Friday, March 25, 2011

"The first thing I did was take full responsibility for my predicament"

Another business mistake story reported by Marcia Pledger of The Cleveland Plain Dealer. This story is from Tony Kleem, owner of Tony K's Bar & Grille in Berea, Ohio.

The Mistake: My biggest mistake was opening a restaurant without doing enough research or surrounding myself with experienced employees. I had owned a small bar for several years, but running a restaurant with 160 seats is a whole different world.
I knew I needed to get into the food business in order to survive. But I spent more time planning menus then I did learning about operations. It doesn't matter how good the food is if your service is off.

In the nine months it took to build, I was focusing more on construction, furniture, equipment and hiring. The problem was I should have selected a manager with significant experience, including a restaurant opening. Except for learning the computerized ordering system, I didn't even offer training.

Looking back 12 years ago, I just closed my eyes and went through the wall. I didn't know basics, like having a soft opening on a Monday to work out the kinks. I opened on a Friday, and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Saturday was worse.

I comped a lot of meals that first weekend. You don't go into business to give away food and drinks. I did both, just trying to get customers to give my business a second chance. In the restaurant business, it's hard to get over bad first impressions.

The Fix: The first thing I did was take full responsibility for my predicament. Then I vowed to succeed, by doing whatever I could within reason to please customers.

Customers have to know that they're valued, and it's up to managers and the owner to make sure employees know that's the top priority. Sometimes it just means acknowledging an issue, then working to rectify it.

Communication is key. People don't mind waiting when you explain what's going on. I tell the staff that the customer is always right, even when they're not. If it's a situation that they can't handle, call in a manager to deal with it the proper way.

Soon after I opened, I spent the first two months cleaning house, making sure we had the right people in all sorts of positions.

To me, Tony's acknowledgement is key. "Taking responsibility for his predicament" allowed him to quickly see and understand his mistake. Rather than panicking, or blaming others, he owns up and figures out how to solve the situation. It is painful, and expensive, but he does it.

Contrast this with Tom Chaney of "True Grit." Despite being an outlaw and a killer, Chaney is the weakest person in the entire movie. He always moans about his predicament. "Everything is against me," he says, over and over again. All I can say is, I'm glad he never tried to open a restaurant.

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