The Right Person, a Restaurant Owner’s Perspective

An interview with Debra Kondratczyk (co-founder and prior owner of Charli Marrone’s Italian Bar & Grill).

Debra Kondratczyk

Recently, I sat down with Debra and asked her a few questions from a restaurant owner’s perspective on: challenges, hiring, exceptional employees, and tips for owners and employees in the industry. Here were some thoughts she shared.

What are some challenges within the restaurant industry today?

There are three challenges really: Customer Service, Pricing, and what I call ’30-seconds or less’.

  1. Customer Service — I see this not only in my previous restaurant, but in many restaurants lately. It’s really unfortunate because without happy customers, your business will fail.
  2. Pricing — The instability of our economy has made customers seek the ‘good deals’. Customers are not spending the money they use to at high-end restaurants. And now, it’s more common for customers to find and use services like Groupon for deals on food. At the end of the day, they want good service, good food, for a good price.
  3. ’30 seconds or less’ — Restaurants are busy on certain days and times; we all know that. But the customer should not be affected by this. In my experience, many restaurants are not paying attention to the time it takes before they greet and seat their customers; which leads to walk-outs and poor reviews. In my business, I made a point to seat our customers within 30 seconds or less. And, to ensure my employees understood the importance, I had them sit at a table for 30 seconds with people walking by them, not looking at them or acknowledging there existence. Guess what? They all felt the pain, and quickly realized how the customer might feel after waiting so long.

What do you look for when hiring someone new?

I look for personality. My customers are coming into “my home”, so I want my servers, hostesses, bartenders and cooks, to act as if it was their home and company. Everyone needs to get along in the restaurant like a loving family, not a dysfunctional one. So the personality of a new hire is very important, in how they will mesh within the restaurant and among our customers.

Can you share a story of an exceptional employee that worked for you?

Honestly, I had 1 out of 100 that was exceptional. This gentleman would find something to do if the restaurant was slow. Anything from taking out trash, checking restrooms, rolling napkins, polishing silverware, to helping in the kitchen. His job as a server did not entail all of this, but he wanted to help wherever and whenever. He was the type of server that would approach customers with questions like “what can I get you to drink from the bar” or “what can I get you for dessert”. He was a server and a salesman; not an employee putting in his time and clocking out at the end of his shift. Because of his style, he received priority when it came to scheduling, pay increases, etc.



If someone asked you, ‘How can I be successful in the restaurant industry?’, what tips would you share with them?

  1. For the owner: don’t open a restaurant unless YOU intend to be there and run it; your customers want to know you. Owners play a special role and can make customers feel exceptional from welcoming them, to solving any problem in the restaurant. Be there… love it and live it.
  2. For the owner and employee: look for and have a great personality. When both the owner and employee have them, it creates wonderful synergy in the business that  customers benefit from.
  3. For the owner and employee: treat your restaurant as it’s your home. If you can make your customers feel at home, and have consistency of great service and food you offer… they will come back again and again. Plus, they will tell all their friends how great your place is, which we know is the best type of advertising.
  4. For the owner: treat your employee’s with respect, yet be firm and fair… showing no favoritism. Rules and guidelines are important within any good team, and you own the responsibility for setting the tone. Your employees will expect this, and respect you for making things clear.

Closing Remarks:

Thank you Debra for taking the time to share your perspective with What’s For Work? The Premier Career Site for Women.

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