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Pressure Under Fire




Emergency is the sort of thing that you prepare for, but you never really expect will happen. That’s why we purchase insurance or create contingency plans. But in the event that an emergency does befall your restaurant, say, during business hours, do you have what it takes to keep your cool and make things work? Our restaurant consultant Richard Weil says that success in times of emergency is just a matter of attitude.

“You can’t panic,” Weil says. “You need to stay calm, set the tone of confidence, and rally everyone with a ‘can do’ point of view to get the initial energy to make things happen.”

Aside from his nearly 40 years in executive level management, Weil advises from first-hand experience—recent first-hand experience.  

“I was working in the office of a client where we are managing a couple of restaurants. We had a private party at one location for 50 persons at $100 per person scheduled to start at 6 p.m.” 

Weil’s work was interrupted as the general manager burst into the room and declared that there was a fire at the other location, just across the street.

“By the time I got there, the Ansul hood system had already extinguished the grease fire, but the back open kitchen area was a mess with liquid from the system.” There was a murmur of panic knowing that a large private party was soon on its way. “And the other location had additional private parties that night as well.” 

Weil quickly assembled all of the managers and organized a brainstorming session to quell the worry and convert energy into action. “We started to think in terms of what we could do, not what we couldn’t do,” he says. And in the end, the team was able to switch around the private parties and offer incentives so that they could accommodate all of their guests and keep them happy. 

Under literal and figurative fire, Weil kept the team calm. “Stay in control,” he says. “Stay calm. Always think about the guest first and how you can serve them with a great experience.” By prioritizing the guest, everyone immediately had a point of focus and a common goal.

Of course, Weil adds, “Experience is always a great teacher.” And that is why working with a restaurant consultant can add value in your restaurant operations. “More than likely, any restaurant consultant would have seen a similar situation. From the consultant point of view, you’re not as tested as a chef or a manager. We were able to execute because the entire team worked together.” Ultimately, consultants have both knowledge and big-picture understanding, so they are a pivot-point for teaching teams how to cooperate, even under pressure.

“It took the entire team to make it happen,” Weil acknowledged, and concluded, when in doubt, to live by the three c’s: “Communicate, cooperate, coordinate.”

Photo by Anita Hart.