Restaurant Drama? It’s Not About the Cook.

Apparently there are a lot of chefs and cooks out there who simply must get their way no matter how their temper tantrums create drama in the workplace and negatively impact customer service.

Apparently cooks and chefs “throwing a fit”  is a commonly accepted occurrence  in catering, fancy restaurants and even in family owned cafes.

Several years ago while visiting a new cafe,  I requested romaine lettuce instead of iceberg and the waitress said, “I would make the request but it would make the chef mad.”

Just last week I asked a catering company to switch a food item and the response by the person in charge was, “Chef will throw a fit.”

I just read a blog by Seth Godin where he says, and I quote, ” Don’t try to talk a vegan into eating the chicken-fried steak just because the chef will yell at you if you ask for one more plate of steamed vegetables.” (Now, mind you this wasn’t the main point of his blog,) but I can’t help but ask the question: When did restaurant service become more about the cook and less about the customer? Aren’t we missing the point?

Here’s are some leadership lessons that work for any business but especially for food service and restaurants.

1. Don’t make your cook’s personality flaws your customers problem. Even if it’s part of your “back stage” employees should NEVER gossip about the drama behind the curtain.

2. If your number one commitment is to keeping cook happy then you need to communicate the rules and set expectations with your customers in advance. (For example we do not substitute, or, we do not allow sharing portions.)

3. Relationship drama always hampers productivity. Understand that drama on the inside filters down to customer service and eventually to your bottom line.

4. Fire any employee or cook who creates drama, even if you think they are the top performer. Their negativity and pompous attitude will eventually ruin your business, no matter how good they are at sales, at production or at cooking a meal.

4. Train, Tain, Train your staff how to communicate and put on a good “show.”

For example, at the the last minute I had to change my menu because the cook was freaking out. (The good news is the food was actually better than what I had ordered, but the problem from a customers point of view is the way the issue was presented.) Instead of this being a surprise and a benefit, it was presented to me as if I had to adjust to keep the cook happy. Bad communication skills. Good training would have given the catering staff the tools to make me feel special and let me know what a good deal I’m getting.  Instead what I heard was excuses as to why I could not get what I wanted.

The first step in improving customer service is to clear the fog and get in alignment. You can’t go to the island called “exceptional customer service” when you are rowing to the island called keeping cook happy.  What is your mission? Why are you in business? What keeps you going?  Is your company dedicated to giving the customer what she wants or is there a bigger commitment to keeping the cook happy?


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