Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gotta Have Hand

From Seinfeld:
George: She has the hand; I have no hand. How do I get the hand?
Jerry: We all want the hand. Hand is tough to get. You gotta get the hand right from the opening.

That quote from Seinfeld shows sums up my relationship with my chef. Not knowing where to turn after I nearly lost my restaurant in a sheriff’s sale, I decided to have a sit-down with him. Let me first say that attempting a sit down with no balls, no plan and basically no clue is a bad idea. You can’t confront someone and hold them accountable without pure confidence in what you’re saying. Otherwise, you put yourself in a position to be quickly manipulated.

To any seasoned restaurateur, the kitchen is a really good place to start when trying to fix a huge debt-to-income ratio. To a newbie restaurant owner like me, running a cost-effective kitchen was a tremendously difficult task -- almost impossible to complete when we couldn’t even keep our kitchen clean!

But I was desperate to get my restaurant on track and could feel my frozen blue lips slipping beneath the surface. I didn’t know how to fix the problems. Unfortunately, I was seeking advice from the core of the problem itself, the chef. Our conversation started with a careful explanation of the situation. I said we were bleeding financially and we couldn’t pay the bills. I asked for his suggestions for fixing the problem. Like a dummy, I just opened myself for manipulation-- I gave him “hand.” Instead, I should have said, “Your kitchen is a screwed-up mess, your staff is disorganized and every night the trash cans are filled with usable product. This is completely unacceptable, especially while I am taking one call after another asking for the money that you just threw away.”

Once again my lack of experience left me in a position of ignorance. The chef turned to me with a smile. He said the menu and the restaurant were too big for the number of staffers we had. He said we needed to redefine who we were. He said we needed a new menu and that we needed to update the d├ęcor. In my head I was thinking, “You have got to be kidding me! This restaurant is in the crapper. I can’t pay the bills and you think increasing payroll, buying some new decorations and a smaller menu are going to fix the problem?” But not having an answer of my own, I moved forward with his ideas.

So, I buried my head in the sand. I borrowed some money from bank Italiano (let’s just say cash in a brown bag from Vito), changed some decorations, bought new menu covers and brought an extra set of hands into the kitchen. Now it was time to unveil the chef’s new menu, and if all of the calculations were correct …. problem solved!