Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Profit Paradigm

Statistics from the US Labor Board reveal that 65 % of the working population in this country are employed by small or medium sized businesses, making these businesses the economic engine of our economy and, as these businesses go, so does the rest of the country.
All the numbers in the world won’t change a thing and I’ve never seen a graph or pie chart that will sway anyone’s good opinion or force someone into a considered action.
No statistic will ever be as compelling as working with Wilson will ever be.
Wilson and his wife, both immigrants from a certain third world county less than 90 miles from the east coast of Florida came with high hopes for a better life for their family and a work ethic that wouldn’t be diminished by opportunity, or lack thereof, language barrier, nationalism nor prejudice. The ever present specter of extreme poverty and corruption that they had left behind in their native country was potent enough for both of them to work almost all the working hours in the day in the hopes of distancing themselves from the miasma that was their previous life.
We’d like to think that this is a country that celebrates hard work and dedication but the recent economic crisis has left folks just like Wilson and his wife exposed and vulnerable; the loss of any of their four jobs would leave them hanging at the precipice of financial ruin.
I’ve stood hip to hip with both Wilson and his wife, both perfect examples of why a ban on familial hires are often misplaced and silly, pulling pasta, making bread, separating deliveries and dicing and slicing; all done with their familiar smile of a job well done and a job being ‘of – use’.
A thorough clean up and they’re off, to another restaurant, separately this time, to complete another full shift before either of them can get home, be with the kids, check homework and then, finally, to spend a few quiet moments together in the silence of their shared struggle, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again; often staggering their days, and shifts off untl a whole week goes by without the synchronicity of a single complete day off spent together.
All for, and because of, their family.
But it’s getting increasingly harder for Wilson and other’s like him to keep this type of selfless sacrifice going for much longer.
Everything is going up in this business, everything that is, except for wages. As commodity prices go up, the profit margins are shrinking and more and more companies are cutting benefits, if they ever offered them in the first place and wages are, in some instances being cut – orphans of a disappearing middle class.
Once all these pressures are factored in owners and/or shareholders increasingly forget Wilson’s face and the kind lines cut around his eyes from
years of smiling in face of adversity and refer to him as only, ‘Cook 2’; much easier to axe a position than it is to cut a life.
Profit has no conscious and profit must be maintained.
I understand that the economy must be moved forward and innovation and ingenuity are cornerstones to it’s growth and maturation but the question, at least for me, has always been: How much is enough?
Understanding that you can’t put a food or labor cost in the bank, and the margins the thing – then how much margin does an owner or stock holder need?
Given that everything is equal and costs will rise; uncontrollable costs like commodity pricing, rent, insurance etc. then there’s only one place to look to squeeze out a bit more profit – your work force; and these are the same people who look to you to keep their best interest in heart, to help them help you in keeping our business vital and alluring, and their lives worth living.
And you’re willing to barter that away because you made a poor deal on your lease and you need to wring out another 10% in profits? So that you can make another payment on a boat that you take out twice a year?
Wilson, and his family, deserve so much better

1 comment:

  1. Hi Adam,
    I've been awake since 5:30, awaiting an online meeting with a restaurant owner who didn't show up for our six o'clock appointment. I called at around 5 after to check on him. He sounded much more tired than I, I could hear the phones ringing in the background and the commotion of breakfast service. He's on Eastern time, so it was 8:30 there. With some time to kill, I happened upon your blog through Linkedin. I really like your style. There is no speed reading your blog. I'm not sure my brain was engaged enough to digest it, so I went slowly. There really should be some sort of warning at the header.
    The passion you have for your craft is evident. I work alot with restaurant owners and General Managers, but not so much with the exec chefs and head chefs. Frankly, they intimidate the hell out of me anyway.. so I'm not complaining. I work with a company who has designed one of the most innovative wait staff training solutions in the country. I have always wanted to know what an executive chef wants in their servers and folks in the front of the house. What is the difference, in your mind.. between a server who can take orders well, and one who can guide the customer through the menu.. articulating the components of the dish, and having expert knowledge on pairings.. etc. How does the expertise in the front of the house connect with the passion in the back?
    I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have a few minutes..
    James Keil