In his 30-plus years in the hospitality business, consultant Jon Taffer has rescued nearly 1,000 bars and many more restaurants from the brink of failure. He's done it in part by employing high standards, emphasizing measurable results--and mincing no words about costly mistakes managers are making so they can correct them quickly and staunch the red ink.
Sounds so basic, right? Then why is it so hard to do--and why do so many fail at it?
"It is basic," he said in an interview. "Keeping a bar clean is basic in this business. Having a staff that speaks adequate English is basic." But miss out on these and other essentials--and just like that, "you get mediocrity."
"Pushing for excellence is a fight," he said. "You have to fight to hire the right employees, fight to get the supplies you need, to move line items around. Being a great manager means pushing to get those few extra inches every day. It's almost like a football game - the team that wins sometimes wins by just inches. But they fought for every single one of them."
Taffer drives these and other business strategies home on "Bar Rescue," his Spike TV show, as well as in a new book, Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions. But his insights don't apply only to the crew at the corner pub. He aims some of them at the managers in Washington and at the voters who hired them.
Here are some of his top tips:
Remember the faces of your customers--or risk losing them.
"A customer is not worth just $10--he or she is worth hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars. In the restaurant business, when you deliver food to someone's table, one of two things happens: The customer sits up, takes notice, looks over at his or her companion's plate--or nothing at all happens. No business can allow nothing to happen.
"Consumers have many, many choices today," he adds. "If you can't build a relationship with your customers, you're in big trouble. If you can remember the numbers from the reports and spreadsheets you spent hours poring over in your office, but you can't picture the faces of your customers--you're in big trouble."
Screen harder. Hire carefully.
"If somebody has no sense of humor, if they don't have team spirit, if they don't look you in the eye when they talk to you, if they don't have energy or aren't inspired--those things are very telling.
"I'm far bigger on personality traits than I am on experience. Give me somebody with the right personality - and you can have excellence in your place of business. The wrong personality with a 10-page resume isn't going to help very much."
Appeal to people's pride and competitive instincts.
"When I meet with people who are ineffective managers with failing businesses, I can't change what they do--I have to change the way they think. I only have a very short time to do it. So there are a few ways to do this. I can appeal to their pride, as in, ‘You let Sally down--she was counting on you.' I can play to their fears--'What happens to your family if your business closes?' I can play to their competitive spirit: 'You're gonna let that guy down the street beat you?' Or, I can get confrontational.
"As a manager, you've got to play to what motivates different people. I have found that it's very hard to train somebody to do this, by the way. It's hard to light a fire that doesn't exist."
Fix dysfunction by taking action and insisting on high standards.
"How many of our government leaders in Washington woke up this morning and thought, 'I'm gonna step to the forefront and find solutions to the debt crisis'?" says Taffer. "If I were president, I'd drive to the Capitol, walk in there and force myself to come to an agreement with these guys.
"That could've been done two weeks ago. But no--this person won't meet, that one won't negotiate, this one won't talk. If businesspeople acted this way, we'd all be broke.
"Let's have them fight for the standards we require in business: Stick to a budget. Come in to work every day. Read the paperwork you sign. Be honest with the people you work with and for. They should all follow those four basic principles."
Use your voice and your vote. Play an active role in society.
"We have to speak up when we're disappointed, act when we're disappointed--no different than a manager would.
"The American people are managers of their lives and of this process, not only with our votes, but with our dollars, with what we say to our friends, with what we do. We can help manage our way out of problems collectively and individually--or we can just sit by, read the newspapers, and go off and get angry at Congress. But ultimately we've got to do something."
This article originally appeared in The Fiscal Times.