Getting Out in Front of Problems

I’ve met quite a few people in this business who have transferred from a career in the military, only to find success on a kitchen line or in the manager’s office. It seems that a career in the military is good training for picking up a spatula or a server’s pad. There might be something to that. The fact is that enlisted men and officers learn early that they have to survive tongue-lashings from superior officers, and this is part of life in the military.

It turns out this is great training for the mistakes that we all make in the restaurant business. In the military, you have to get out in front of mistakes and minimize their damage. There’s no value in hoping mistakes will evaporate or someone else will take the blame. Likewise, successful restaurant operators and managers learn how to deal with mistakes by getting out in front of them.

This business is not set up the same way as the military, but the pressure to perform can be just as great. Success in this business breeds confidence, and people who excel at their jobs can have trouble dealing with mistakes when they happen. This is especially true in fine-dining and in the front-of-the-house, where impeccable presentation and self-directed rewards can breed me-first prima donnas (I’ve seen it too many times). However, there’s only one lasting way to deal with mistakes—get out in front of them and start the process of moving past them as soon as possible.

Dealing with Guests

When problems happen on the floor, a common first reaction is to hope they’re not so bad, or that they’ll go away. In fact, the only proper reaction is to address them quickly. Problems with guests are never easier to deal with than just after they first happen. The consequences for avoiding them are far worse.

· Guests can be angered by the failure of an authority figure to take responsibility.
· Online reviews can damage a reputation and repel potential guests.
· Mistakes that aren’t corrected are likely to recur.
· Expensive gift cards and coupons can be necessary when a simple comp could have taken care of the problem.

The right way to deal with a guest complaint is to make it right, apologize, empathize, and be sure you’ve made it right. Military men know how to check their pride at the door. Managers and operators should learn early on in their careers that a little humble pie can go a long way.

Dealing with Bosses/Other Managers

The fact is that bosses appreciate an employee who owns up to a mistake right away. Everyone makes mistakes and we all have bad days. More importantly, this business is full of potential pitfalls and errors. Managing a restaurant is like playing offensive line in football—we only get noticed when something goes wrong.

Everyone with experience in this business knows that a thousand things can go awry on a given day. The presence of mistakes is constant in a restaurant with high volume. A manager who admits his errors immediately endears himself to his colleagues and employers. Employers who don’t appreciate someone who admits to a mistake identify themselves as being unfamiliar with the restaurant business.

Mistakes are an Opportunity

The best possible perspective on mistakes is the notion that they represent a chance to overwhelm guests. A good recovery comes from the recognition that a mistake has happened, and repeated efforts to make it up to the guest. An overcooked steak can be quickly followed by…

· A properly cooked steak
· A free dessert
· A free after-dinner beverage
· A five-minute friendly dialogue
· A personal correspondence the following day
· An invitation to return and a free dinner entrée comp

Guests can get properly cooked steaks in many restaurants. But this level of service is impossible for most guests to find. Getting out in front of guests—when executed properly—can convert a missed opportunity into a loyal customer.