Monthly Archives: June 2014

How Not to Run a Restaurant

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Having worked many years in the service sector, I have learned at least one thing. Your customers have options and you need to try really hard to make your business THEIR option!

As the wrap up of the HKS mid career year continues deep into its second month, an intimate group of 45 or so descended upon the Living Room in Boston the other night.

I have spent much of this year organizing dinners with my classmates. Its been a great way to get to know as many of them as possible. It’s also been a great way to get to know some of the better restaurants of my newly adopted hometown.

These dinners have run the gamut from four people at the best Japanese restaurant I’ve ever been to, to 35 people having BBQ and booze in large quantities in a basement. It’s been a great experience all around and each dinner was fun and easy to organize. That is until the other night.

With so many of my classmates staying in town post graduation we decided to have one last dinner. As of a week ago we had 50 people wanting to join. I wondered where could I make a booking for 50 on short notice. After a bit of research, I came upon the Living Room.

When I called I was greeted by a friendly and accommodating person. After about a minute I was informed that they indeed could accommodate 50. I should have questioned what kind of place could accommodate so many on such short notice but I was happy to have a place.

Then things got more and more difficult:

The next day I was told that we must use a prix fixe menu. No big deal thats normal for a large group

The following day they told me we needed to preselect our appetizers and our desserts.

The day after that we were told that we all had to have the same dessert.

The day before the dinner I was told that I had to guarantee the maximum amount, that i couldn’t add anyone that I hadn’t already confirmed and I was liable for the maximum number.

It seems that the manager, John wanted to be totally riskless with a group that was going to fill his restaurant on a Tuesday night. I balked and we came to something of a compromise.

The dinner was actually quite a success. The company was as always excellent. Great conversation and laughs. The food was pretty good even if some of us didn’t get exactly what we PRE ordered. The venue was kind of cool. The best part about it is that it has its own ATM.

Why was that the best part? Well, John had a bit of an issue with us paying with multiple credit cards. The story was that the “system” couldn’t handle it. Now we’ve had groups in excess of 30 at least five times and this has never been an issue. It usually involves me managing the process but heck everyone has a skill. After about 20 minutes of trying, John looked at me and said, “If I had known that you were going to try to pay with more than one credit card I would have refused the reservation.” He said this to someone who just spent $3,000 in his restaurant on a night that otherwise would have been virtually dead. We than began the pride of HKS Alumni to the ATM.

I can only wonder what he would have done if a party of 20 had walked in without a reservation!

Its a shame that I felt compelled to write this negative review about what was essentially a good meal at a reasonable price.

Moral of the story is that the Living Room needs a new manager.

PS: Kudos to Amy who was pleasant and helpful regardless of what her boss did or said.

 

School’s Out

About five years ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who was and is a tenured New York City public schools teacher. I asked her,” Have you ever worked with anyone who just wasn’t a very good teacher?” To my astonishment she replied, “No!”  Expressing my surprise I then told her that, “It must be amazing to work in a profession in which EVERYONE is good at their jobs. Heck, I worked in finance for 20 years and even at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, every year some people get terminated due to poor performance.” I am still waiting for her response to that comment.

This week California Superior Court judge Rolf M. Treu gave my friend and many of her fellow teachers an answer. Judge Rolf ruled in Vergara v. California that California laws governing teacher tenure were unconstitutional. Furthermore, he stated that the results of these laws were unconscionable and perhaps most importantly he drew a bright red line that connects tenure rules to discrimination against low income and minority students stating that the rules create an environment in which the weakest teachers migrate to the poorest schools. While this case is likely to be appealed, it is more likely to serve as a template to overturn tenure rules across America.

Before I extol this ruling, I feel the need to make two things “Perfectly Clear”. First I am the product of a union household. I strongly believe that labor MUST be organized to offset the power of large employers. This is especially true for wage negotiations. Secondly, I have the utmost respect for teachers. For the most part, they do an excellent job educating our children in a country where the role of education has grown and evolved in the past generation. Teachers are not just expected to teach reading and writing but in many cases they have to teach social skills and manage children who get little or no guidance at home. For a good teacher this is anything but a 9 to 3 job.

While the need for unions remains high, the reasons for tenure are no longer very clear.  During the McCarthy era people across many professions lost their jobs due to their beliefs. Since that time not only have Americans (well most Americans) become more tolerant but there has been significant legislation that prevents discrimination on the grounds of race or gender. These additional protections in many cases overlap with tenure, mitigating the need for the latter.

A couple of years ago I realized that my own views on teachers unions and on tenure in particular were evolving. I was no longer dogmatic in my support of both. Now, keep in mind that in many ways I am a typical union supporter. From New York, a Democrat/Liberal, and Jewish, people like me have been supporters of unions for generations. But something was wrong in this case. As evidenced by my conversation with my friend, there was a complete lack of acceptance of any fallibility on the part of teachers and their union.

So now, the tide is shifting and quickly. Many former supporters of teacher unions are no longer so. Even more challenging is many of these “flippers” are highly educated, wealthy, urban individuals, who won’t hesitate to spend their money and influence to force a change in the rules. The California case was financed by an organization called Students Matter which was in large part funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welsh. Many of his fellow entrepreneurs as well as Hedge Fund managers, Private Equity managers, and other successful individuals want improvement in education and see teacher quality along with length of instruction time as the most important levers to achieve that. In short there is now a developing but significant counterbalance to teacher unions power and influence.

Now, I don’t believe that the correct answer is to eliminate teacher tenure or teacher unions. What I do believe is that all parties need a common sense, procedural justice based set of rules that govern teacher hiring, promotion, compensation, and ultimately retention. If were are to have the education system that we ALL want, then we must have all participants involved in creating a process in which we hire, evaluate, and retain the best teachers that we can get.

It will be very important to have a balanced evaluation process that considers not only standardized test scores, but also on other measures including following years student performance. content design skills, and classroom evaluations. This should support a well defined set of rules that will let everyone know how to get promoted or terminated.

Almost every teacher I know is passionate about educating children.  I would think that good teachers would want to be surrounded by other individuals who are as committed and passionate as they are.

It is time for teachers to move their unions to act for change. Although the California ruling weakens the negotiating stance of teacher unions, it is likely that the legal environment will become more rather than less difficult. Acting now, teachers can lead the move to a set of standards that work for ALL constituents in our education system. Or, they can let the justice system make them individual contractors who have few rights and little security.

I don’t want that for my children.