I was in Paris several weeks ago and even there, in The City of Light, I was struck in a dramatic way by the truth that every business is a people business, and every problem a people problem. On our second evening in Paris, using the recommendation of a magazine I subscribe to, we had a wonderful dinner at Bistro de Breteuil. The restaurant is beautifully situated on Place de Bretuil – one of those almost hidden places in Paris, a round open space where you walk down a street, turn a corner and find yourself looking onto a perimeter of quaint shops and restaurants with a fountain in the middle, and you think, “Pinch me. This is why Paris is Paris.”
At Bistro de Breteuil our dining experience began immediately with an impressive start when we were handed a glass of Kir Royal as soon as we sat down. My wife was sold at this point. We had a great meal. It wasn’t the best food I’ve ever had – except for the Grand Marnier Soufflé which was indescribably delicious – but it was a strong showing and far better than most dining experiences. What made the evening really great was our waiter who was engaging, attentive, willing and capable of discussing the various wines on the list – and the obvious superiority of Bordeaux. As I was leaving the restaurant I asked for a card. In lieu of a card, since they were out of them, the manager cut from the back of the menu all the information needed to locate the restaurant again. While I continued on my way to the door, another waiter reached in his pocket and handed me a folded card – one of the last available. Great setting, great food, and great people seem to be the formula for a great dining experience and Bistro de Breteuil hit on all cylinders. It was one of my favorite meals in Paris.
We soon discovered that Bistro de Bretueil is part of a group of restaurants under the same owner. So, based on our prior evening’s experience, we made a reservation to visit another restaurant in the group, Bistro Saint Ferdinand. This time things were different. The atmosphere and decor were essentially the same, and to our disappointment, the menu was exactly the same. We almost didn’t stay because we weren’t particularly interested in choosing from the same menu, but since we had taken a long metro ride and it was already 8:00pm we went with it. Again, the food was very good, including the Grand Marnier Soufflé, but this time the waitress wasn’t engaged. Our Kir Royal was brought to our table well after we sat down and without a word. She wasn’t rude – I know some of you are thinking, “typical Paris waitress,” but that’s not it – she was simply occupied elsewhere. Disengaged is not that same as rude, and truthfully I’ve rarely had anything but a great experience with wait staff in France, which is part of why this incident was so unique. She never smiled. She didn’t ask if we’d like anything else. When they didn’t have the wine I asked for she offered no apology or other suggestion. When I asked what the Grand Marnier Soufflé was, she said: “Ice cream.” – which it isn’t – and walked away. I looked around at the other servers and they seemed to have the same disposition. The manager was not in sight and the handful of wait staff seemed to be giving all their attention to the serving of food or washing of kir glasses instead of their customers. Someone had forgotten to tell the staff that they are not in the food business, but in the people business. Unlike their sister restaurant, the wait staff at Bistro Saint Ferdinand didn’t know how to engage their customers, and thus the difference in the two dining experiences was remarkable.
But someone in this organization knows how to engage people and knows how to lead the staff to engage people. That is what makes this comparison so interesting to me. In two restaurants owned by the same person, with two out of the three variables essentially the same – general ambiance/decor and the exact same food – the only variable was the people and the difference was incredible. Bistrot de Breteuil was one of the best dining experiences and Bistro Saint Ferdinand was one of the worst. Can a waitress or waiter make that much of a difference? You bet. Is the wait staff at the core of the problem? No.
What strikes me is that the true difference in these two restaurants was the manager. At Bistro de Breteuil the manager was always there, overseeing the whole operation. I had noticed him when I first entered and was struck by how he was in command of the entire operation, so much so, that when I asked for a card he cut out a portion of the menu for me. At Bistro Saint Ferdinand our waitress could have been the manager for all I knew. The manager – the leader – was nowhere to be found.
Here’s another point. Every person who has ever worked with youth knows this principle. If you bring kids from different places together – whether they are from all over the county, state or country – the problem kids will find each other in the first hour. They will seek each other out and become a pack before the first meal. That’s true. The kids who are leaders – those exceptionally great kids – will also know who the other exceptional kids are within an hour, but they won’t flock together. They need to be led to come together. This same truth plays out in any organization.
Problem people will find each other. It’s no surprise that Bistro Saint Ferdinand is filled with inattentive servers – they have found each other. They feed negatively on each other. They tell their friends when there is a job opening, and they teach each other the bad work ethic to be maintained.
Exceptional employees like exceptional kids need to be led. They can only be brought together by a great leader who will inspire them to greatness, manage their competitiveness, and reward superior performance. That is the job of a leader. Get the great people on the bus and make them greater. Great people inspire greatness in each other. They naturally engage others and they go beyond the expected. Great leaders create a culture where exceptional performance is normal, and the customers and clients know it too. The people are everything.
Do you know how important your people are to your business?
Do you realize that they can make a difference in your clients/customer’s decision about your business being the best or being the worst?
Are you leading a team of great people?
Every business is a people business, every problem a people problem and every solution a people solution. The people are everything!
Lest I forget – the Grand Marnier Soufflé was phenomenal, but I still don’t know what it is – except I know it’s not ice cream.