The other day I was in a restaurant and saw a sign advertising “Sliders Fridays.” From what I gathered, they offered a deep discount on tiny hamburgers, called sliders, on Friday nights. The interesting thing about this discovery is that I own the restaurant and it’s the first I knew of it. (Stacey’s at Waterford: www.eatatstaceys.com)
I don’t just own the restaurant. I also manage it, although I use that term loosely. I’ve taken the concept of hands-off management to the next level. Most of the time I have no idea what the staff is up to. They organize customer events, execute marketing ideas, hire and fire, change the menu, and pretty much anything else they want. I only get involved if there is a largish expense that needs to be approved. I see the financials daily, by e-mail, but I’m mostly about the bottom line.
As a well-known critic of managers, I painted a big red bulls eye on my back when I started managing the restaurant. For the first year I was involved in the details somewhat, but primarily to establish an operating culture. I wanted to give them lots of flexibility to try new things, and even more freedom to fail. And I wanted them to feel like it was their own business.
I’m lucky because I have exceptional managers, with lots of experience, who appreciate the freedom they are getting. I think freedom partly compensates for the fact that restaurant pay isn’t the best. It’s a luxury not having your boss breathing down your neck. Apparently something is working because the restaurant quality is better than it has ever been, and January revenues were slightly up from last year despite the tanking economy. I’d love to take credit for that, but lately all I do is eat there.
The principles I tried to establish with the staff early on, that seemed to have stuck, include these:
- Have fun. Loosen up.
- Try something new. Often. Keep whatever works.
- No penalty for a new idea failing. Trying is the thing.
- Employees are more important than customers.
- Stop asking Scott for approval. Just do it.
- Managers get to see the financials.
- Being a jerk to coworkers is grounds for termination.
- Do whatever seems smart and fair to make customers happy.
- Watch the competition closely and borrow their best ideas.
It probably helps that the staff realizes that getting another job these days is a dicey proposition, and they all want to make sure the restaurant stays in business. When someone doesn’t pull their weight, the staff weeds them out on their own, either directly or indirectly.
It’s a fascinating exercise. Obviously it only works if you have the right people in key positions. But so far, so good.