When I was 17, I got my first job as a doorman at Frankenstein's, a club that used to show old movies. The owners opened a new place called Play It Again, Sam's, and I went to work there as a bartender, too. Thursday nights were ladies' nights from 7:30 to 9 p.m. -- just me, two other guys bartending, and dozens of women throwing money around. I was making $250 to $300 a week working just one night a week. Unfortunately, the manager, Boris, was a real jerk who fired people for no reason.
One night, I was in there off-duty, drinking beers and watching movies with my girlfriend, when Boris came up to me. "Steve, I just fired someone. I can't look at this guy anymore, and I need someone at the bar. How about you go take over."
"Boris," I said, "are you kidding me? I have the night off. I've been drinking. I can't bartend like that. I'll make a mistake and hurt someone -- or worse, myself. I could cut myself slicing limes. Who knows what could happen."
"Steve, come on, I need you to do this."
"I can't. I'm sorry. You know I would do anything for you. I just can't right now. I've probably had five or six beers."
He crossed his arms and shot me a stern look. "Steve, if you don't get behind the bar right now, I'm gonna fire you, too."
"Really?" I said. "You're gonna fire me because I've been drinking and don't want to work because of that?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
I threw up my hands. "Okay, you don't have to fire me. We'll just leave." And that was it. I never worked there again. Instead, I went to work at Seaside as a coffee clerk making maybe $30 a night instead of $300.
Today, I see the same thing all the time on reality TV shows: chefs and other bosses who rant and rave and terrorize their colleagues. All this is ridiculous. It's unnecessary and bad business practice. Show me a well-run restaurant, and I'll show you a place that's way too boring for television. It's a place where people care about each other and help each other out. It's also a place where people might not get it right every time, but where they do their best to learn from their mistakes.
Respect goes a long way in restaurants, which is why I don't call our people employees. I call them "inner guests" and I treat them as well as I would our paying guests. I expect them to treat each other that way, too. I want our people to work well together as a team. Most businesses depend on teams, but in restaurants they're absolutely critical. Each meal we serve goes through 10 set of hands, from the person who receives our supplies, to the prep cooks who clean, cut, and prepare the ingredients, to the line chefs, the food runners, and the servers. All of these people matter. One weak link, one person distracted and not doing his or her job, and we're in for a rough ride.
You cannot afford to mess up, not even a little, so you can't have people just looking out for themselves. They have to care about the restaurant, their colleagues, and the guests enough to do their very best every minute. They have to take pride in their work. And they have to be happy on the job. But all this means that they have to feel valued, respected, and embraced as members of a company's extended family.
So do yourself and your people a favor and save reality TV for your off-hours. When you're in the house, avoid the drama. Respect your inner guest!