Archive for January, 2011

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Leadagers and the Noble Craft

Great leadership can quicken the transformation from losers to winners, no matter how you keep score. Great leadership shines a light that can invigorate or rejuvenate. Great leadership can wipe away today’s pain or panic by focusing efforts toward a better tomorrow. Great leaders get more sugar (money, power, respect, better jobs) because they bring forth the best chance to achieve success from plans, hopes, and dreams.

  • If you are a leader, your actions or ideas are out in front; and for the purpose of my discussion, they must also add value to the organization.
  • Leaders reveal themselves by doing what they should do, pushing beyond the artificial limitation of “what can I possibly do?”
  • Leadership can be top-down, bottom-up, or sideways, and no matter the scope or style, great leadership exists on small, medium, and large scales.
  • Leadership is not a job title. It is not universally listed on the human resource department’s “people-power” vacancies. Rarely, if ever, is one hired as an assistant leader or general leader,

Business management gurus of the world have long stated that most business managers have leadership built into their job description. Natural-born leaders will need to be skilled at actually managing business operations if they hope to be successful in a managerial role. Business realities dictate that if you are named to head a department or group, you are expected to lead its direction, manage the resources, and be accountable for results, good or bad (people, performance, profits, culture, legacy, etc.).

The job likely includes driving sales, controlling costs, meeting or exceeding standards, doling out rewards and punishments, communicating up, down and across, and serving and protecting the organization, among other things. As such, you need to be part shaman-ambassador-fill-in- worker-camp counselor-traffic cop, or better yet, all leader-manager. I prefer the term leadager.

As a leadager, you will be practicing the fine art (or is it a science?) of managementship, the highly sought, seldom natural, combination of great management and leadership (best viewed with an old world sensibility toward craftsmanship or apprenticeship). By comparison, if the “real” job of acting can be considered a “noble craft” then by all rights we must include the job of “running” a real business within the same realm.

So there you have it. I advocate verbally compounding leader and manager — leadager™ — to illustrate the point that if you are managing people, it is the proper terminology to use. Even though most old school folks will never make a job title out of any part of the word leadership, the fact remains that in business — management and leadership are logistically inseparable.

The Breakup

Friday, January 21st, 2011

July 14th 2010

From Chase’s Blog

We’ve been going steady for a long time, but now I’m writing to tell you that we are through. I’m older now than when we first met, and frankly, I’m tired of the way you treat me. Do you even remember when we first met? I was 10 and on a family vacation to California. I’d beg my parents for lunch money so that I could dash around the corner and enjoy your novel offerings. You were different for me:  fast, fresh and fun. In High School you were the hot spot in my neighborhood. We all met there after school and Friday/Saturday late nights as well. In college, you were the ready answer to munchies and more. As I traveled across the USA, it always seemed as if you traveled with me. Everywhere I went you were already there, we had a thing going on – fast, fresh and fun.

You might say that it has all been about value between us, what with you being “everywhere”, open all hours, and  giving me a whole bag of food for my money. However, the basis for all great relationships is communication and trust. It seems that we no longer share the same values. How can I trust you when you don’t listen? What happen to fast, fresh and fun? Most of the time you are grumpy, tired and slow, giving me either too much of something I didn’t want (napkins) or not enough of the things I do (what I ordered) – doesn’t that cost you real dough? Is without onion, extra sauce or hold the tomato, really so hard to accomplish?

By the by, if you are not going to invest in a new tech screen display at the drive thru, then at least bring the speaker box reception closer to walkie–talkie land and solve the “listening to a lunar mission” issues. If that sounds too daunting, try the (old school) repeat the orders back methodology.

Oh, I’ve talked to your people about this and have yet to come face to face with the embodiment of “happy to be here, store proud, let’s do the right thing” representative.

I have found somebody new. They smile and warmly greet me. They pay attention to my interests and make suggestions about items to sample in a non-robotic fashion. If they make a mistake, they own up to it and make up for it. And, get this, they thank me and ask me to return.

These might seem like little things to you, but it is the big and the little things together that define an experience or a relationship. So, we are over, done, kaput. I know you won’t miss me, don’t worry, I already got that message loud and clear. Have a nice life -

Hospitality Managers: Learn to Speak the Royal Language

Friday, January 21st, 2011

July 28th 2010

 From Chase’s Blog: 

There is no way you can be considered for, let alone achieve, a top hospitality dream job without walkin’ and talkin’ dollars and cents. You may be a front of the house/heart of the house expert, but to grow or perhaps, at times to survive, you may need to travel beyond your personal network to obtain money. It doesn’t matter if it is the bank, the boss, or the street; they won’t speak the language of your passion, expertise, or dreams. They will, however, require you to display your business and financial acumen (on paper, as spoken in percentages of minimized risk and maximized rewards).

In business, cash is queen (or king, if you prefer). Gotta make it, gotta use it, gotta get more, and gotta keep what you got. It took me a long time to realize that there is an imperial collective of people who use “money know-how” (financial fitness acumen) as their entrée into the top jobs. And you are nothing to them unless you “know da know.” (Come on, now; “liquidity” is a word you use everyday, no?)

Most people who have more money than you will talk money better than you. Here is the short version of almost any money conversation: “Why should I/we give you money instead of doing other things with it?” Buy into this premise; you will have to compete numerically to justify/prove your viewpoint. Potential investors will analyze and compare your projected results to, not just your history or industry averages, but other—and perhaps more fruitful—ways of investing their money (also known as projected return on investment or ROI). This is why you must track all that comes in and all that goes out, not just to pay the bills and buy some fish, but to compete at every level. Percentages and comparatives do not require high-level trigonometry, just attention to detail, total commitment, and an understanding of why they matter.

When you begin to hear the following questions, you’ll know that your knowledge of the royal language is being tested:

  • What are the sales per square foot of your store?
  • What are today’s sales per labor hour or productivity?
  • What is your annual staff turnover ratio running?
  • What is the current net profit margin on these sales?
  • What are your actual sales “running” when compared to budget?
  • What is your year to year “comp” sales percentage?

Do not become a person who shows him- or herself to have little interest in the royal language (“…I dunno”). If you do, it will only be a matter of time before you are labeled as one of the lost souls who don’t “get it.” If you want to get ahead of the curve, you can prepare yourself by delving into the industry “numbers story.” Start with specifics such as the “ideal” food, beverage, labor costs, gross, net, and so forth. After that, break down the store’s monthly profit and loss statement (P&L) and get to know it backward and forward. You might then grab the chart of accounts for your store (the snail-trail of all the money out) and read and reread it until following along becomes second nature.

The truth is, your ultimate success in the hospitality business will at some point come down to whether or not you are fluent in the royal language… of any business.

Me and Tony B (Anthony Bourdain)

Friday, January 21st, 2011

August 10, 2010

From Chase’s Blog: 

You have heard of Anthony Bourdain, he of NYC/chefdom/ Travel/Discovery Channel/ Author/Back of the house buccaneer/ fabulous’ness & fame/– He also travels around and does a live stand up show. Recently, I read that he was coming to my Mile High City.

Now, for two months before this I have I emailed the T/D network “contact us department” naively thinking they would pass me along to Mr. Bourdain as I have a need to speak with him, but no dice! You see, I’m questing after a cover quote for my soon to be published book for hospitality leaders and managers.

I’m trying to get to him and out of the blue he shows up on my doorstep – I think about  the serendipity involved and I tell Mrs. LeBlanc, “We have to get tickets!” At this point, I have no idea how seeing him will help my cause but the sheer force of this “co-wink-i-dink” compels me. Man O’ Man, we just gotta go!

That week I happen to see one of Mr. Bourdain’s TV episodes on Montana, he drools over Jim Harrison who wrote Legends of the Fall, who is now Tony’s… (Can I call him that?) new BFF. Wait a darn minute, I have a pristine copy of 1978 Esquire Magazine, which L.O.T.F. first appeared in, as a novella, that I kept for thirty years, because I liked that story.

A week before the show the daily newspaper says AB takes questions after his show. Now, I have a plan. I will place a formal letter, politely requesting a cover blurb inside the Esquire magazine and offer this “Trojan Horse” of a gift to his royal bad-boy/ness, in gratitude for gracing Denver with his presence.  (Really, just a quick note of inquiry – would he read/skim my book and state that my book does not “much suck or sucks very little”, in keeping with his rough edged image and not risking his literary reputation) -

Streaming fans filled the Temple Buell Theater, distinctly resembling a Star Trek convention for hospitality workers. He runs through his shtick, poignant musings about the state of this and that, world-travelogue, out-takes on “the life”, with periodic displays of his switchblade quick wit. All this was unfolding in front of me and all I can think about is… will he do it? Will he subject himself to the potentially cretinous questions that could swallow him whole, much like the “bubble machine” surprises the “stupored” tourists in a Cancun disco?

Then he announces that he will take any and all comers! I stride up to the microphone, flanked by tattooed Boh-tribe members and foodie cultists. I wait my turn, as my stomach flits and my saliva splits. My time comes… on the fly, I stammer through a story about seeing the Montana show the week I cleaned out good ol’ Mom’s basement, and by chance would he take a gift from a stranger? BooYa! Tony says, “You bet I’ll take that…”  The audience laughs… blind to the success of my mission. And somewhere an old East German-cold-war-ex-spy hoisted their glass of schnapps and said “Vell don LeBlanc’ski!”

Haven’t Heard A Thing Since…

But I will always have my “shoot for the moon” moment with Anthony Bourdain. 

(Mr. Bourdain, if you happen to be lurking on FohBoh, I still have plenty of 1970’s iconography and FYI –

Ken Blanchard dug my book – if that helps sway you.)


Anthony Bourdain Essay: Cooking Food Well Means Everything and Nothing

Friday, January 21st, 2011

August 5, 2010

Bourdain’s Medium Raw Essay Contest

Read my Medium Raw challenge essay: Cooking Well Means Everything and Nothing

Cooking Food Well Means Everything and Nothing

Cooking food well is but another of life’s equal but opposite gravitational pulls. As with so much in life, cooking well means everything and nothing.  

Cooking well holds no allegiance to borders or boundaries and is a language unto itself. A well cooked meal can be deftly managed or thuggishly muscled, either path resulting in an original offering of scrumptiousness. If you can cook well, folks from Nebraska to Norway might be singing your praises, and it doesn’t matter if you are a one-trick-meat-sauce-pony or the thickly accented expert relegated to huckstering pans. From the beginning there has been one unflagging goal, whether by happy accident or professional process, when one cooks well the sum of the ingredients, recipe, technique and effort should always be greater than the gathering of fire, metal, ounces and pounds.

If others consider you skeevy, creepy or mean, it all goes out the window when you can cook well, because cooking well scores high on lists made by list-makers. Through this skill-set alone, you can almost mollify the adolescent plague of self esteem bloodletting, lay a sweaty hand on the tiller and find yourself a place in the world. Doors of opportunity will open if you show-off for family and friends or even better, a wide circle of acquaintances and strangers. If talent, skill and will converge, with minimal derailments wrought by temptation, you might ascend to the designation of mastercraftperson or even be anointed as an artisan. If you are lucky or wise you might parlay your experiences into fame, fortune and a lasting legacy.

Cooking well is a means to quench a hunger and thirst that extends far beyond food and drink, feeding the human desire for exploration, socialization, and celebration. Cooking well can be an honest day/night of work, a neighborly gesture, a familial obligation, a prelude to romance, or merely servicing a jonzin’ hoard of foodies.

However, cooking well means nothing to someone on the brink of starvation – cat food, fast food, and leather shoelaces might all look pretty tasty. Cooking well means nothing to the praying parents of an ill child or to the partner of a service person who has just fallen for freedom in some far away land.

Cooking well is unnecessary when one is anticipating a bite fresh from nature’s bounty – - a tomato from the vine, a peach from the tree and honey from the comb. And then there are the moments that transcend the preparation, moments that render all thoughts of cooking results irrelevant – The last time Grandma made stale bread French toast for you, Dad’s burnt BBQ chicken when Dads not around anymore, and Mom’s greasy meatloaf that you’d trade almost anything for, just to have one more chance to sit down and eat it with her.

Cooking well has skilled players, fans, vested interests and paying customers. It is a conduit to many things real and fanciful. Like all contact sports, it means everything and nothing.

Fire Drills and Problem-Solving for Hospitality Leadagers

Friday, January 21st, 2011

From Chase’s Hotel F and B Staffing Doctor Column

“I’m a banquet captain at a large convention property in the Southwest. On a recent slow day, we had a fire drill for the entire staff of several hundred people. I watched as everyone went through the motions, laughed, and took their time in evacuating the building. The person leading the drill, who is a senior manager, was laughing and joking as well, and it bothered me. What if we had a full house of guests—perhaps a banquet in progress—and a real disaster happened? I’m certain our staff wouldn’t know what to do, and there would be panic. I brought this up to the emergency team leader, and he said I’m “worrying too much.” Since this senior manager doesn’t seem to care, should I go to human resources, with the goal of having this person removed as the emergency team leader? Obviously, he could make my job more difficult or perhaps even have me fired if he finds out.

Did the hijinks start right off the bat, or did the merriment begin after the alarm was confirmed to be a drill? You might argue that anytime you’re at work it is serious business, but the hospitality industry is made better by sparkling personalities, and quelling them on a perceived bonus break will always be an uphill climb. You might have to travel far and wide to find a hospitality crew lined up at attention in a parking lot.

The right thing to do, of course, is to have any fire drill training treated with proper awareness and respect. Any fire can go from bad to worse in the space of a few heartbeats. An uncontrolled fire is a wickedly bad problem, and all precautions and measures (including fire drills) should be undertaken with professionalism to prepare for an emergency of this nature.

But let’s be honest—people become complacent with rote routines. The mundane becomes boring, and these days, chasing attention spans is taxing, like sprinting after a dine-and-dasher. If this is the status quo at your hotel, then this is certainly a case where crowd-sourced wisdom will lead everyone astray. Personally, I am a follower of the “how you practice is how you play” school of hard knocks. In most business settings, the leaders with the most followers (boss or not) are those who model the desired behaviors prior to attempting to teach the desired behaviors, thereby avoiding potential mixed messages.

If, as you say, bringing to light legitimate concerns could result in retaliation, then there is a raft of other potential problems at this property. All enlightened operators have an open door policy where there is some mechanism in place for feedback to reach the folks that do care and can change things.

B.C., you must weigh out your personal values and survey the culture that surrounds you. It is for you to decide if direct action is worth the risk. You could also choose to turn this problem into an opportunity by navigating the situation rather than meeting it head-on. Most of the folks you work for are looking for problem solvers, not just problem identifiers. Rather than dump this problem on somebody else, why not think through how you can contribute your talents, commitment, and passion toward the results you seek? Could you execute ways to enliven or engage your compadres and get everyone’s competitive juices flowing? A safety contest perhaps (fire drills included), where rewards, worked out in trade with the hotel, are doled out to the top performing teams?

The only limit is your imagination when it comes to problem solving. This will give you something constructive to work on and might take care of your issue. Who knows—you may even get a little career boost by showing that problem solving resides in your wheelhouse.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach with more than 25 years of experience in the industry. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!

Hospitality Industry Manager Differentiators

Friday, January 21st, 2011

December 28th 2010

From Chase’s Hotel F and B Blog

Personal Points of Differentiation

Differentiation is the answer to the common business strategy question – How can we as a company, stand out in a crowded marketplace? There is a classic list that companies draw from – bigger, better, faster, decor’, innovation, location, value, etc. Interestingly enough, this question can also be applied to individuals, not just businesses. Heading into a New Year always offers an opportunity for pause and reflection. Perhaps, the following will allow you to further your personal points of difference.

Start deeper than the mirror –
When you reflect upon the entirety of your budding (or mature) career (as we all are supposed to do on birthdays and at the start of a New Year) temporarily remove monetary expectations from your review process.  By making compensation part of the background, it may be possible to bring to the front those things that bring you the most fulfillment, joy, and promise.  

In a faced-paced world, we often forget the importance of contemplation.  Contemplation and reflection are symbiotic.  The act of mulling alone can add logic to a particular decision or thought process, and provide great clarity.  As an act of self assessment, begin thinking about what you value beyond work, and where you would most likely be able to make this type of contribution.  Is there a job title for this? Where does the best chance exist to make this job a reality, or which company offers the best opportunity to start in that direction?

Recruiting professionals are charged with matching skills and experience.  However, we find it to be of equal importance to determine the match between the individual’s values and those of the company.  When that happens, individual performance becomes aligned and connected, and both parties benefit more deeply from the cohesion.  

Make ready –
If has not yet become apparent, those who prepare for action in advance tend to fare better than those who do not. Life is full of fire drills, some real, some metaphorical. The possibility that you will be caught in a fire is small, but if you’ve ever witnessed how an out-of-control fire behaves, or how humans behave in such a fire, you’ll be grateful that you knew what to do. Exercise, proper diet, positive mental health, engagement and enjoyment are just as important to individuals as scenario planning and strategy execution are to businesses. If you seek a raise, a promotion or a new job, make yourself ready by practicing what you will need at the next level, including preparing someone to take your place.

Storytelling -
From our earliest days, humans have shared stories around the fire. It is an accepted and powerful means for creating a connection. As you narrow down what matters to you, it becomes easier to separate those things from the daily slush. Most everyone can prattle on about what they don’t like, but can you speak clearly about how you have made a difference or how you are better today than yesterday? Every person has unique talents.  What are your unique selling points (USP)? Discovering your skill set or talents and weaving your experiences into your story and being able to hold someone’s attention though the telling – is a differentiator.

Make a list of attributes, or characteristics that you believe are your strengths.  Think about your career, and recall situations where you leveraged those strengths to make an impact. Clarify the impact by aligning it with competencies like the ability to solve problems, build teams, effectively communicate, and drive results. Now, craft your story. In fact, craft five or six stories.  

By preparing personalized stories with professional significance, you will be able to take pride in past accomplishments while emphasizing your ability to take on new challenges.  You will become more confident and you will make a greater impression.  Not everyone can do this.  If you can, you will set yourself apart.  

Pluck isn’t just for feathers -
People can have pluck. (Go on, look up the noun not the verb.) Sure, it’s an old fashion word for irresistible qualities. Difficult times require leaders with nerve, courage and resolve. In other words, pluck. Imagine listening to a couple of folks talking and one says “I hope we find our way…” and the other states “We’re going to make our own way – come hackers or high-water!” Which one is expressing leadership qualities? I’m not saying that every one filled with confidence knows all the right things to do, but it is pretty clear that when times are tough people gravitate towards anyone who can help them out of the mess. You can be that person, if you show some pluck.

One or two degrees –
We’ve heard the phrase that everyone is praying to someone when they’re in a foxhole and the bombing starts. People are getting “shelled” by life everywhere around you, and you have the power to provide some cover. Next time you’re down in the dumps, swing by a children’s hospital, foster-care housing, homeless shelter, even a funeral. You don’t have to get out of the car, just watch who goes in and out. I think you will realize that there are only one or two degrees of separation between you and them. Many lives are changed by moments, some horribly bad and some unbelievably good. What would it take for you to trade your TV/lounge/ veg’n/ kickin’-back/chillin’-time in order to make a great moment for someone else? (Remember, not a day, week or month, but a moment…) The people who create this goodwill are involved in a personal brand extension – one that reaches into the unseen – perhaps far enough to reach back when it’s your turn in the foxhole.

The present –
Most people spend gobs of time dwelling in the past or dreaming of ideals.  The foundation of your future starts with the work you’re doing now, as well as your ability to take corrective action when appropriate.  Make the most of your “now” time and refresh your thinking.  Clear your mental and physical work space. Purge unnecessary clutter/rust. Celebrate and rejuvenate.  Then, establish your game plan for next year, including introducing yourself to 3 new people each week, jumping  in the digital river and joining networking groups, or commenting on blogs can all help to refine your focus.  Don’t try to have all the answers.  Ask questions and listen to the responses.  You may find a new perspective.  

Some people view the holiday season as a time of year to receive gifts.  Others take great joy in the act of giving. One of the best gifts for anyone is the chance to maximize/reprioritize your time, recalibrate, appreciate and cherish every moment… and you can give that to yourself. 

This article was co-written with DAVID ROSE
David Rose is the Vice President of Recruiting with YELLOW DOG Recruiting, a national recruitment company specializing in the placement of leaders in the restaurant, on-site foodservice and hospitality industries.

Determining Hospitality/Food Service Incentive Pay

Friday, January 21st, 2011

From Chase’s Hotel F and B “Staffing Doctor” Column:

I’m the catering sales manager at my hotel. Earlier this year, I just missed making a bonus, but my colleague who specializes in wedding events received one. Our bonuses are paid on revenue goals, but I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t offer many “freebies” and try to keep our execution costs low. How can I suggest to our manager that she look at factors other than just revenue when determining incentive pay?

CSM, for a business, cash is air, and, like a person, a business needs air to live. You can really get the attention of a business or a person when you cut off their oxygen supply. On the other hand, if all else is even, air is not what most people or businesses “live” for. A business can live for its customers, stakeholders, and employees, or ideally all three. People can live for their families, faith, or even to recklessly tempt fate by managing a hospitality business, if they so choose.

Now, follow me as we put our toes into the water. Running a business is a lot like learning to swim. At first, it can be a daunting proposition with a broad mixture of feelings and quite a bit of thrashing about—all fused to the sentient tracking of oxygen in and out. Hospitality businesses that focus primarily on the top and bottom lines (cash in and out) at the expense of other success factors, drivers, and line items, are essentially dogpaddling, which is elementarily effective but also stupendously inefficient.

Any business that rewards performance based upon simply “closing the books” or “coming up for air” from any accounting period is merely guessing at what’s really happening now and can be referred to as having an unbalanced scorecard. When it comes to the net profits or bottom line, most people share the opinion that the bottom line is the bottom line—either you got it done or you didn’t. However, at some point in any swimming lesson/running a business progression, a person grows in confidence or gets bored by just not drowning; though it will remain certainly imperative, it is not very self actualizing. An experienced business operator starts adding strokes to his or her repertoire, wisely looking for patterns and systems to leverage, in order to replicate successes.

Most hospitality businesses would (and do) benefit from tracking more push/pull triggers. For example, they need to further drill down on financial data such as revenue management, productivity improvement, risk assessment, and cost-benefit measurements or mission metrics—staff turnover ratios, a promotability index, innovation benchmarks, guest satisfaction ratings, referral percentages, etc. This, of course, requires detailed monitoring of many contributing factors and the gathering of information from far and wide and between the top and bottom lines.

So the smart trend is away from simplistically bonusing on month-to-month or top or bottom line results, even though that is obviously straightforward. Most companies are trying to achieve consistent positive financial results by rewarding the people, systems, and behaviors that drive better results, or, in our analogy, synchronized swimming.

CSM, here is the short answer to your question: Come up with a bonus plan that emphasizes equitably rewarding the drivers of sustained success. If your manager doesn’t go for your plan, at least you will have a greater depth of applicable knowledge on which to base your own actions. Or you could also go the long way around and leave this quote from Albert Einstein on her desk as a conversation starter: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach with more than 25 years of experience in the industry. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!


Friday, January 21st, 2011

January 18th 2010

From Chase’s Blog

While I don’t know what the future holds for the hospitality industry, I do know that an introspective glance back never hurts as you make plans and promises for the coming year. I grew up at a time when in grade school we practiced crawling under our desks as a preventative measure against a nuclear war. My parents cried for joy when I was vaccinated against Polio. I came of age with 8-track tapes and still enjoy Zagnut candy bars. If it doesn’t test your mettle to hear from someone who has crested fifty years in life, read on!

I started working for my first restaurant when I was fifteen years old and was glad to have found a part time job. The daily challenge of providing food and drink to an unknown number of patrons and making a business out of transforming strangers into regulars had an allure for me that continues to this day. It suited me and I stayed.

Now when I say ‘suited,’ do not mistake that for a belief that I had some sort of a special gift. I am not a famous chef, but instead I grew into the role of manager because I had a knack — a knack for thinking, talking and doing. Subsequently, I led and managed places of my own, as well as places for other folks of all sizes and styles: restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, casual service, quick-service, fast-service, entertainment complexes, single units, multiple units, local, national and U.S. government-owned.

As is likely the case for many of you, I am visited by ghosts of the past during this time of the year. They weave and wisp through my mind reminding me of where I have come from and how rocky that road has been. Just imagine…when I started out in this industry there weren’t any POS systems or computers in the office and people blew their cigarette smoke right in your face every chance they had; I watched as red meat was frightened out of fashion, then back in, out again, in; Disco (the music and the lifestyle) self-emolliated before my eyes (and rightly so); I made some money when Country music galloped into the city and lost some when sports became a 24/7 fixation; and I flirted around the abyss of addictions that vanished many of my friends with the slow efficiency of a hand crank meat grinder.

During those earliest years I must’ve asked a half-dozen people how to correctly pronounce ‘sushi.’ And ‘going green’ used to mean that someone was about to hurl. I never went anywhere without my pager. (Where did they all go?) AIDS, M.S., Lyme disease, C.F.S. , the big C. have all wreaked their loveless havoc upon my loved ones  I have worked around or through blizzards, blackouts, floods, wars, tornados, sewer main line breaks, and super scary natural gas leaks. (FYI, the hospitality industry brethren were always the second responders to any community crisis.)

How about you?

Have you heard lately from a ghost of the present day? That silent but boisterous partner in all of your hospitality business quests…The Specter of Pressure? That’s right; the unseen breath thief who seems to shout, “I’m riding shotgun!” as you jump in and start driving up and down your punch list.  “S.O.P.” reliably rears its ugly head as you try to make payroll when you’re “a-lit’l-bit-short”; when you must renegotiate down a lease with a cranky landlord when you’re behind on rent; as you discover that nobody has made the quarterly tax payments; when a junkie is tapping on your temple with his piece and you’re praying that you can remember the safe combo on the first try; when top talent jumps to a competitor leaving you high and dry; when your pipes burst in January or the HVAC quits in July; when gift card sales fall short of bringing in the year; when the crazy person in front of you threatens to kill you as you stand between him and his ex-wife/girlfriend, your new server (suddenly the protection offered by a restraining order seems tantamount to waving a red flag at a bull). Yes, if you have chosen to pursue a career in hospitality management/ownership, you may as well acknowledge living with the Specter of Pressure, as it will surely “pop on by” almost everyday.  

So what’s my point? Well, our industry has double trouble and triple challenges. Your trouble could be a roiling boil on the front burner or just simmering on the back burner, but it’s always something; it’s never going to be nothing. (That’s just the way of the world — and our industry — as decided by the dark tricksters of gloomy places.) Look at it realistically; there are simply too many pieces and parts moving way too fast for things not to jam up every now and again. And all this is nicely amplified by our “frienemy,” the Specter of Pressure.

Take a second now, however, to look at the shiny side of our industry’s metaphorical coin. For example, if you have moved here from another country, but desire a job opportunity that allows you to immerse yourself in our culture with friends that speak your language, you will likely find this in the hospitality industry. If you’re trying to bend your life back into shape after some bad choices, baking bread, making pies, grilling a steak or washing some dishes may be just what you need. While you won’t be starting at the top, you can make a fresh start. If college was out of reach, that won’t be held against you. And if you are currently attending college, jump right in for however long — we take all comers on their way to somewhere else.

Most of all, if you’re making a few bucks an hour plus tips and you’re ready to step up, we can provide full time jobs that start at $28,000 – $38,000 – $48,000 dollars a year plus benefits and, in most cases, a bonus. This can be a life-changing shift in fortunes for someone willing to commit to professionalism and show some fortitude and ambition. The beauty of this industry is that things might even work out beyond your wildest dreams; you may even be able to have a place of your own someday if that’s what you desire.

Yes, we have a rich history of taking in those who have had a hard time getting traction on other hills of life and transforming them into success stories. Jump on your favorite web-fact checker and take a peek at how many millionaires there are in the hospitality industry.

As you struggle and fight for every ounce of your business breath, ask the folks at the top of their game — Anthony Bourdain, Sally Smith, Monty Moran, Steele Platt, Jim Skinner, Diana Wynne, Frank Day, Phil Roberts, Richard J. Schnieders, and so on, if they ever faced adversity in their climb to success. Spend some time reading about Ray Kroc, Dave Thomas or Rocky Akoi who as I have heard it told slept in the bathroom of his first restaurant because he didn’t have a place to live.

No matter how hard “S.O.P.” is punishing you, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that our collective industry (tribe) has a collective purpose that goes beyond driving the top line or squeezing the middle to make the bottom better. Yes, it is a given that you have to meet or exceed gross sales expectations and there has to be something left over on the bottom line, but mark my words…your guests/customers aren’t coming to you because they want to help you make more money. There is a bigger picture here that some in our industry lose sight of – everyday within your walls you have an opportunity to put forth your finest effort, to be proud and to shine as artisans and purveyors of fine food and beverages, mixology, service excellence, décor and management plate-spinning. Everyday, if you use your talents and skills on behalf of the guest or your employees, you are creating a positive-energy connection and in times of trouble that can count for far more than any leading economic indicators.

For those who did not grow up in this industry, there are a few things from my point of view that are historical givens: We don’t just put heads-in-beds, quench thirst or satiate hunger. Rather, the hospitality industry has the opportunity to fuel the greatest of moments – to help those who want to work to achieve the American dream; to provide first jobs and second or third chances for people who need a fresh start; to enable face to face socialization and teamwork which I believe is so necessary for healthy human beings; to celebrate momentous occasions; to provide taste adventures; to connect and support our communities and inter-generational traditions and to change a life for the better – be it an employee or a guest.

Sometimes when you’re in the hole the best way out is to double-down on a sure thing. The fastest way out of this mess, for all of us, is to leverage the best of what we do and focus on creating and generating, good old fashioned ‘Wow- juice’ – for your guests and stakeholders…“Wow, they really know what they’re doing!”– “Wow, they remembered!” – “Wow, that was different!”– “Wow, did you see that place?”–“Wow, they really took care of us!” – “Wow, that hits the spot!” – “Wow, that was fun!” — “Wow, they dropped the ball, but they sure made up for it!” – “Wow, the restrooms were really clean!” – “Wow, I can’t wait to tell my friends!” — “Wow, you’re a great neighbor!” – “Wow, I don’t know how you did that, but you really helped us out!”

The word ‘hospitality’ should conjure up within you cordial feelings of welcome, warmth, kindness and generosity. Hospitable people and places are those that take other people in, help them out or make them feel better; that, my friends, is a worthwhile definition of an “above and beyond” goal.

This year on your New Year’s Resolution list, somewhere between more exercise and making more money, slip in more hospitality. When times are tough, as they have been, this will be a better strategic option than most to see you through. Take it from a guy who’s been around, it’s what we need; it’s what our country needs, maybe it’s what the world needs more of –

A Shout-Out for the Best Restaurant Managers: Plate Spinners

Friday, January 21st, 2011

April 26th 2010

From Chase’s Blog

I recently had an occasion to visit the Broadmoor Resort, the Colorado Grand Dame. If you are from out West, or are a golfer, you’ve likely heard of her. I am soul-linked to the place by family memories and the sheer beauty of the setting.

My Grandfather would refer the all-pro staff and their sparkling results as a “house-proud” group. I would probably use verbiage more common in today’s parlance: the Broadmoor is a venerable cougar, and when she struts her stuff, she can still turn heads.

On the property there is a fine restaurant called fittingly, the Summit.  At my best, I’m an interesting dinner companion, but my wife will tell you that I get the junkie-shakes entering any hospitality establishment. Like many of you, I’m quick to notice a burned out light bulb, napkin on the floor, or improper ambiance settings. 

I’m not a world class foodie, wine connoisseur, or super-chef groupie, but I am a plate-spinning aficionado. For those of you who did not grow up watching the Ed Sullivan Show, that’s an old school term for what it is like/what it takes to manage a hospitality operation. So many parts moving at such a fast pace, it is truly a marvel when things run smoothly. If an operation shows strong evidence of polish and pride, of training and development, of superior guest focus or majesty in execution, they have me entranced. I know the hours of effort that go into bringing forth a “you can count on us” hospitality experience. Sadly, there is an ever-shrinking world when it comes to these matters.

Equally important and rarer still is the fine art of hospitality rebound. Yes, despite our best efforts, the “plates do slip off the sticks” when one is driving forward one shift after another, and there is an ever-dwindling breed who have mastered the proper alchemy to transform a negative misstep into a positive experience. The following is an example of proper “script-flipping” …

My party was seated in the Summit dining room around 7pm and by 7:27pm I was looking for a manager.

  • Note to servers: Reading your guests demeanors is as important to staying on the right service track as reading road signs is to your driving. My group had 3 young kids. If parents arrived parched for spirited beverages (read as stressed), it goes without saying that the goodwill you establish by providing the self-medication they seek will incalculably add to your tip percentage.  (FYI – Parental  Behavior Judges – PBJ’s – we walked to ‘n fro) Additionally, if the bar is backed-up, then “it’s on you” to step up and bring out some veggies and dip or bread to assist with the engagement of the children. You do not have to go all Chuckles & Cheez with balloons and clown faces, simple recognition and kind acts will suffice.
  • Note to guests: Do not go “all-postal” from the jump. There is a right way to deliver information to managers (who are in the middle of rush) about your distress, and it goes something like this –

“Excuse me; are you by chance a manager?”  Establish that you are speaking to the right person with a “wee tip o’ the hat” to how important they are to keeping the plates-spinning and to resolving your issue. “We arrived at a smidge past 7 and the “greet and seat” was great.” Start off with something positive so that they don’t think you are another one of “those” thereby giving them an excuse to clinch-up and wash you off. “But now we are at 7:27 and we are dragging our bar order and I noticed that other tables have a bread basket which would sure help with our kids. If there is anything you could do to turn this around, my wife and I would sure appreciate it.”   Request personal assistance and be willing to show appreciation for their help. Give them a chance to right the ship; don’t expect “freebies” out of the gate

  • Note to managers: I’m sure you have had some exposure/instruction to the multitude of methods available to properly handle guest complaints, i.e., calmness, rationality, mirroring, acknowledgement, empathy, apologizing, and so forth. Let me just say that it is really very easy; just decide where you want to end-up with this party and backtrack from there. Whether they leave as life-long fanatics, fairly satisfied, or never coming back, it is all in the palm of your hands. It needn’t be a struggle, conflict or fight, to determine your desired outcome and then marshal resources to that end. I have seen many small complaints devolve into blood feuds because the person in charge showed-up with no idea where they wanted to end-up.

(“I might be give’n you some ice-tea on accounta’ we screwed up, but I ain’t gonna be give’n you no pie!”)

Your guest complaints are simply an emphatic disclosure of what they care about.  As a manager your arc of progression is toward altering their current beliefs, which may include feelings such as, they don’t matter to you, you don’t care about them, and that you aren’t good at what you do. It is your ability to “think on your feet” or have the right “presence of mind” that will dictate the outcome 99% of the time.

All of which brings us back to the manager/wine director/Captain of the Starship Summit, whom I had flagged down. He listened, he agreed, offering no excuses, he did offer a sincere apology and confidently stated that he would make things right. (You know, “Make it so…”)

Nothing was left in doubt after the first instant of his involvement. He insured that they not only caught up to our expectations, but surpassed them. We saw staff members that we had not previously seen, refills were automatic, and pre-bussing was timed to perfection. All the delicious hot food was hot, and the cold food was bone-chillin’ cold. My wife received preparation details of a fantastic spinach side dish. We tasted a couple of unsolicited samples of menu items he thought we might enjoy, and the kids shared their first world class dessert pastry. Our meal/relationship (key word) had started off on the wrong foot and this gentleman fixed it, without copping an attitude or comping a meal.  Some of you may get enthralled when you witness a walk off dinger, a buzzer-beating tre’ or a hat-trick. Me? I like this.

Don’t save your savoring for cheese, wines, cigars or salumi. Sometimes, there is a mastercraftperson operating right before your eyes. If you get the chance, stop by the Broadmoor, and eat at the Summit. There is some pretty fine plate-spinning going on and it seems that they recover/rebound/rectify with the best of them.