• Mike Hughes

When to Say No!

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

A fellow Restaurant Consultant in beautiful sunny Boca Raton Florida, recently posed a question on Linkedin in regards to the word “NO”. His query was first in the context of our guests, and how No should be scratched from our vocabularies, in the spirit of exceeding guests expectations. The premise, is one I agree with, that in our restaurants, if it CAN be done, then we should do it. In my career, I have spent years catering to almost every whim my customers have, regardless “if it’s on the menu”. Even despite irritating some hourly employees along the way, it has worked for me.

Mr. Norotsky, owner of Impact Restaurant Consultants was spot on. Scotty is usually spot on.

Then Scotty, aka Does Know, Norotsky, posed that same interjection as it relates to our staff.

His point was to do as much as we could to accommodate our team, thus creating an environment that they want to stay employed at. He cited an example using an employee call out or request off, and getting it covered for them. I am really all about doing what I can to make my staff elated and proud to call my restaurant their home, however I am far removed from eliminating the word “NO” when dealing with my team.

I have a dirty little secret here. . .

I PLAY FAVORITES when it comes to the people I manage.

What? You can’t do that, shouts my last 5 HR directors!

The reality is, I do, and here is why.

You see, I am a long time student of the Steven Covey program. His theories have helped me in business and in life itself. In his readings he uses a metaphor called an emotional bank account, which in a nutshell, means that each of our brains has a storage bank that holds both deposits and allows withdrawals from human interactions with others. It is basically the amount of trust built up in a relationship.

Based on this theory, I absolutely treat people differently, even given the same situation, never once giving a thought to “how it looks” to others.

Let’s take server “A”, who is exactly what you are looking for when you are trying to hire one. They are always on time or early, they dress immaculately, have awesome table side manners, never stir the pot and lastly, will do any extra task you throw at them, with a smile.

Then there is their co-worker, who I will call server “B”, who is marginal at best. . .They have a rap sheet of call outs, and many shifts their apron has 2 weeks of food stuck to it. Server “A” sometimes wonders why they still work here. . .Perhaps they shouldn’t. . .But to finish my point, if Server “A” runs in 20 minutes late, for the first time in her career, I will absolutely handle the situation different than server “B” doing the same infraction. Reason being, that Server “A” has continually made deposits into my emotional bank account over the years, with hardly any withdrawls. Server “B” has been overdrawn for months without so much as one little deposit to insure there is a break cut for them at some point. Of course in these 2 examples, I would take each server behind closed doors, as it really is none of anyone's business what I do or how I handle them, but believe me when I say, that the “punishment” would not be the same. If server “B” was on a final warning for tardiness, it may be termination, whereas with server “A”, I would seek first to understand (more Covey), and try to find out the reasoning behind the tardiness. . .Where a verbal warning would quickly be administered. The other main difference is that server “A” takes responsibility and will apologize SINCERELY when they make a withdrawal.

In my restaurants, the best, most consistent employees who do right time and time again, will get some slack when they screw up. The ones who are constantly on the edge of termination, will get treated as such.

When I said above that I want to create the type of restaurant that a staff will call home, that doesn’t mean you have to roll over to every request your team makes. In fact, becoming a doormat to your team is VERY possible without the word NO being used when needed.

Great restaurants have rules and policies in place for a reason. We are not obligated to bend over backwards time and time again for every need our people may have. Our jobs as managers is to provide the tools to be successful, remove obstacles, and create the kind of work space that allow our staff to look forward to the next shift.

I am an advocate for “helping” all my team do things like get a shift covered at the last minute, or any number of other things that may pop up in the course of a busy restaurant.

So, while I listen to Scotty very carefully when he speaks, this may be one of those areas where we don’t align totally. One thing I will say about running a restaurant, is not one size fits all. What may work for one GM, may not work for another.

So back to me playing favorites; the bottom line, my favorites are the team members who continue to deliver top quality food and service, show up on time, don’t abuse the call out policy and genuinely care about their guests and co-workers. They are the kind of people that if you were to open your own restaurant next door, you would want to clone them for your team. These employees hear the word YES very often.

The rest of the team, in my opinion, need to be either coached UP or coached OUT.

They also must get used to hearing the word NO.


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