Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships
Restaurants are not without their share of drama, and some of them center on various and diverse conflicts between the team at the back of the house (kitchen) and the staff at the front of the house ( dining room).
Michael Jordan’s words in the title of this article were meant for sport, but well-run restaurants aren’t that different from the competition on the court. Gary Cannon, the owner of Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill, compared his old life as a personal trainer, college football player and lifeguard to his current life running a busy restaurant. “It’s a team. A real team. No different from sport where success only comes if everyone works together. The same sentiment was echoed by Chip Miller, who at the time was the Executive Chef of Blackwall on the Beach in downtown Rehoboth. He stressed that the common goal of customer satisfaction is the driving force behind successful restaurants. “If you are there only for yourself and to collect a salary, this attitude will affect the smooth running of the business.”
Before Chip joined Rehoboth, he worked at the always busy riverside restaurant of Blackwall in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. “In summer, the restaurant can accommodate 500 people. Teamwork is absolutely essential in an establishment of this size; from bus drivers and runners to waiters and bartenders; people from the back of the house in the dish pit [dishwashing area], to food preparation areas and on the line [where the plates are assembled]. Ownership and management are key to creating – and maintaining – the sense of cohesion and loyalty that keeps restaurants running smoothly.
When an owner or general manager isn’t afraid to go down into the trenches to make sure operations are efficient, the staff will see it. The managers and owners of the “ivory tower” are not appreciated in restaurants. Gary Cannon noted that when employees see management working as hard as they are, “that’s what makes them a real team where everyone admires and respects the coach. If the coach wins and deserves that respect, it’s easy to see how he can bring the team together.
If you’re a fan of the eating craft, one of Food Network’s most educational shows is Chef Robert Irvine’s “Restaurant Impossible”. The outspoken host is called in to determine why this or that restaurant is failing and to (perhaps) resolve the issues. He never meets owners or staff until the cameras roll, and his immediate frustration can be painfully obvious.
After watching the show for many years, patterns are starting to emerge. One of the issues that arises at not-so-surprisingly frequently is conflict between kitchen and dining room staff. A self-absorbed chef or line cook intimidates waiters who demand that customers’ dishes be corrected or changed. Or a waiter spends more time looking at his cell phone than helping with side work. Or a manager solves his power problems by abusing staff. The list goes on and on, and when Irvine finally identifies these human obstacles, problems are often blamed on absentee property. The screaming cook, lazy waiter or swaggering manager naturally took power to fill the void left by the lack of on-site management and / or control of property.
Visitors to this page for over 10 years know that I admire well-run restaurants. But it’s important to remember that they are populated by humans, and mistakes will always be part of the equation. But strong, involved management and dedicated employees (who understand that their income is directly proportional to the restaurant’s success) will be ready to correct the inevitable mistakes. The casual reader who isn’t familiar with the inner workings of foodservice will sometimes scold me for not nipping every little misstep that might happen. I refuse to engage in this Yelp-like behavior !. It is not the errors that concern me entirely; it’s how staff respond to them, resolve them, and put systems in place to make sure they don’t happen again. Whether on the football field or in a kitchen or dining room, success only comes if the whole team – from the coach to the bottom – works towards this common goal.