Business vs. Hospitality Mindset to Solve Problems

Posted on: by Robert C Smith | No Comments
Business vs. Hospitality Mindset to Solve Problems

As I sit in Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC waiting to board my flight to Baton Rouge I continue to reflect on my hour-long visit with my very first DC client a day ago, Marc Barnes.

If you know Marc, you know his outgoing and over-the-top personality. You also know his hospitality successes.  For me, in my business, it’s so very easy to look past his unique personality, and see that Marc is one of the very few restaurant and club owners I have worked with that really tries to learn from every real or perceived mistake on his property.  What I mean by that is really simple. 

For example, Marc and I walked and talked through his very popular and well-known location, Park on 14th for about an hour. As we did, I noticed a very unique restroom set up on the first floor.  There was not the Male and Female door that lead to the standard urinals or stalls. Instead, there were 7 nice doors, all with very nice, Gender Neutral Bathroom signs on them.

Nearly all other restaurants and clubs have the standard male and female bathrooms with those aforementioned urinals and toilets.  It appeared that normal bathroom space was completely changed. There are now, one larger space, and those 7 nice, dark wooden doors, each opening to a multi-use bathroom space. What Marc did probably cost him several thousand dollars.

I asked why this configuration and Marc told me that he had either received feedback or a complaint regarding the use of the female bathroom by a transgender guest.  SO, rather than deal with another similar concern later, knowing it would repeat itself, Marc opted to solve this part of the transgender equation by getting rid of a single “Male” or “Female” only restrooms.

Marc opted to spend a considerable amount of money to convert that space to several nicely modeled multi-use bathrooms.  In the middle of this space, among all those doors, there is space for a bathroom attendant to oversee who and how many guests enter each individual stall.  What I saw Marc did was to recognize a larger issue, not push it aside, but instead, find a positive and attractive solution.

Smart operators are plentiful, but not many have the ability to see and recognize the perceived or real issue and think out of the normal hospitality box to solve the problem or the “larger issue”.

Another example of Marc’s genius is what he changed on the four levels of The Park.  The “normal” floors and stairs in every restaurant, bar or club are covered with tile, laminate, marble or some other easy to clean surface.  Well, let me tell you, Marc is NOT the normal operator.

It appears that 2 very common hospitality events prompted Marc to consider an alternative to the standard, normal, easy to clean flooring.  

First, he saw that women visiting his venue would occasionally come directly from work to happy hour then stay for the evening entertainment.  His team noticed that some of these guests were taking off their high heels and walking in bare or stocking feet as the evening went on.  #Gross.  The comment from these guests when approached to put their shoes back on was that their feet were tired and standing on the hard floor surface just made it worse.

Secondly, an alleged slip and fall on the hard surface pushed Marc to consider an alternative to the hard floors.  His first and, eventually, his final thought was carpet.  

I know some restaurant and club owners are thinking; “Yikes, carpet!”  You can imagine the stains, the spills, the gum, and the dirt or grease tracked in from the sidewalk and street.  What a mess, and then consider the rips, normal wear and tear and all that comes with using carpet.  Yes, this is all true, but, Marc didn’t shy away from thinking this idea through.

A few months later, Marc was expensing this idea out and started wondering about the possible costs of cleaning, repairs and how to keep the carpet from smelling “spoiled” after it was shampooed and didn’t have enough time to dry.  He found the solution while on a trip to Las Vegas.

Marc is sitting in an unnamed casino at about 5 in the morning.  (I wanted to know what he was doing just sitting in the casino at 5am, but that’s another story).  As Marc sits, he notices housekeepers cleaning the casino carpet with large automated carpet shampoo machines.  His interest peaked, he continues to watch and sees that immediately after the machine finishes cleaning, housekeepers quickly roll out several medium sized floor air blowers.  BAM, the lightbulb glows bright and he makes the decision to change the entire 4 floors of The Park to a nice, soft colored carpet. 

He purchases an appropriate carpet shampoo machine and several high-powered air blowers designed for blowing air over wet or shampooed.  Gone are slip and falls on a spill or other item dropped on the floor.  AND, nearly all the women with tired feet are relieved to have a softer and more comfortable service to stand on as they enjoy a longer stay at Park.  There are many more examples of Marc’s problem-solving ability, but I’m going to leave you with just one more.  In a word; “Cameras”.

It seems like common sense that any restaurant, bar or club owner would have a camera surveillance system, right?  I mean, we all know that cameras will capture areas where employee or guest conduct might lead to some sort of trouble, loss, exposure.  BUT, even more important, we hope the camera coverage will save our ass should we find ourselves in the civil liability lawsuit!

I’m often asked how many cameras should I have?  And, how long should I store the video that we capture? I even had a similar conversation with Marc back when we first met in 2009.

As Marc and I are walking around Park talking about his employees, clients, the carpet and more, I start noticing there are cameras everywhere.  And I do mean, EVERYWHERE!  In one small alley driveway, that is no more than 50 feet long and not even part of his property, I count 6 cameras.  At his front entrance, I count 8.  In the venue entrance hallway of only eight feet, there are 5 cameras.

I guess Marc notices I’m looking and says; “Guess how many cameras I have?”  I consider the question and for a couple of seconds I’m quite and I see his smile grow larger.  I add to my obviously low estimate and say 40?  He laughs out loud and says 235.

4 of 9 Flat Screens

Are you kidding me, 235?  He walks me to the upstairs office space and as I enter I immediately notice nine (9) 42-inch flat screens mounted on the walls of the office with a collage of smaller camera views. I can see nearly every inch of his space, in and out.  I think my exact words were; “Holy Crap”.

Why so many cameras?  Well, besides the obvious answers of “I had a claim that had no camera coverage” or “employee theft”, he tells me his ownership or leadership philosophy of wanting to make his employees feel like family.  He wants to have them feel like their work is an extension of their home.

Marc quips that he has no employee theft.  He tells me that he doesn’t have any locks on the liquor rooms or the champagne storage areas.  He goes on that family members don’t steal from their homes or family members.  He tells me that if he finds employee theft, he will evaluate why they stole, and only then decide whether to terminate them, or maybe help them solve the real problem.  And, cameras help in that area tremendously.  

My favorite point about his massive camera coverage discussion was that he believes in a technique I have suggested to owners for years.  When he receives any claim from a guest or an attorney about possible problem or litigation, Marc gets to work on his camera system to find the incident and evaluate possible exposure.  What he finds will dictate what he does next

If the cameras captured a problem on his end he moves to his insurance or attorney’s.  However, if he sees the person is lying or the attorney doesn’t have the entire story, Marc just might send the video clip to the person.  Once they see that their caught in a lie or their client hasn’t told them the truth, the complaint, on occasion disappears before the possible claim is reported to the insurance agent or the attorney.

The hospitality background of Marc Barnes, like many operators, is vast and involved.  Every operator deals with problems and must figure out how to fix that problem, while also assuring they don’t have a same or similar bad experience as before.  What I feel is unique with Marc, and his approach, is his ability and willingness to see the issue and then consider solutions using a standard business mindset and not the standard hospitality mindset.

Marc Barnes and Park at 14th

As a consultant and trainer who visits hundreds of bars, clubs and restaurants annually, I constantly see potential problems that should be dealt with.  I’m told that the expense to address those potential problems is the largest obstacle for operators. True or false, that’s what I’m told.  So, to my delight, it was a real pleasure to walk with Marc at The Park on 14th and see how he has used a business mindset to solve problems and in turn, save a ton of money.

Be Safe Everyone.

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