans dined out an average of five times weekly in the previous decade, and we saw higher comparable same-store sales quarter after quarter. Traffic was good, and even when we screwed up, the customer seemed to forgive us. Even if they didn’t come back, another customer took their place. This got us all believing after a while that maybe we were running this thing for ourselves and not the guest.

But the swift kick in the butt that the global recession has given our industry lately woke me up to a sad reality: I think we became complacent, unfocused, and lost sight of what we get paid for. Shame on me for not pointing this out earlier and often with you, but we were just too busy. Or maybe I just didn’t make the time. (I guess it’s true that volume can hide a multitude of sins.) Either way, we unfortunately have the time now, because our business is down so dramatically. We can certainly blame the economy for the dip, but why are some places still doing well and we’re not? I hope you don’t mind me taking a moment to remind you all of What You Get Paid For.

Be nice to the people with the money. Everything that you or I will ever have is currently in the hands of someone else: the customer. Our business is run first for their enjoyment and satisfaction, then yours. This I swear: I will never forget that when the upturn comes. Service has always been our invisible product. It can’t be stored but it can be given away. It can’t be discounted or prepared, but it can be super-sized and delivered. It’s most genuine when spontaneous and at its worst when it’s discretionary. It makes a good meal taste better and customers come back. It costs us nothing. So heap it on.

Minimize costs. Do you know what the average pretax profit on the dollar is in our business? Less than a nickel. That’s right. For every dollar our customer gives us I spend 95 cents of it paying for food, beverage, utilities, napkins, rent, labor and waste. Then I pay taxes out of the remaining nickel. Follow our recipes, and please don’t over-portion, overheat or break, twist, bend or snap things that aren’t meant to bend, snap, twist or break.

Maximize sales. I do not pay you. The customer does. When a customer buys a sandwich or entrée, that purchase barely covers the cost of our sourcing, buying, storing, prepping, plating and serving it. When you suggest and sell a beverage, combo, larger size, appetizer or dessert, we stand a chance of making that nickel on the dollar. Chances are that if you don’t, we won’t. To sell is to serve.

Tell the truth. “Lying makes a problem part of the future,” said basketball coach John Wooden. “Truth makes a problem part of the past.” ‘Nuff said.

Be on time. Excuses are like…well, let’s say belly buttons: Everyone has one. Next time please just leave the house 10 minutes earlier.

Build repeat business. A new customer will visit a business once by either chance or by choice. A coupon for or proximity to our restaurant may foster a chance visit. A good or great experience on the part of the cooks, servers and managers converts chance to choice next time they go out. Return business is our lifeblood, and it means that the customer has driven past 20 or 30 or 40 other places to choose ours. Let’s give them something memorable every time.

Save the drama for your mama. It’s not about you. Or me. It’s about the customer. If your attitude is poison to the team and the guest, if you would rather be somewhere else other than here, if you insist on endlessly railing to your fellow crew and managers about how this is a bad place to work, and it’s not like your old job, or that life is constantly unfair, then it’s my responsibility to help relieve your misery by giving you a job at the competition. Things that matter most should never suffer because of things that matter least. Just saying.

Continuous improvement. If you see, sense or know a better way to improve our people or procedures, please let us know. I promise to listen to your ideas before you have to listen to mine. None of us is as smart as all of us, so please bring your brain to work every shift and help us all move the business forward for our customers and colleagues. We must all have a bias for action to make things better all ways and always.

Having Fun. At the end of the day this is still the restaurant industry, the best business in the world, and a free circus every day. Yes, you get paid to have fun, too. So have fun with what you do, whom you serve and with whom you work. If you see somebody without a smile, give them one of yours.

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