Do you like breakfast?
It is the most important meal of the day you know… No matter what else I do, I make a good breakfast every morning . Did I mention I am a good cook?
But Saturday was a beautiful sunny lazy day so I went out to my favorite breakfast place. And in the South that can only mean Waffle House. No self-respecting Southern man would ever eat breakfast at a place with the word ‘international’ in its title.
Being the middle of a weekend morning and the middle of South By (SX) my Waffle House was packed with exactly one seat open at the counter (yes!) and 15 or so people milling about the tiny footprint waiting for a table to open. But I’m a counter guy. I snuggled into my spot at the counter and placed my order for the All-American with the friendly and efficient Kendra.
The place was hopping. Four line cooks worked elbow to elbow dropping orders called by the six servers (Pull one bacon…) as two busboys never stopped cleaning. And sitting at the counter in front of the grill – six feet from where my food is being prepared (talk about “transparency”) – I noticed some things that makes me realize this is a good business.
- Everyone stayed cool. Driven by the temper and the demeanor of the head cook – a women of about 30 who all business – no one got flustered. Despite a line going out the door, multiple take-out orders and servers calling out orders relentlessly she stayed calm and effective making every move count. She stayed in the zone: everyone else followed her lead.
- Everyone did their thing. The three cooks to the left worked their stations, eggs, prep and waffles respectively, and stayed in their place calmly working elbow to elbow. If they had a question they quietly asked a server and servers answered the same. No one lost it. Servers kept things moving watching their orders making sure they went out fast – no need for a heat lamp at Waffle House because food won’t sit long – and wiped counters, refilled coffee and rang up orders when not serving. The busboys bussed out of each others way and more importantly, out of the kitchen.
- Everyone managed themselves. Unlike many restaurants from fast casual to über-nice, Waffle House has no floor manager. I guess the head cook – the calm young lady I mentioned – was “in charge” but she was working. There was no fifth wheel getting in the way disrupting the flow or antagonizing people already on the edge of falling into the weeds. They managed themselves without need for expensive “management” overhead. Predominantly black, there were also Anglo, Hispanic and Asian workers split about 60/40 in favor of women. The team looked like my neighborhood, and made me feel at home.
Can you make a good business out of a breakfast restaurant? Yes you can. And if you take some of these same principles – find people who reflect the community, let them manage themselves and concentrate on performance and cool – you can probably run your business more successfully too.
Think about the challenge here: performing one’s work over a long shift just feet away from the end-user: if you can perform in that environment then handling a few con calls and writing some email seems like a breeze.
Good business is good business.