One night in 1997, I was working the door at Davio's on Newbury Street. We were packed and had a forty-five minute wait for a table. A guy came in, an attractive woman by his side. I had never seen this guy before, but as his female friend looked on, he said, "Hey, can't you get me a table right now? I know Steve. The owner."
I couldn't believe it. "Oh, you know Steve? Really?"
"Yeah," he said, puffing his chest out. "I'm friends with him. Can you get me in a little sooner?"
I pretended to look down at our list of reservations. "Well, why don't you go upstairs to the bar and let me figure it out, see what I can do."
I was shocked; I had to get away from the guy to process what was happening.
I wasn't about to bump him up in the line, but it turned out that a table opened up quicker than expected, after about only twenty minutes. I found him at the bar. "Sir, I have your table."
The big shot nodded smugly to his girlfriend. "Wow! You're kidding me. Great!"
I brought him to the table and sat him down. He looked up at me. "You know what? I'm gonna call Steve tomorrow and tell him that you got me in and how great you are. This is amazing." I swear, he said this right to my face!
"Sir," I said, "that would be great. I really appreciate it."
This guest hardly expected that the owner of the restaurant would be working the floor. And can you blame him? Some restaurant owners rarely, if ever, take time out to man the seating chart and the phones, to touch tables, or to inspect the food going out. Instead, you often find owners sitting at the bar, chatting it up with their friends or girlfriends. Or they stay in the kitchen, paying attention to the food at the expense of all else.
It's the same with business owners in general. Fancying themselves as "the big boss," they hole themselves up in their executive suites, their egos preventing them from ever getting their hands dirty with day-to-day operations.
Working on the front line is essential for understanding the needs and desires of your guests, as well as the feelings of your team members (or as I call them, the "inner guests"). If you're not working the front line, no matter what the size of your business, you're very quickly losing touch with the market and your company. You're probably also losing touch with what you loved about your business to begin with.
It's so tempting to get cocky, to kick our feet up, thinking we've "made it." But no one truly "makes it." The sooner we realize that, the harder we'll work--a quick check for our egos. It doesn't matter how many restaurants or other businesses you own, you should always pop in on the line or on the floor at least once a week. And that's the bare minimum.
Another owner might have taken the opportunity to embarrass that guy in front of his girlfriend that night in 1997. It would have been so easy, and so much fun. But I wasn't about to do that. If I had embarrassed him, he would have had a bad time and we never would have seen him again. There was no need for me to score ego points that night. It wasn't about me, the Davio's owner. It was about making the sale, running a strong restaurant, and keeping our business going.