I have a bone to pick with my industry, the restaurant industry. Not the entirety of it, mainly a popular sect of it, the casual diner… You know the ones I speak of… the Applebee’s’ of the world (sorry Applebee’s, but I have to make an example of someone. Don’t worry, though, there are PLENTY of others lumped in with you here, you’re just the proverbial hostage that needs to be shot).
I must add… I only speak of the executives and those making the decisions within these companies. I am actually good friends with tons of great humans who work in these places. I’m also pretty chummy with Regional and General Managers in multiple corporate restaurant companies and they are damn good at what they do. I would even go as far as encouraging people to work for these companies. There are skills that you can learn in some of these restaurants that will come in handy one day. And as for a career, it CAN take you places.
The issue I speak of here isn’t exactly a bad experience or the “I found a hair in my food” stuff that you’ll find propagating on yelp (another bone for another time).
No, the issue I have is with the shot callers at the top of the food chain. The ones so far removed from both the reality of their operations and completely oblivious to their disregard for true quality service. Quality is more than just a “company value” on a neat poster in the break room. Quality is a mind set and a choice. The degradation and butchering of the industry I hold so dear to my heart is alive and well.
I love this industry, I adore it like I adore my beautiful and amazing future wife. I’m not of the snob and snoot variety, I simply respect quality work. I respect a restaurant that respects itself and the industry it is a part of. This only happens when you have people running the restaurant that are emotionally invested in what they do. Leaders in these types of restaurants respect and honor the industry, love their craft, and quality runs through their veins. This is an example of a trickledown theory that ACTUALLY works. This sort of passion is contagious and this shows in a number of restaurants I have visited. These aren’t fancy places either, they’re affordable places. This coming from a dude in mid-level management, so YOU KNOW I’m on a budget.
What resonates is the respect they have for themselves. They choose quality as their guiding light.
Now, to the “dark side”. The cliché “fat cat” business man exists for a damn good reason — because they exist. These chain restaurants operate like factories. Instead of automated machines, they seek to create automated people. You CANNOT automate people. The magic is in the personality. I can speak to this because I am and have been living within this automated cookie cutter system for a while now. With “training’ they disguise this automation as the “Enter Brand Name Here” Way. A credo to live by. It’s real “HOO WA!” and slightly nationalistic on a small scale if you ask me.
So… here’s how the slippery slope analogy works here.
Big Company wants to open up ten NEW restaurants a year.
Set a budget that promotes growth.
(Those two on their own are not bad things. They’re smart, actually. There is nothing wrong with growth or corporations in general, like I said, it’s this particular segment of the industry I have an issue with and not so much the restaurants themselves, just the gremlins that piss all over the concept of true hospitality)
Now, to get more butts in the seats, you lower prices, offer multiple happy hours during the day, email blast customers with endless amounts of discounts and deals, and on top of this some even have customer loyalty programs which add to the already grotesque amount of “cheap”. I like a deal every now and then and I think customer loyalty programs can be great, but…it’s spiraling out of control at a break neck speed. Butts in seats don’t always mean strong sales. Immediate sales maybe, but not strong sustainable sales. Understand this, these people aren’t going to your place because of your amazing quality or because you have something SOOOO amazing that they are just DYING to try. They’re going because you’re cheap and easy. Last I checked, being cheap and easy was nothing to be proud of and when you’re cheap, easy and that’s making you lots and lots of shameless money, well that makes you a hooker. What you’ve created is not a loyal fan base, but fiends who want their next fix…their fix is “the deal” and the high of “free shit”. Now, not only are you a hooker, but you’re a dealer too. To feed these fiends you’ve got to keep the free shit coming. So, to offset this, you cut costs. The company might start ordering lower quality ingredients, inevitably lowering the quality of the product you put out, but worst of all, you find yourself cutting labor costs. You have the same volume coming in, but half the sales, so you cut your labor in half. Now you have half a team doing twice the work…..quality of service goes down. To keep stride in this rat race to the sewers, others follow suit. This drives prices down everywhere, in turn driving quality down, before we know it, every restaurant on the block is just another gimmick with bad service. “Everything to everyone for next to nothing” sounds noble, but it’s quicksand….and I fear we’re all going down.
BUT… there’s hope. Some of us do care. Some of us have the gumption, the talent, the desire, the “mad scientist” look in our eyes. We’re working, toiling away. The great thing is…the only way to go from here is up. The posers have been caught with their pants down, the future belongs to those who have quality and true hospitality to offer.