As in most businesses, resting on your laurels is not an option in the restaurant industry. One of the challenges of constantly trying to improve is that it can be exhausting! Which is why it is incredibly important to take vacations as a business owner. Even if the vacation had nothing to do with beer, Nick and I always come back refreshed and full of new ideas and resolutions. Nick and I got back from a family vacation to Hawaii 2 weeks ago and since then we have been working on a bunch of projects to improve The Porter. I have been cross training in the kitchen a few hours a week (something I’ve been saying I was going to do for years now, but never found the time) and Nick has been working on finding something to give our awesome customers on our four year anniversary. We both have been working on a new organization system for glassware and the walk-in kitchen cooler. Sometimes you think you’ve gotten to the bottom of a problem and 6 months later you have to start again. When you are tackling a problem for a 2nd or 3rd time, it reminds you that employees need constant, gentle reminders of your expectations. It’s not enough to waltz in, point out what’s wrong and waltz out, you have to let you’re employees know they are improving, or they did a great job. The second you stop paying attention is when the problem will start creeping back! Which is why, once again I am reminded why I don’t need kids, my restaurant is a 24 hour a day job enough of the time!
So we are coming up on our 3 year anniversary this weekend and I would like to take the time to reflect on the 11 staff members who are still with us and have been since day one. Seven bartenders/servers, one manager and three cooks. With a staff of 35-38, 11 folks is around 30% of our staff. When I look at our accomplishments in 3 years (Rated #3 on Ratebeer.com, World Class on Beer Advocate, Top 100 Placed to drink by Imbibe, Top 150 beer bars by Draft Magazine) I am most proud of these eleven staff members.
What does it mean that 30% of our staff has stayed with us? It means our regulars always have a familiar face in the crowd. It means new employees can easily absorb our culture of pride in our work and generosity towards customers. It means stability for the restaurant and honestly, it means my job is made much, much easier. Training at The Porter is never ending even without new employees. There are always new beers and new specials to learn. We are constantly expanding and changing our beer list and with that come constant new challenges. Can you imagine how hard it would be if we had to train a new server every month?
This June, we celebrated another milestone, we had gone a year without hiring a new server. It was fabulous! So please come out on Saturday, September 10th and help us celebrate our 3 years and our original 11!
P.S. There is also be some amazing mind blowing beer on draft, in case you’re interested.
Woah! It’s already been three years since The Porter Beer Bar opened. Doesn’t time fly? What’s also amazing is how many 3 year reviews I have to write. It’s truly a blessing that over 25% of our original staff are still here. Truly they make Nick and my job so much easier. With less turnover we don’t have to be constantly hiring and training, instead we can focus on the good stuff, like beer!
Speaking of beer, we’ve come a long way baby! We opened with 25 taps and 100 bottles back in September 2008. Now we have over 500 bottles and 30 drafts including two hand cask hand pulls. But don’t worry we won’t stop there. Restaurants are like children (see previous post, Beer and Babies) they are either growing and changing or they are dead in the water. Nick and Ia re constantly getting better at our big picture job: making The Porter Beer Bar one of the best beer bars in the world. That’s why Nick is always coming up with new specials and we are always trying to find the most delicious and rare beers.
So come out, one and all September 10th is the day we will party! Starting at 11am we will unleash a crazy line up and amazing stuff. At some point throughout the day we will tap a keg of KBS and at another random moment a firkin of Cigar City made just for us! No reservations required, just get here early and drink the day away!
Fall is my favorite time of year. For most people it’s the beautiful leaves, the fabulous weather, back to school, for me it’s more complicated. As a child I loved the idea that fall was the year getting older, aging, the beginning of winter death. I was a dark little kid. Now fall ushers in the official beginning of beer season. Fall that inspires people to treat themselves to something delicious and amber or darker, moving towards a stout, for that first crisp night. (Maybe it’s not the season, but the fact it will be another 9 months before anyone has to wear a swimsuit again.) Fall foods go so well with beer (duck, wild mushrooms, root vegetables) and ciders are perfect along with those spiced pumpkin beers…. yum I’m salivating just thinking of Weyerbacher Pumpkin and JK Scrumpy on a cool fall afternoon.
Fall also brings Little Five Points Halloween Festival (this year a different weekend from Decatur Beer Fest, finally!) along with the Porter’s 3 year anniversary and thus Nick and I’s 3 year anniversary. In case you don’t remember the story, we got married in October, after opening The Porter (yes we are crazy). It seems like it’s been longer. I can’t even remember what it was like to have a boss. Which is good, I was a terrible employee. But back to fall which seems so faraway as we face another 97 degree day. But it’s coming, I swear, fall will be here before we know it!
People ask me all the time if Nick and I want kids. I guess it’s our age (Nick’s almost 32 and I’m 29) and the fact we’re married makes us good contestants for these kind of questions. But the truth is, I have two kids already. Their names are The Porter and The Stand. How is a restaurant like a child you ask? Well when they’re new, they need a lot more attention than when they get older. You can’t leave them alone for too long when they’re young or the babysitters (managers) run amok. They call you at all hours of the night and morning and wake you up, like a crying child. Even when you are desperate for a day off, that’s the day the POS system will go down. Don’t get me wrong, being a restaurateur is incredibly fulfilling, I am so proud when someone comes up to me and tell me they love one of our restaurants. But sometimes you have to stay big picture to find that joy, when the details are eating you alive, or all you want is to make it through the week without another disaster. So the answer to the question “Do you want kids?” is no thank you, I have enough!
I can list the number of days The Porter has been closed since we opened on one hand. Thanksgiving, 08,09,10. Christmas 08,09, Christmas Eve 08, Staff Party Day, 09, 10. Once in April 2011, when the power went out for 24 hours. Ok two hands, but still, 9 days in almost 3 years is not bad. So why are we closing for three days to fix our kitchen floor?I only have two words for you: Health Inspection. Our floor in the kitchen is cement, which is fine in the health inspector’s eyes. But after repeated attempts we could never properly seal with due to a minuscule amount of water that always seemed to get under the seal and bubble up.So eventually every seal would flake up and degrade until the floor was not “an easily cleanable surface” which is key in the health inspector’s book. Now with new inspection rules and reputable restaurants failing their inspections right and left, we decided we could not risk losing a single point on something we could fix. Thus we had to close, move all the kitchen equipment out of the kitchen, level the floor and tile, then move everything back in and prep the entire menu!
Whew! I get tired just thinking about it.
But back on track, why I hate to close. First of all there’s the customers to consider. Every time a customer shows up and you’re closed, you risk permanently losing that customer. It’s also the reason I insist businesses keep regular hours as consistently as possible. Yeah sure, it’s nice to close Sunday & Monday and give yourself a restful two days off. But it makes it that much harder on the average customer to remember when you’re open. (Side note, this works for restaurants/businesses that require reservations and appointments, but it’s a killer for the casual concept) The Porter is like many of my regulars’ home away from home. Closing that home risks those regulars finding another home away from home, which we just can’t have!
The 2nd reason I hate to close is lose of momentum, closing means throwing away food, or running it really close down to the wire. Your staff also have too much time to get drunk, arrested or find another job. So many restaurant employees live paycheck to paycheck so a loss of a couple days of pay can be devastating. (I am praying all my staff show up on Thursday alive, intact, and still wanting towork at The Porter)
So closing is a major risk, but sometimes it’s worth it. Just wait until you see the new kitchen floor, it’ll make your Belgian fries taste that much better!
Okay so this blog isn’t actually about beer. I wanted to share with you a little bit about my mangement philosophy. At the Porter we have weekly mangement meetings and at each meeting I try to elaborate on one of my tenants of mangement:
Ace Every Shift
Inspire the Staff/ Connect with a staff member
Gain a new regular
Get the Big Picture
This week we are going to cover Ace Every Shift. In case you’ve never worked in the restaurant industry, there’ s some excitment, some stress, a lot of talking to people (staff, guests, co-workers) a lot of repetitive work and a little bit of glory!
Here’s the preview of Friday’s management meeting:
I believe you create your own reality. Today you work at The Porter. You work to earn a living, but
also to learn things and prepare yourself for future jobs. I know many of you want to own your own
restaurants and businesses. I choose managers who are interested in owning their own businesses
because I know you are “self motivated.”
Let’s talk about “self motivation.” You do everything because you are self motivated. You show up to
work because you told yourself that you need to go to work today. You show up even if you don’t feel
like it or would rather do something else. One might argue that you show up to work because otherwise
you’d lose your job. But you can choose to lose your job. Everything you do is your choice. Including how you see the world.
So I encourage you to see The Porter as your own business. When you walk in the door for your shift, this restaurant is yours. Maybe there are things you would do differently, or think can be improved, you have the power to do that. 98% of the time (unless it’s too expensive,) Nick and I will be happy to help you effect positive change at The Porter.
Before I owned The Porter, I would try to take ownership of all my positions. When I was discouraged
or tired I would think to myself, “if this was my business, what would I do to motivate myself today?”
Because the truth is you are not magically motivated when you own your own business, you have to
continue to self coach and motivate through difficult situations/times.
Currently as managers you get that pat on the back occasionally from Nick and I, whether verbally or
through a raise and hopefully it helps get through the tough times when you’re not feeling like working,
or being at the Porter or entering inventory for the 40 millionth time. As a manager though sometimes
you don’t get that from anyone and it has to come from within.
A manager I once worked for said “The best marketing is to ace every shift.” Acing a shift means
different things to different people. To me, it meant coming in, greeting the staff in a positive way,
executing my set up checklist in a timely fashion and to the best of my abilities. Having a great and
motivating pre-shift with the staff and then working a great shift. If it is busy, then talking to customers
while assisting the staff, if slow then working on cleaning projects with the staff and talking to the few
customers that are in. Trying to find ways to go above and beyond. Trying to leave the business better
than when the shift began.
We all have days we are just trying to make it through the shift, but the goal is to have as few of those
as possible. It is also our goal to motivate our servers to “ace every shift.” We all know when someone is
off, sometimes addressing it with them can prevent them from have a an entire night “off” rather than
on and plugged in.
Thus concludes my philosophy on Acing Every Shift, future discussions will talk about ways to motivate
yourself, or things to do on an awesome ace shift!