It was a Wednesday night at the Hawksmoor steak and seafood restaurant in Manchester, England, and when a guest ordered a bottle of wine that cost about $330, the staff served a different bottle by accident that cost about $5,700.

It was a serious error, and I've known managers and owners who would have fired the server on the spot for such a mistake, ranting and raving all the while.

That is not what happened in this situation.

What happened was that guest wasn't even told about the mix-up. The restaurant didn't gloat over their decision to quietly maintain their professional demeanor despite the costly mistake. What they did instead was post this tweet the following day:

The staff member wasn't called out or publicly shamed. Instead they were encouraged, publicly and affectionately, to keep their "chin up" and keep trying. The situation was handled compassionately and promptly, and directly in tune with brave, valued leadership.

It isn't the mistake. It's your reaction to it that matters more.

As anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant will tell you, things can get pretty chippy.

It's a high-adrenaline environment. There's the rush, first of guests coming through the door during busy times and, second, of your heartbeat as the pace required to serve those guests amps up. It's like juggling at speed and sometimes, inevitably, mistakes are made and things come crashing to the floor.

It's what happens next that distinguishes one business from another. More to the point, it's the response of the manager who's working the floor just then that distinguishes one leader from another.

Ranting chefs usually attract the most eyeballs, but that hardly makes them the best leaders, in restaurants or in the business world in general. Rather than lose their cool, the incident at the Hawksmoor restaurant provides a refreshing alternative to how industry pros, and managers everywhere, can better handle the situation when they come face-to-face with an employee's costly mistake.

Consider the circumstances.

The wine bottle mix-up was a pretty big "oops," no doubt about it. But the circumstances of the incident provide useful background context.

There's a fair amount of reading between the lines that can be done, from the style of restaurant that lists such bottles at those price points, to the reputation and public perception that is in the restaurant's interest to uphold. More importantly, there is the professional and personal impact that such a mistake can have on the server.

These are all variables in the equation that is made more complex by the adrenaline rush of a busy evening in the hospitality industry. Leaders "do the math" constantly and on the fly, often while multi-tasking. They consider the whole picture of the circumstances involved, from true costs to the sensitivities of the people involved.

It's a learning opportunity. Remember to add the humor.

The incident was a learning opportunity for the employee, of course, but it's also an opportunity to educate others who are new followers on social media as a result of all the buzz that the incident generated.

What's the best way to do that?

You could start by remembering to keep a sense of humor. Three days after the incident, for example, the Hawksmoor tweeted this reminder: "To help us avoid costly mistakes please remember that it's [five-pound] corkage on Mondays whether you're bringing a bottle of Blue Nun or a... well, you know how this joke ends."

Yes, the mistake stung. But that's no reason to hide it or let it fester out of view. Look for ways to flip the impact to something useful, like sharing information and communicating that you do, in fact, have a sense of humor and keep your own "chin up," even in a tough situation.

Published on: May 24, 2019
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