Why would I call my new column Shift Happens? There are two reasons beside it being a catchy title and a play on the popular phrase.
The first reason is that in our crazy world of hospitality, we often find ourselves wondering what happened? How did I get here? When did that trend shift? These are reactive questions we ask ourselves because we were not better prepared to embrace the things that come at us and shift to new models to succeed. Like sailing, we may have a destination and course in mind, but if we don’t shift with the changing winds, we will never reach our goal.
The second reason I named this column Shift Happens is because every day we run shifts in our restaurants. They are going to happen. It’s how we proactively plan out those shifts that determines how successful that shift goes.
I’m excited to be working with FSR to share my thoughts on past false beliefs that plagued our industry and almost destroyed it. I’m excited to share my thoughts on the new trends that are coming out and give my perspective on what it takes to run a successful restaurant.
I made a lot of mistakes in my 25 years of restaurant management. My purpose of writing this column is to save you from doing the dumb things I did. I want to be your guide and help you work ON your business instead of IN your business.
The first seven columns I will be writing are about seven false beliefs we clung to and why they are false. Then, I will share a strategy to use instead of the false belief. But first, a little about my story to help you see I’ve sat at the top making all the right moves and I’ve been at the bottom doing dumb shi**.
I started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California when I was 15 years old. I learned the art of the side hustle early by saving the steak scraps to sell to the servers to give to their dogs. I made more money in scrap tips than I did per hour. I then worked as a prep cook and line cook for the Refectory.
Once I saw the money was in the front of house, I quickly moved to the front of house and worked as a Busser, server, bartender, DJ, and bouncer. At 27 years old, I moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands working first as a server at the Chart House and then as lead bartender at the Buccaneer Resort.
After two years, I moved back to California and began my management career at thirty years old. My first job was with Chevy’s Mexican Restaurant. In two years, I rose from bar manager, to assistant kitchen manager, to service manager, to chef. I met and married my now ex-wife and was lucky to have my first mentor, Tom Bryan. I followed Tom to my next job as General Manager at Acapulco Restaurant.
I worked my but off those first four years. I volunteered for every area of responsibility. I learned three valuable things from Tom. First, he taught me how to run a restaurant. The second thing I learned from Tom was that you build the bottom line (profits) by building the top line (sales).
The third thing I learned is that loyalty is to people not jobs. I followed him from Chevy’s to Acapulco because he was a great leader who poured wisdom into me. Then they moved him to a new region at Acapulco and wouldn’t let me transfer to his region.
My next regional manager was an a-hole who not only managed me instead of led me, but he also believed in building profits by cutting labor, food quality, and other things that poorly impacted the guest experience and sales. So, I left.
My next gig was a General Manager position with Wolfgang Puck. This was it! I had arrived. I went from rookie manager to GM for Wolfgang Puck in four years. I dug in.
However, my rise to the top took its toll which was becoming a work-aholic, going through a divorce, and poor health. So, I did what many managers do when we hit burn-out. I moved to Las Vegas and went back to food serving. I spent the next four years in Las Vegas trying to regroup and put my life back together.
I moved to Nashville in 2005 and started back into management at Flemings Steakhouse. Because of my management sabbatical, I had to start as Service Manager and reprove myself. During the next fifteen years, I met my wife Anita and our son was born. Also during that time, I worked as Beverage Director, General Manager, and Director of Operations of some of the best restaurants in Nashville. I was back on top.
Then … shift happens … COVID! The mayor shut down restaurants and the downward spiral began. I was the only executive in the corporate office that wasn’t family or childhood friend of the owner so I was the one laid off. Now what? A city that shut down our industry made jobs at my level extinct.
Fast forward to today. I am now living in Tampa, Florida, with my wife and 4-year-old son. I am the managing partner of a restaurant, a restaurant executive coach, an author, a speaker and (as of this column) a columnist. Life isn’t perfect. I have days where I need to remember what I teach others about making time to recharge, spend time with my family, and focus as much attention on the employee experience as I do on the guest experience and the P&L.
Thank you for reading this column. I hope you will become a regular reader and that the things I share will help you be the best version of yourself as you lead other hospitality professionals and crush your business.