by Kris Mason
Okay, this is the way we do this.
Uhhhhh... because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Too often, we exist from our memory. Doing it “this way” has gotten us this far; why not keep doing it this way? Our memory is safe. Our memory is predictable. It doesn’t take any extra effort to do things the way we’ve always done them.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!
That image is a cartoon in most people’s heads. A little cave man wearing an animal skin, wielding a primitive hammer and chisel, standing next to a square stone and then a crudely rounded stone. The truth is, if nobody “reinvented the wheel” we would still have big, clunky, stone wheels on everything. Imagine the expansion across the West with horses struggling to pull the pioneers in covered wagons with two big stone wheels stuck to the bottom.
The wheel is a concept with hundreds of thousands of reinvented versions. Without wheels there are no gears. Without gears there are no machines. Without machines we are still standing around in animals skins banging on rocks with other rocks.
Everything exists because we innovate. We create things that have never existed before then change them, and tweak them, modify them and improve on them, and create new materials to make them over again. We reinvent all the time; and it’s a good thing that we do. I much prefer digital downloading to saving a song on a floppy disk just as I prefered the CD to the 8-Track Tape (Google it kids).
Restaurants are constantly reinventing the wheel; and in the last decade, the industry has been forced to innovate to stay alive. When the housing market crashed in 2007, it set off a chain reaction that had a devastating effect on the restaurant industry. Since then, restaurateurs have updated menus and food quality, and along with streamlined facelifts of outdated looks, offering enhanced take-out options and ordering, they’ve improved their entertainment technology by providing free-wifi and engaging you through social media.
We innovate or we die. If you don’t believe me, just ask your Travel Agent… or the folks at Blockbuster Video… or a bookstore… or the mall… or the circus. As a waiter in a restaurant, my job is to bring you things that you ask me for. Like the wheel, it is a concept that is unchanged from the beginning, yet is in desperate need of a good reinvention.
When ranting, I lay a great deal of blame on the individual server who seems reluctant to up their game and raise the current standard. Unfortunately, some waiters are only really happy when they are commiserating about how much they hate customers while counting the fists full of cash. Social media has banded them together and they share stories and memes that paint the public (and ironically the people paying their bills) in a less than flattering light. That being said, It’s time to shine the ugly lights on the employer's now.
"There is more a sense of feeling blown off than blown away."
If you’ve ever opened a restaurant, you’ve had a chance to see how a staff is hired, brought together and trained to embody the company’s core culture and belief system. A staff of cheerleaders at the top of their game work tirelessly for weeks to assure that when the doors open to the public for the first time, their guests are blown away by the attention to detail and are so warmed by the genuine hospitality that they include the restaurant in their everyday plans of how to feed their family. It’s impressive.
If you’ve ever been to a restaurant that has been opened for a few years, things are… different.
You wait an hour or longer to be led to a table by a truly disinterested high school student, only to be hit with a lifeless, distracted, “Hi I’m Jason and I’ll be taking care of you tonight, what can I get you started off with to drink?,” with a tone that implies he has better things to do and you’re not helping. No attention to detail. No genuine hospitality. There is more a sense of feeling blown off than blown away.
I can tell you exactly what happened. Training a wait staff (or any staff for that matter) is like the telephone game. You line a bunch of people up and the first person in line whispers into the ear of the person closest to them. That person turns to the next person in line and tries to repeat word for word what they just heard. This is repeated until the last person says out loud what they have been told. Laughter ensues. In the game it’s funny because the final statement has evolved and/or deteriorated so far from the original statement.
So, the cheerleaders come in and whip the staff up into a frenzy and focused positive energy and joy. They appoint certified trainers to take over the teaching process; then through attrition, the certified trainers leave and other trainers are moved into their places. Those trainers are now passing the information on to new hires, while making sure that tax forms and federal compliances are being adhered to (something that the cheerleaders never dealt with).
Eventually, the trainer (who just got another job somewhere else, but hasn’t quit yet) trains two more people; but instead of teaching the company culture and core belief system, he teaches them the shortcuts that he has learned, how to not do side work, which managers are a pushover and will allow you to get away with the most, and finally emparts everything that he hates about “this place” to those last two new hires, planting a tiny cancer in your organization.
He quits, unannounced, and the person with the most seniority is automatically the new trainer. Now that this is the new standard, if a new hire shows up for training on a shift that there is no trainer, the person on the clock with the most seniority is the trainer for the day. At my worst job, I was trained by somebody who had only been there for two weeks. It consisted of, "Just fill out all the stuff and read all the packets and I’ll sign off all your paperwork."
"Great waiters aren’t developed and lousy servers
The only screening process for a waiter now is, “Do you know how to wait tables,” and the only standard really is to show up. There is no need to assess the quality of the new hire because management believes there is such a great training system in place to take care of the rest. The sentiment in the industry over the last 20 years is that servers are a disposable commodity; there is always another one standing by, ready to fill in.
It’s time to address the crisis of service. Great waiters aren’t developed and lousy servers are rarely weeded out. How much of the original enthusiasm and energy is in your restaurant? Are you training your staff with your corporate core culture and belief system, or are you just checking the boxes, teaching the shortcuts and signing off on the paperwork?
The movement has started to do away with tipping and pay the waitstaff a flat (and very low by comparison) wage. It’s called “Hospitality Included.” It isn’t faring well with diners; but it’s only a matter of time before a solution is discovered. If we don’t fix what’s broken, waiters will become like that cartoon image of that crudely rounded stone. Stop living out of our memory; start reinventing the wheel when it comes to waiters. We innovate or we die.
I do Waiter Boot Camps at your restaurant. Contact me to schedule a meeting. 480-600-6973