One morning, I opened up the Boston Globe and saw a headline that read something like, "Order Your Wine and Place Your Bet at Davio's!"
I almost had a heart attack.
Our sommelier, Frank, was a real character, a bit of a local celebrity. He always wore loud ties and eccentric suits, and guests had a blast joking around with him. I love it when our team members let their personalities shine. You come to Davio's and it's like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you'll get, in a good way. Frank was also great with the guests. He could recommend exactly the right pairing for your entrees, and at a price point that didn't bankrupt you.
Oh, did I mention that Frank was a big gambler? He even had a newspaper column that offered betting advice. Frank's gambling didn't seem to be affecting his work, so I didn't say anything to him about it. Big mistake.
As the Globe story related, Frank had gotten indicted for gambling. A month or two earlier, he was caught on tape taking bets from a known mafia figure. And get this: he was allegedly taking bets in the Davio's wine room.
Later that morning, my lawyer calls me. "Steve, have you seen the Globe?"
"I'm going to talk to Frank today."
He was stunned. "What do you mean you're going to talk to him? You have to fire him! You have to get him out of your place. Right now. Do you want to lose your business?"
I hadn't thought about it, but because I hold a liquor license, I have to fill out a form every year that says I haven't committed a felony. I can't even be around people who are criminals, so the fact that I now had a team member charged with committing a serious crime on our premises--and with a mobster no less--could get me in serious trouble. Not to mention what our guests might think about me and our restaurant. Frank's little gambling problem had become our big problem. So I called Frank in and fired him right then and there.
Reputation is everything. In restaurants or any business, guests care not merely about the quality they're getting, or the value for the money, or the purchase experience--they care about the people they're doing business with. This means you can't do anything stupid. It was true thirty years ago when I first started, and it's even truer today, given how fast word spreads on social media.
I first learned to protect my rep from my dad. As an Italian American, he was so proud of the DiFillippo family. He wanted our name to be a great name that was respected by the community, and he told me from an early age that it was my job to help make it so. "The Difillippo name," he used to say, "don't ever, ever mess it up!" It was my responsibility to be a nice person, work hard, make a good living, and give back to the less fortunate. From the very beginning of Davio's, I always tried to do the right thing and maintain my reputation because I didn't want to disappoint my dad.
Firing Frank wound up doing the trick; the whole episode blew over without impacting our business. But the near miss got me paying much more attention to reputation. As I realized, you don't get a lot of second chances in business. Stupid behavior chips away at your customer base. One day, you're the hottest ticket in town. You have the best food. People love you. Then you screw up and the week after, ten guests don't come. The week after that, twelve don't. A month later, fifteen. Before you know it, you're nothing.
Ultimately, any business is replaceable. Even yours, my friend. So do what I always try my best to do: Be good, and protect your rep!