Rachel recently asked me for help with the restaurant she works at.
The restaurant in question is part of a family owned chain of three or four restaurants, all of which have the same name but are located in different parts of the state. Sarah, (not her real name), the woman who owns this particular restaurant does not have any back of the house experience. For the last several years, she relied on her husband who worked as the establishment's general manager.
The problem with her husband was that he ran the restaurant into the ground.
He didn't keep regular hours and provided no leadership for the staff. He hit on the female staff members and actually had sexual relations with at least two staff members. (Both were later fired.) When he needed pocket money, he took money from the register. Instead of running the restaurant, he drank himself silly at the bar. He even "hired" a drinking buddy to work as a maintenance person. In exchange for free rent in a house owned by Sarah's family, he was supposed to provide free maintenance service. In reality, he joined the general manager at the restaurant's bar and got roaring drunk.
Without any effective leadership, cooks ate on the line, portioned food with their bare hands, didn't date or label food, and argued with the waitstaff. One cook was caught taking a case of steaks out of the restaurant. The hostess stole tips off tables. When the general manager allowed a teenager to create a work schedule for the waitstaff, she gave all of her buddies the best days and times while excluding people she didn't like.
Under the former GM's "rule," pretty and flirtatious young servers were also allowed to show up late, to sit and visit with their friends during shift, and to use cell phones and send or receive text messages while they were supposed to be working. The GMr even allowed these young women to skip doing their outs ... but forced older and more responsible employees to take up the slack. When these mature (and less attractive) waitstaff finally kicked up a fuss at having to do additional work for which they were not paid, the GM became loud, verbally abusive, and physically intimidating. In the end, several of the restaurant's most reliable employees wound up quitting.
When Sarah finally decided to divorce her husband, he raided the register, withdrew all money from their joint bank account, and physically assaulted his wife. To protect herself, Sarah took out a restraining order against her husband. She has changed the locks on her house and the restaurant. She has told staff that her husband has been fired as general manager. He no longer has access to the register and may not have complimentary meals or alcoholic beverages.
Rachel asked for my help in turning the restaurant around. My biggest initial concern was the fact that the restaurant had no leadership. I was also concerned over the general lack of sanitation practices and the lack of standardized recipes that include portion sizes and plating procedures.
Based upon advice received from Rachel and yours truly, Sarah has taken charge of the restaurant. She has fired the deadwood. The hostess is gone. Young servers who won't pull their weight are gone. The cook who stole steaks is gone. Cooks may no longer eat on the line. All sanitation and proper food handling and storage procedures are now being followed. Basic hygiene standards have also been introduced. Standardized recipes that include portion control and plating have been dug out of the file cabinet and are being used. Cooks who were unable to accept these changes have been fired.
The restaurant is now operating with a minimal staff.
I have recommended standardized training for all severs. Servers previously learned their jobs by shadowing other servers ... but the restaurant has no standardized training for recording ticket orders. One server will "comb 1" for the combination one plate, while another will write "C-1."
I have recommended training servers to seat guests who might otherwise stand at the podium waiting for the hostess to return.
I have also introduced the concept of suggestive selling.
Most of the recommendations that Rachel and I have made have been adopted. The problem is that it's still losing money, though at a much slower rate than it was under the soon to be ex-husband.
While other parts of the country are entering a recession, this area is entering a depression. The largest private employer is a copper mining company. With industrial production down, the demand for copper has dropped. The mining company terminated all contractors last month. Last week they also released 400 employees.
The loss of so many jobs has had a ripple effect through the local economy. Fewer people eat out. Fewer people are buying non-essentials. We're headed into some tough economic times and given the declining economy in Japan and the EU, I think the tough times ahead could last for years.
Labor costs have been reduced to the bare minimum and Sarah has even learned to send staff home during shifts that are especially slow.
I have suggested reducing food costs by eliminating some items from the menu. For example, the restaurant has an expensive fajita platter as well as various steaks. In this economy, nobody is buying the fajita platter or the steaks. I don't really see why these expensive items have to stay on the menu.
For that matter, the menu hasn't changed in a couple of decades. The restaurant also has no daily changing special. Regulars who frequently eat in this restaurant have the same menu year in and year out. From time to time Sarah has had a sale on specific menu items ... but she's never had a daily special and since all of the family restaurants have the same menu, she's reluctant to make any changes.
While a competing Mexican restaurant across the street does a thriving business with a line that goes OUT THE DOOR Sarah's establishment is struggling to stay afloat.
I'm looking for ideas on how to help keep this restaurant afloat. All constructive ideas are welcome.