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No excuses

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In the July issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed a frequent scenario where a mistake is made in the restaurant and the manager is more interested in rationalizing why the mistake took place than solving the problem. He asked readers how they deal with mistakes and whether they have a contingency plan to solve any crisis that may arise.


We try to educate our servers on how to explain to our guests possible delays during high-volume times. Some guests just don’t care that a restaurant is busy and they can’t comprehend the limitations of equipment and staff members. When I have to go and speak with a table because their food took 40 minutes to arrive, and I have not been able to pause to use the restroom in seven hours because I am working so hard to manage a dining experience for 700 guests, it can be a challenge not to explain how a breakdown can happen.

We run a profitable, successful business and are always striving to  improve. Our goal is 100 percent guest satisfaction. Will we ever attain it? Possibly not, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. I am encountering more people without a clue of how operations work in a restaurant.  They get irate and rude with servers and management over issues after an apology is extended and compensation has been given to them. I’m open to suggestions!

Melissa Jacobs
Jean Bonnet Tavern
Bedford, PA

You hit the nail on the head. It reminds me of the five levels of problem solving:

1. Ignore
2. Deny
3. Blame Others
4. Accept Responsibility
5. Take Action

What you are begging for from us professional operators is to live in levels 4 and 5.
My brand is a premium fast-casual restaurant where the delicate balance between FOH and BOH is critical to the flow of food from the kitchen. We have a guiding principle that says we will execute our recipes and deliver food, even when we are very busy, within 10 minutes. To maintain this level of execution we must control the flow of checks into our kitchen. When we are fully staffed, we can open all of our registers and let the checks fly into and out of the kitchen—sometimes 100 in an hour. But on the occasion we have a team member call in sick we will make adjustments, such as reducing the number of registers, creating a longer line for placing orders to maintain food quality and order flow. If there are extreme cases, we will offer chips and a beverage to guests waiting in line. Thank goodness this does not happen frequently, but we have a plan.

On the other hand, mistakes happen. So when they do we employ the method above and try to coach our teams and franchise partners to go right to stage 4 and quickly to stage 5. No one is perfect, but we pride ourselves on learning from our mistakes and taking corrective and preventative action so they are not repeated. As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

David E. Goldstein
Chief Operating Officer
Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill
Westlake Village, CA

I always speak with my guests with understanding, while never offering excuses. I have been that guest. When a manager visits my tables and starts explaining why my dining experience wasn’t what I expected it makes me feel like I’m not being understood. As managers we need to remember our guest wants us to fix the problem. Be on their side. What I did take from your article was a contingency plan. I usually approach a problem with what can I do to make this better, but I have never been equipped with the forethought that things could go wrong. I need to be ready for that. What I will approach a guest with in the future is a solution.

Tammy Perkins
General Manager
Gatlinburg, TN

The owners of the restaurant I manage have been great about taking responsibility. They offer anything from a free drink or dessert to something as little, but meaningful, as a great conversation. They go to every table and chat and ask about the food, service and experience. When part of an order is missing, we always have fresh soup and salad readily available to rush out to the customer without food.

Megan McAdams
Billy’s Tap Room & Grill
Ormond Beach, FL

Thank you for your No Excuses: Take Responsibility article. You nailed it on the head.

Abigail Hutchinson
Executive Chef
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island, GA

I could not agree more with your main point. I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a restaurant manager is to take responsibility for an unhappy guest, right or wrong, without delivering an excuse. I literally just had a guest get upset today because he didn’t like his food. It was prepared and cooked correctly, and as badly as I wanted to tell him that, I can’t. He will not all of a sudden start liking his food because I said it was what he ordered. I am a sound enough person to accept his criticism, apologize and make him as happy as I can. After that, I move on with my life. I don’t feel stupid, even if he thought I was, because I know that I am not a stupid person.

As simple as it sounds, I have never thought of using a preset quick substitute dish when we misplace an order. We usually try to make it up on the back end, by buying a dessert. I do like this idea and will implement it into our game plan.

Jeff Christian
Gatlinburg, TN

In your latest article you ask the question about a quick fire item. You had mentioned this in a past article. My team got right on it then and designed a small list for employees to use in this situation.

“I apologize for the delay with your entree. While you are waiting may I bring you a homemade cup of soup or wedge salad?” Or, sometimes, the cup of soup is brought out immediately with an apology alerting the customer it will be a few minutes for their order. The manager is also alerted and must stop by the table as well. Thanks for giving us something to think about and for helping me become a better manager and owner.

Nicki Ellerbroek
General Manager/Owner
McNally’s Irish Pub
Sioux Falls, SD

You’re right. There is no excuse when a business makes a mistake. All you can do is try to rectify the issue and go from there. I was taught the acronym L.A.S.T— Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank. It’s something that I have used throughout my restaurant career.  Sometime guests just want you to listen to them and be sincere about it.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with taking something off their check or giving them something for free, but I tend to make sure that I do something for guests like this, because these are the type of guests you want coming into your business. Guests like these will promote your business, since they are not expecting anything.  

Joe Agraviador
Operations Manager

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