Certain Theories of Business May Be Theories of Life

By TOM MEREDITH | Aug 15, 2018

During the early and mid-1980s I worked as a manager for a popular restaurant company during what turned out to be its prime years. The company was expanded and built upon a set of very high standards of performance and some thoughtful theories of doing business.

During a few short years I had work experiences I did not anticipate when joining the company. I participated in opening new locations, which required an incredible amount of time, effort and commitment, delivered sealed envelopes to township officials, formed bonds with people that exist to this day, experienced management challenges I never thought would present themselves, worked through a fatal armed robbery, and learned an incredible amount about food and beverage, to name a few.

To avoid rambling, many of those theories of business are still stuck in my head and it strikes me that they may be theories of life, not just business.

The Oyster Theory: Guests should be kept as comfortable as possible, in impeccably clean surroundings, with pleasant and fun people around them, heat/air conditioning at a comfortable level, music pleasing in selection and volume, and quality food served promptly and of correct temperature. Given these conditions, the oyster would prefer not to leave its shell. These are good thoughts for how to treat people in social situations for all of us.

The Success Syndrome: When a business becomes so popular or successful that it begins to believe its own press coverage and develops an inflated ego that keeps it from striving for new and higher goals and makes it believe it is infallible or invincible, this will be seen, heard and felt by the guest or audience to be served. That audience will go away, leaving the business, group or individual unsuccessful and lonely.

These are great words of wisdom for any business, group or individual trying to serve or do business with the general public. I personally think our leadership in Washington, D.C., has suffered from this one, but we have no choices of where else to turn.

The Kitty Hawk Theory: This one is pure restaurant but translates to other businesses if you think about it. There was a very successful restaurant in Kitty Hawk, N.C., whose most popular entrée on the menu, shrimp scampi, was also the most labor intensive. When sales decreased slightly, the owner asked his accountant for advice. The accountant did a careful study of the costs and sales trends of the restaurant as well as profitability. He concluded that if shrimp scampi was removed from the menu, the savings in food costs and labor would make up for the slight sales decrease. However, when this was put in practice, sales dropped dramatically because the people who would come in for shrimp scampi stayed home, as did their friends who would dine with them and order other items.

It is a very tricky undertaking to try to save a company by saving money. Cutting costs often involves diminishing a service.

The Triangle Theory: This might be the best one. If you view a business equation in three pieces – the guest, the company and the employee – it will give focus to the path of success. The guest deserves a quality product and quality service and is willing to pay for it. The company needs to make an acceptable profit on the goods and services provided to continue operating. The employee needs a fair and livable wage to deliver the goods and services in a positive and pleasant manner. The employee needs to be compensated and treated in a fair and respectful manner to best represent the company to the guests. The company needs loyalty and commitment to continue to grow and succeed. The guest needs a consistent level of service and quality to come back again and again and bring his or her friends.

So, you see, no one entity can survive well without the other two also thriving. Once this triangle gets out of balance, it will fall, eventually crushing itself.

Everybody Is Somebody: This one was famous in company lore and is based on a new store opening party attended by upper management, one of whom took in a bit too much alcohol. There was a guest at the bar who was behaving badly with staff and other guests. Opening party guest lists were typically made up of influential individuals from the new location. One of our executives had worked a long day and not eaten; we’ll call him Tony here. Tony decided to join some other executives at the bar. When the guest in question, we’ll call him Kristof, became loud, the bartender tried to speak to him about calming down. Kristof replied very belligerently. Tony decided this situation needed his intervention rather than wait for a manager to take control. Needless to say, the situation escalated and became heated. Kristof was eventually removed from the building and instructed not to return. The night continued.

When the upper management folks returned to their hotel they found all of their luggage and belongings piled up in the parking lot. Kristof owned the hotel.

This is simply a real world variation of being nice to people on the way up the ladder since you meet the same ones on the way down. That unfortunate episode followed Tony for the rest of his career. It’s good to keep in mind in business and personal relationships for all of us.

It is quite ironic that after several management and ownership changes, the company I refer to here left these theories behind, and by doing so has proved how critical and valid they actually are to business and life success.

Tom Meredith lives in Little Egg Harbor.


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