The death of passion…

By | August 21, 2007

The death of passion and the initial obsession to create a truly outstanding business is a horrible thing to witness. And yet we see it every day of the week.

As I was returning home from my holidays we stopped off in a little restaurant that we have used over many years. The food was always great and there was always a strong sense of real control. A sense that they really cared about you and about giving you a great experience. But this time it was a little different.

To begin with the floor was dirty and most of the empty tables weren’t cleared. As my wife and daughter went to use the toilet I sat down and looked around for a menu. A waiter came across and cleared the table beside me while concentrating hard on chewing his gum. His shirt was out slightly at the back. He ignored me. Nice.

I stood up and approached him as moved to the waiter station. “Can I have a couple of menus please?” was my, not unreasonable I thought, request. Without making any eye contact he grunted “Two minutes“. Hmmm.

I stood patiently while he spoke to his waiter friend and cleared another table. Eventually he came across with two menus and handed them to me before walking off. No instructions about what to do and no offer to serve me. I called after him “Do I order at the bar or from you?“. “Order at the bar” was his simple response.

I sat down, with that wave of “I really don’t want to be here but I’m hungry” flooding across me. My wife came out of the toilets with her face screwed up in the “The toilets are revolting” face that we all do without wanting to say the words.

She sat down and I told her my tale.

So we left. Hungry and with the money in our pocket still. It just wasn’t worth it.

It would never have happened a few years ago. But now the vision had slipped and been forgotten. Maybe the owner was on holiday or maybe it had changed hands but somehow that passion for great service and food was gone. Slipped away with no one factor to blame. Poor recruitment, poor training, inadequate systems, poor management and no continuing articulation of the great passionate obsession.

Grim Reaper“Watch out – I’m coming to take your business…”

The real fun in any new business is creating the initial dream – creating the brilliant passionate business that people will rave about but the real work starts in making that happen day in and day out regardless of whether you are there or not. But it is always sad to see when an owner fails to rise to that challenge.

This is an extreme example obviously but are you sure all your staff still feel that passion that drove you to start your business?

Are you sure none of these things are slipping for you as you busy, busy, busy yourself in your daily work?

Johnnie Richardson

14 thoughts on “The death of passion…

  1. darren

    Excellant piece. It made me drive to our stores and watch the staff serve and communicate with the customers, something most of us probably don’t do anywhere near enough. Thanks.

  2. Johnnie Richardson

    Thanks Darren – appreciate that.

    One of the things I tend to rant about is just taking time to sit and watch customer interaction with staff. But real time – not just five minutes here or there. Time to really study the body language of the customer. Nobody needs a book on body language to do this either, we all instinctively can read when someone is awkward, happy, sad or uncomfortable.

    It’s so easy to get totally used to our operation that we forget how confusing it may look for a new customer. And if we make it at all confusing it makes it uncomfortable for them and very often they won’t order all that that actually want for fear of making a fool of themselves.

    You need to sit and watch them at every stage of the process right from when they come through the door to when they leave. It can be extremely illuminating and tell you a lot that a customer wouldn’t tell you face to face.


  3. darren

    Hi Jonnie,
    The hardest thing about taking time to watch what is going on in terms of flow, customer interaction and customer experience is stopping yourself from getting involved. I find myself constantly getting up to move something or check something or stick my oar in. When we want a relaxing cup of coffee we go to someone else’s store lol.

  4. margotmarrakesh

    I’ve had this experience, too. Is it possible the ownership has changed hands, or the owner going through a personal crisis of his own, and being away from the business? It only takes one bad experience like that for a customer to never come back, and the word to spread. Excellent piece of writing. I enjoy your posts.

    Margot in Marrakesh

  5. Hugo

    Hey Darren … from what I can gather your new store is that busy there are no seats for you to sit and watch! Rave reviews from folk I have met on holidays up there … Well Done.

  6. darren

    Hi Hugh,
    Thanks for the comment all we need to do now is have all the Barista’s attend one of your wonderful ‘Jam’s’ get your finger out and get one organised!!!

  7. darren

    Guys forgot to mention READ THE BOOK excellant!! Seriously I have to say you have pretty much given anyone who wants an insight into the coffee industry the most essential tool for doing so. The key to a sucessful book is the ability for the reader to keep going back, picking up the book and be absorbed by it all over again. You have achieved that. I hope it gets the attention and respect it deserves.

  8. Johnnie Richardson

    Margot – Thanks. I saw you signed up for too. Hope you enjoy them.

    Darren – thanks for the book praise. Appreciate that and we’ll probably want to quote you on it! 🙂 It was structured very much with that ethos in mind. i.e. something that you could just dip and out of. The second print should be complete today and hopefully we’ll have it on Amazon and for sale by the middle of next week or so.

    Hugh speaks very highly of your operation. I must get up and have a look. I grew up in Portstewart so have a lot of links with the area.

    Your comment about owners watching their operation is so right though. I am very familiar with that “owner fidget” as you sit and watch and are mentally screaming…

    “why are you ignoring that customer?”,
    “why is it taking you so long to make that coffee?”,
    “why do you not know which button to press on the till?”,
    “will somebody please serve that customer!”


    It’s so hard not to jump up and get stuck in and try and fix the specific problems there and then. The key is to try and sit back, observe and then systematically incorporate the issues you see into your training process. I totally get what you’re saying though. It’s much easier to preach this now than it was when I ws observing my own staff and customers.

  9. Chris

    Really great article. I enjoy your writing very much and am very much looking forward to the book coming out. Will it be available in Canada?

    What I like particularly about what you write is that you speak from experience and not just theoretical textbook jargon.

  10. darren

    ‘Owner Fidget’ What a fantastic word! I think I will write a book. I’m going to call it ‘The 52 + 1 best staff excuses for not coming into work’

  11. John Richardson

    Thanks Chris – appreciate that. Copies are being sent out to Amazon (UK) today and I hope to get it sorted on soon. We’ll also be selling it via this website so if you email me your address I’ll work out how to get a copy off to you.

    Darren – I reckon a better title would be “5200 best staff excuses for not coming into work.” 🙂 I was joking with a client on Friday along very similar lines. The gist of the conversation was could I write a book called “52 (+1) pieces of advice I give but cannot commit to print!” It came off the back of me saying for the umpteenth time “What you should do is… But don’t quote me on that!”

  12. darren

    Wanted to share with you the experience my wife and I had on Sunday. We stopped at a highly recommended eating establishment with our three little ones. The interior was a bit dated but the food going past us as we walked in looked amazing so we took our seat and grabbed the menu. Now let me state the staff were very polite and attentive at all times……. Even the one who when my wife asked ‘What do you reccomend’ said without hesitation ‘Don’t ask me I’ve worked here two years and never eaten here’. I actually laughed and asked here was she serious. She quipped back ‘ Well I’ve tried the red snapper but it was minging’.

  13. darren

    Oh should add that the food we did recieve was wonderful and I would certainly go back!

  14. John Richardson

    My version of that is the girl in a local cafe who, when I asked if the ginger beer was very spicy, replied “I dunno – they never let us try anything in here”

    It’s for this reason that I preach that cafes should copy fine dining restaurants. In a decent fine dining restaurant they will always run through the menu with samples before service.

    At our level this means that all new products and food and drinks should be given out in tasting portions to staff before they are introduced onto the menu. Very often operators are too mean to do this but it’s a very short term view.

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