Yankee Swap

I became the general manager of a low-volume, casual dining restaurant two days before Christmas last year. The restaurant was burdened with several issues that worked against it ever having success, but I threw everything I had at it to try to reverse the public perception of the place. If only I knew it was doomed from the start.

One, it was difficult to enter the lot. You had to circle the perimeter of the building and drive to the far end of a strip mall, then double back and navigate a large pothole while going uphill. By the time you did all that, you really wanted a perfect dining experience, but that wouldn’t happen, because…

Two, it was understaffed. Criminally understaffed. This could be because the employees also would have had a tough time entering the lot, shortening the hiring pool, but whatever the case, the staffing list was small.

This was a fairly new building and location, opening in 2012, if I’m not mistaken. There was a plaque in the lobby commemorating the opening of the restaurant signed by the mayor. And the design was modern and chic. You could tell expectations were high for the restaurant’s success when it opened.

Unfortunately, the store did not do well. Sales were miserable, and what few customers they received did not get great service. This was because the staff was either nonexistent, poorly trained, or both. The few busy periods would be considered incredibly slow by most restaurant standards, but even these would prove too difficult for this crew.

You might be inclined to blame management, as so many members of the public are quick to do. But the turnover for managers at that store rivaled the employees. There were few that stayed for any long period of time, so no one got hired and no one got trained.

Public perception was abysmal. No one wanted to eat there, either because of past poor experiences, or because they had heard of someone else’s past poor experience.

This was what I inherited. Two days before Christmas, I became the general manager of this failing restaurant.

Immediately, I knew things had to change. I began hiring people. Writing schedules and making people stick to them. Ordering the right amount of food. Cleaning the place more than it has in recent times. Organizing and labeling everything. Training people the correct way of doing things. Tracking and curtailing food waste. Encouraging guests to send in comment cards and feedback. And, while I don’t think I’m the greatest manager in the world, I think I was doing a great job. Positive reviews were going up. Staffing levels had reached acceptable levels. Cleanliness was again a priority. It was nice.

And then along came COVID-19. This pandemic wreaked havoc on restaurants worldwide, and mine was no exception. Just three months after I had taken over this store, it was shut down. This was a business move. All locations were expected to take a huge sales hit, and mine was already a very low-performing store. I got moved to a different location for the time being, and I waited anxiously for its reopening.

But it didn’t reopen.

I suppose I could have seen this from the beginning of the pandemic. It was a wonder we were open to begin with. But it was in a nice, high-rent area, and closing it, I was told, would cost more than keeping it open.

Now that it is permanently closed, the local news decided to write a small blurb about it. I do mean “small.” More or less, “This restaurant in this county is closing, though there other ones in the county aren’t.” That was about it.

And the comments people left about it closing were disheartening, to say the least. My short three months were a waste of time. People were unsurprised, judgmental, and almost happy at it’s closure. They listed all sorts of problems and negative experiences at that store.

It was a tough thing to read. I can’t help but feel like if I had just a little more time, maybe I would have been able to make a difference. Maybe I could’ve changed things for the better.

But alas, we’ll never know.

***

I’m trying to write more things. I know I say that all the time, but it is true. One day I won’t have to manage restaurants.

Anywho, this is something I’ve written. Though normally I opt for fiction, this is a true story, and I felt like writing it for some reason.

See you on the next one…

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