Here is a potential solution to overworking our managers

Long and hard hours are a given when working in the restaurant business, but does this necessarily have to be the case? I’m saying no!

For as long as I have been in the hospitality industry (over 30 years) managers have been expected to work a minimum of 5 days a week pulling 10-12 hour shifts and sometimes more. We work weekends, nights and holidays.  The result has been low satisfaction, low productivity and high turnover in our management ranks. I can’t show you definitive research on this but I’d bet my reputation on it. What has our industry done about this?  Absolutely nothing.  The same practices (and outcomes) that were around 30 years ago exist today.  I should know about this as I was part of this unproductive approach for my entire restaurant operations career!

Similarly, the Emergency Medical Services field in Ontario suffered comparable problems up until the mid 1980’s. How do I know this, my brother was a paramedic for 20 years and is now an EMS administrator. What did that industry do? They moved to a different work schedule. Instead of asking emergency workers to work five 12 hour shifts a week they moved to alternative schedules. Some jurisdictions  work 4 days on 3 days off (12 hr shifts), some even work 3 days on, 2 days off, then 2 days on and 3 days off.

Anyway you look at it, management realized they had a problem and adjusted. The result has  been reduced turnover, increased satisfaction and a higher quality service.  When I compare EMS and managing a restaurant I find many similarities, excluding the life saving of course.  Both professions are physical and stressful. Both require the individual to be ‘on form’ for an entire shift.  You also have to be physically present at all times, there is no going to the gym for an hour to blow off steam.  On top of these similarities, both require you to work nights, weekends and holidays.

So what is my solution to this perpetual situation we find ourselves in with overworked and burnt out restaurant managers. If you hadn’t already guessed it I put forth that restaurants should look at schedules more comparable to EMS.  If you are going to work people in 10-12 hour shifts, ask them to work nights , weekends and holidays then at least give them more days off, and give them more days off in a row to compensate. 

I would love to see a restaurant company move to a 4 day on, 3 day off work schedule. My guess is you would see increased productivity which would more than make up for reduced coverage. I think you would also see quality of work increase and retention improve. Anyone willing to give it a try out there let me know! 



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Restaurants take note!

Last week I had lunch with my colleague Mychal-Ann at Whole Foods in Oakville. We are conducting some research on food-service in the grocery segment and since we were ‘checking out’ what Whole Foods was doing we figured it best to sample some of their offerings first hand. Our work is focusing around home meal replacement (HMR), a huge area of growth in the grocery market and simultaneously a threat to various restaurant categories. A recent study by NDP found that people viewed HMR food to be equal to restaurant quality, they also perceived it to be healthier while also categorizing it as less expensive. Add convenience to the mix and you can see why this segment has enjoyed a 16% in Ontario this past year.
Now back to our experience. Since we had already spent 30 minute observing the offerings on the 3 large tables which included hot foods, a grain bar, and a cold salad line we pretty much knew what we were going to have. So the first thing we had to do was grab a tray. We then both chose to use the reusable ‘green’ plates versus a take out container to hold our food. This was definitely a plus in our mind as we are both environmentally conscious when it comes to ‘one use items’. Mychal-Ann who is a vegetarian headed for the hot line where she found a wide variety of offerings, I headed to the grain bar and choose three different grain salads, all chalk full of healthy things like quinoa, dried cranberry, sunflower seeds…you get the picture. A huge advantage that HMR has to restaurant offerings is dictated by variety and the self serve aspect. Not only can you see the food first hand which you can’t in a restaurant, you also get to control the size of the portion and grab small portions of many things. We then each grabbed a plastic bottleJune 2013 088 of fresh, in-house squeezed lemonade and headed to the check out lane. Two plates full of food, two drinks and tax and I still got change from a $20 bill. In fact the total for lunch for two was $18.41. We then headed over to the seating area where we had to sit at a table full of crumbs. We cleaned the table top ourselves but did comment on how nice and bright the area was. It definitely felt like we were sitting in a restaurant and in fact the ambient buzz of people shopping and the great visual that Whole Foods has going on added to the food experience. We ate our meals, cleared and scraped our plates at the bussing station and moved on. Once again, Under $20, and more importantly in under 20 minutes.
An article in the June/July 2012 issue of Canadian Grocery was titled, “Yes, you are a restaurant.” There is a blurring line between restaurants and the grocery business and grocers are capitalizing on it. As a consumer, my visit to Whole Foods left me feeling great about the value I received. As someone who considers themselves a member of the restaurant industry it left me worried.
Whole Foods has it figured out, others are still learning and getting the hang of it but one thing is for sure; restaurants need to pay attention to the evolution of food-service in the grocery marketplace.

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The “frenzy” of social issues facing the Canadian Restaurant Industry

Lately it seems there isn’t a day that I don’t come across an article, or speak to someone about a ‘social issue’ that our restaurant industry is facing. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto released earlier today showed that many Canadian restaurant meals contain an “alarming” amount of sodium.

Perhaps the most shocking fact about the above article is the following statement made by the researchers:

“Since Canada has not yet established targets or implemented a reduction strategy for the restaurant sector, L’Abbe and Scourboutakos (the researchers) used U.S. targets.” Unlike countries like Great Britain and even the U.S.A. it seems that Canada’s restaurant industry has been slow to react to the many food related health issues facing our society.

Equally astonishing was the position taken by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association:

“The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association is opposed to the bill, saying that restaurants are already working closely with suppliers to reduce sodium levels in menu items”.

From this vantage point it looks like the question we have to start asking ourselves as an industry is do we have a social responsibility to the communities we serve to ensure that we are serving our customers healthy food, Or at least not serving them unhealthy food? This is a huge question, one that seems to be the ‘elephant in the room’ at many industry meetings and forums I have attended in recent years.

An article in Canadian Business Magazine earlier this week was entitled ” Super Size Me, The Ethics of Restaurant Portions” and should be a wake up call for the industry if the release of the sodium study wasn’t already. No skirting the issue here, the article discusses the ‘ethical’ issues created by the portion sizes we serve. facing. With consumers views of corporate North America at an all time low it must be considered worrisome to see a mainstream business magazine raising questions about the ethics of our industry?

Beyond food, the topic of tipping in restaurants is also becoming a hot button issue. Late last year I did a TedX Talk here at the University of Guelph questioning some of the social implications of this common practice that is woven into the business models of North American restaurants. In the talk I address the issue of wage inequity amongst restaurant workers, tying its root back to the tipping convention.

Now there is some good news. Many restaurants across the country are working hard to solve the various social issues we are facing. I’m also aware that are industry associations recognize the importance of these issues and I am certain they will continue to ramp up their efforts in helping the industry react appropriately. Let’s just hope we don’t find ourselves in another embarrassing situation as we did when our industry fought tooth and nail against anti-smoking legislation in restaurants. Now more than ever we need the leaders of our industry to start the discussions regarding these issues. I’ll keep you posted on what I see!!


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4 Reasons Why Restaurant Owners Should Rethink Tipping

A receThe service dilema! 002nt TedX talk I gave at the University of Guelph has been getting a fair bit of attention.   The talk focused on reasons why consumers and people in the restaurant industry should reconsider the use of  ‘tipping’ as part of the compensatory model in restaurants.  Given the scope of this topic and the limited amount of time you get for these talks I had no chance of getting across all my thoughts on the matter, including possible alternatives to tipping.  My ideas on alternatives include set service charges that could be distributed amongst an entire restaurant team, and the elimination of tipping and service charges altogether.  This latter alternative would involve building in the current value of tipping into pricing.  These alternatives to tipping I will be discussing in a paper that I am currently working on with a colleague.  The lowering of server minimum wage in Ontario would also aid in redistribution of wages but is not the ideal solution.

Something else I wasn’t able to expand on was why restaurant owners really need to rethink their acceptance of tipping as a compensatory system.  Today I’d like to present to you 4 reasons they should do so:

1. You give up control of 15% of your revenue.  Are tips considered revenue, no….but they are on average 15% of the value of a meal paid for by the customer.  This is 15% of ‘potential revenue’ that restaurant owners allow to be distributed beyond their control.  Imagine if you had an extra 15% to redistribute to other areas of attention. Restaurant owners could distribute this money as wages more equitably in a system that they had control over.   You could therefore pay for performance and value created.

2. The effects of  inequitable wage distribution This obviously builds on my first point but there are many ‘hidden’ costs to the use of a tipping system.  Turnover is higher (see my TedX talk)  and this costs you lots of money in training etc.  Over valued server compensation attracts what I call the “Mercenary Restaurant Worker”.  This is the person who has no vested interest in the benefit but needs to make ‘good money’ for a short period of time, often while they are waiting for their ‘real’ job to come along.  Most of us who have been managers in restaurants also know that although fairly paid, we make less than we could as a server…and work more hours.  This leads to the industries inability to attract and retain top quality management personnel.

3.  Customers that spend more are penalized by paying a higher tip.  In my TedX Talk I speak about the hypothetical purchase of two bottles of wine by two separate tables in  restaurant.  One table orders a $100 of wine and  ends up tipping $15. The other table orders a $50 bottle of wine and tips out half the amount, $7.50.  The server has created the equal amount of value in the equation yet the guest has to spend twice as much on service because they spent more.  Not only does this make absolutely no economic sense, it penalizes a customer for spending more and from an owners point of view that is the last thing you want to do.

4.  Oh, the headaches!  Anyone who has managed a restaurant where tipping exists understand the adverse effects this system can have on relationships and administration within a restaurant.  First and foremost owners have to have two compensatory systems.  One for payroll and the other looks after the distribution of tips. Tip sharing, tip cheques, cost of envelopes, it all takes time and costs money, more than would be needed if there was only one compensatory system.  Time and energy also has to be spent on handling the adverse effects that tipping creates, the most famous being the sometimes adversarial relationship between the front of house and the back of the house.  There is also the other relationships that can be divisive including managers feeling undervalued because servers may make more money than them.

There are a few other good ones as well but I don’t want to stir the pot too much….only a little!!!

Love to hear some thoughts from restaurant owners and managers.



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Introducing ‘Social Innovation’ to a group of hospitality students

I shook things up in one of the courses I teach this semester. Instead of the usual group project on an industry subject I asked my students to work with a partner and come up with a ‘socially innovative’ idea. Students were asked to do a presentation in which they would show how their product or service helped improve a social issue while explaining how they would take it to market.

Class wrapped up yesterday and I must say that watching these presentations was  one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I have had with any class.  The fifteen groups of students took the project to heart and came up with some wonderful ideas for social innovation. From a learning perspective I believe the students were stretched to challenge the status quo and think creatively to come up with a solution, not something we often do in hospitality schools as far as I can tell!

In some cases students went out and looked beyond hospitality issues while others focused on industry or food related topics.  Groups took up the challenge of bottled water, what to do with used ‘Christmas wrapping paper’, the excessive use of plastic used in ‘shampoo’ packaging and even creating a forum to help struggling artists.    Asked if they thought the assignment was worthwhile, all hands went up….(I think)

As I continue to reflect on how hospitality education is delivered, this small success story is something I plan on looking at  more closely.  Being innovative and socially responsible is something that hospitality students need to be exposed to as much as any other discipline.  Asking business students to innovate and create can only benefit them in an economy that is so driven by these two actions. To check out some of the student projects check the following links…..



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The “Ghettoization” of our kitchens? A discussion worth having!

For the better part of a year I’ve been wanting to write this post.  It’s been hard for me to sit down and actually do it because I feel some guilt in addressing an issue that I have condoned,  in fact I have practiced the behavior that I am going to call into question.  “Ghettoization” is not a real word, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what we have done to many of those that work in our kitchens…what we have done to the work environments that exist in many of our kitchens.  I’m not speaking about all restaurants because there are certainly examples of wonderfully designed and operated kitchens out there, but there are many kitchens in full service restaurants in this country that are unacceptable places to ask people to work.

These places often work on what I call ‘the passion principle’.   The work that is asked of young cooks is heavy, the environment crappy, the pay sucks but we make this all go away by exuding and rejoicing amongst ourselves and anyone else that will listen about how passionate we our, how our work is ‘noble’ because of the ‘art’ involved.   I would never call into question the passion and skill of our young cooks and chefs, the kitchen is referred to as the ‘heart of the house’ for a reason.  What I do want to bring up as a point of discussion is the following; imagine how amazing our culinary scene could be if our kitchens were consistently  great places to work.  Unfortunately, the reality is that many of our kitchens are not great places to work, here are a few reasons why:

1.  Inequity of wage distribution. Cooks make 1/2 or 1/3 of what servers make.  Not fair representation of the value that is created by cooks in the dining experience. As I argue in my November 24 TedX Talk on tipping, I figure the value creation to be relatively equal when it comes to the server and cooks contribution to a dining experience.

2.  The physical environment of the workplace.  No windows in most cases, grease on the floor and in the air, insane temperatures. And if you want a break, you’re sitting on a milk crate by a dumpster having a smoke. Enough said!

3. Capital Investment.  If a restaurateur is going to invest money to improve his restaurant he is going to do so in the front of house, in guest areas. Any of us who have worked in kitchens understand that money is spent in the front of house on new TV”s, decor and furnishings but in the kitchen we are asked to use a piece of equipment until it is well past its useful life.

4.  “The school of hard knocks”.   We’ve all worked for the Chef that makes it difficult for us because it was difficult for them when they were learning the ropes.  Although I think this is less and less the case it still exists in some of our kitchens.

5.  The design of the work.   Working in a kitchen is incredibly challenging form a physical point of view. Standing for hours on end, reaching for places, burns, the heat, it can be downright nasty!

6.  Illegal work practices.  Here is where I get into trouble… But seriously, lets talk about breaks for cooks.  As I mentioned earlier, if they do get them it is rarely in an environment that can provide any relief from the physical and mental stress of the job.

7.  Immigrant workforce.  Especially in urban areas, the workers that man many positions in our kitchens are often recent immigrants to the country. These people are unlikely to question what we ask them to do, often they feel that they are lucky enough just to have a job.

8Command and Control.  Years ago I worked at George Brown College, teaching a leadership course. I would show YouTube clips of Gordon Ramsey. First thing  I would do is tell the  class the man is an asshole, secondly I would showcase the many reasons why he was an ineffective leader.  At this point in time the school was raising funds and they came out with this ‘tag line’  of ‘Aye Chef’…re-inforcing in my opinion this archaic approach to leadership in our kitchens.  This style may work in a war zone but I can point out a hundred reasons why it doesn’t work in a modern-day kitchen.

Okay, so I’ve written the post I’ve been thinking about for a year. Now, I would ask you to step up and leave your comments.  Are my thoughts accurate? Realistic?  Or, am I way off base.  Either way, I hope to hear from you.  To me it a discussion worth having.



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So Sexy!!

You may not think ‘take-out’ packaging is sexy, but I sure do…especially after yesterdays first class with our friends from Earl’s!  As Farra mentioned in her comment on the blog I am very thankful for Sam and Alicia participating so eagerly in our project.  They are  great representatives of both Earl’s and HTM!

I hope you all have a good idea of what you should be doing to get your project started.  I think you are all probably meeting to discuss this as we speak.  Throughout the course as we work on the other cases I will occasionally open or close a class with a 20 minute section on this project…just to answer questions, share ideas etc.  The blog will be huge tool for you to share info and collaborate between groups.  Use this post to comment on the project, it will act as our home for sharing.

To end I thought I’d share a really cool product I’ve been following for a little while, it’s called Fenugreen. Not sure if it has any application to your project but it is just so damn ‘sexy’ I wanted to share it with you.!home/mainPage

See you tomorrow,



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Independent Study Opportunites…

Each year I reach out to 3rd and 4th year HTM students to make sure they are aware of the ‘for credit’ independent study opportunities HTM offers.  This year I am looking for two students, one with an interest in ‘social innovation’ and one with an interest in ‘human resources’.  Over the years I have done such projects with half a dozen students and have found them to be incredibly rewarding.  We’ve done a marketing evaluation for a local restaurant, a survey of Cdn Food-Service, a Business Plan for an upstart clothing company to name a few…..they have all turned out to be interesting and  have resulted in a ‘creative’ application of the knowledge the student has learned to date.

I’m trying to find students for these two projects but am also open to supervising students who have their own ideas. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities get in touch with me and we’ll set up a meeting.  I am looking to offer these credits in Winter Semester 2012.

Look forward to hearing from you.


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“Pinot for the People”, can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday!

My good friend Orest who does all things wine at the Scottsdale LCBO has a super cool event running on Saturday Sept. 15th.  “Pinot for the People’ will be a tribute to some of the great wines being producd in our regions.  You are guarenteed to have fun and learn and at a cost of only $10 you  can’t do anything but enjoy!  Here is some info on the event…

Greetings Pinot Noir Fans.
We would like to invite you to participate in our first ever:
“PINOT for the PEOPLE. A Discovery in Ontario Pinot Noir.” A unique, Winery-Customer encounter. A new opportunity to meet with local Ontario Pinot Noir wine makers, assistant winemakers’,  principles of the winery, etc. We want to showcase this grapes vast diversity. From sparklers, roses, to full on reds.
I would like to witness the outcome of customers becoming engaged and falling in love with the story of the wines in their glass.
I would like to see the customer discover their stories, the relations, the locality of both the winemaker’s  focus on Pinot Noir, and the resulting final  product. Pinot Noir. The only way to do this is through a hands on event.
The date is  Saturday September 15th 2012 Time: 11:30am
  to 3:30pm
A fee concept will apply. $ 10 admission 4 tasting tickets and monies will go to the United Way of Guelph.
Local food purveyors  Borealis Grille and Bar  “Taste of Ontario” will be providing the food samples,

along with Williams Fresh Café ,
will be providing the social responsibility component, coffee.
WINES  (winemaker)

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This just in……”Talent shortage in the restaurant industry”

I was frustrated recently when I picked up one of our trade papers and read an article “Good Help Wanted….Desperately”. This article or something similar seems to pop up regularly in our industry magazines.  Simply put, attracting and retaining talented people to work in the restaurant business has been an issue for at least as long as I’ve been in it. (30yrs)

I didn’t have to read this article to know there is a problem, I lived it when I ran a restaurant company and now I live it as a hospitality educator.  As someone who listens closely to his students and industry partners I’m probably more ‘in tune’ now than I ever was as an operator…..let me give you an example.  I keep in close contact with many of the students I’ve taught over the last four years.  Last month I met up with two of them who had gone on to work in the food and beverage management industry.  Both of these individuals were recent grads from my school, one in 2010 and on in 2011.  Listening to them tell their tales of what they had been doing in their careers was fascinating as their experiences mirrored each other.  After graduation they had joined reputable companies and landed in Assistant Food and Beverage Management positions.  Both lasted about 9 months before consciously leaving the industry and finding ‘happiness and success’ in other industries.

Why did they leave our industry?  Simply put, they were worked too hard. Obscene hours for long stretches and they were inadequately compensated for the amount of work they did.  Now they have taken their Bachelor of Commerce (Hospitality and Tourism Management) degrees and put them to another use, one as a ‘sales rep’ and another as a ‘purchasing analyst’.

Okay, so far I have confirmed there is a problem, and provided some examples to help understand its root cause.  Now let’s go back to that magazine article I was talking about.  In this article, the consultant who wrote it suggests that to combat this problem foodservice establishments should; have training programs, find a good fit for the culture of the organization, and engage in active recruiting.  While not ‘bad ideas’ what this consultant suggests has nothing to do with solving the root cause of the problem we face. Unless we move beyond such stop gap measures to address the more systemic ones we will never solve the problem.

So here is my take on the two biggest factors affecting our industry’s inability to attract and retain ‘top drawer’ management talent.


1.  Culturally engrained, archaic work expectations.  “The restaurant business is hard, you have to work long hours”.  Everybody tells me this but nobody has been able to explain to me why it has to be this way.  I’ve found that people running restaurant companies are often workaholics, they have survived because they feed off the pace and ‘long hours required’.   Unfortunately they continue to set the expectation that being a manager in our industry requires long hours.  Reflecting on my career of 30 years as a restaurant employee, a restaurant manager, a restaurant owner….I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is no reason that restaurant managers need to work long hours and I will gladly debate anyone on this subject!

2. Compensatory systems that include ‘tipping’ facilitate the inequitable distribution of wages.  We don’t need to generate a list of facts here, one sentence will do it.  It is ‘common’ and ‘accepted’ in our industry that servers make more money than not only kitchen and support staff, but in many cases they make more than management personnel.  It breaks my heart that a young person can pay money to go to a culinary school for two years then find themselves making $13/hr as a cook upon graduation.  At the same time a recent University grad with a B.A. in Political Science can make no commitment to the industry and make $30/hr working as a server until they can find a ‘real job!   And what about a recent grad from a hospitality management school? They start as an assistant manager and work 50 hours a week.  When they get their paycheck they do the math and realize they are making less money per hour than a server.  This is when they start asking themselves ‘why am I doing this again?”


For those of you who ‘know’ the industry, nothing I’m saying in this post is new…I haven’t discovered any groundbreaking ideas here.  The restaurant industry is an incredible place to be, to work, to have a career. If we want to retain the hoards of fine young people that enter the business bright eyed and eager then we need to break some of the ‘archaic’ practices that are holding us back. First and foremost we need to create management opportunities that are reasonable in their ‘work’ expectations.  This can be done….we just have to think differently, we have to change the model.  Additionally, the full service restaurant industry would be a lot better off without ‘tipping’.  I have nothing against people that are ‘servers’, I use to be one myself, but it makes little sense for these people who are ‘untrained’ and often not committed to the industry to make the most money.  It’s time to stop accepting that these ‘practices’ are givens in our industry….it’s time for change!


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