From the CEO: A Lesson to Remember

By Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association

My father, Basil Anton, wasn’t the only one in my family who owned restaurants. In fact, many of my family members used hospitality to establish themselves in the U.S., including one of my uncles who had a restaurant in Seattle.

I ran into one of my uncle’s former servers while on my travels. She told me a story that has stuck with me for the past couple of months.

It was an absolutely jammed Friday night at his restaurant. Servers were flying in and out of the kitchen, which had a small walkway between the dining room and the pass-through line. There was a 40-minute wait for tables. The bar was overflowing with eating customers and a lingering happy hour crowd. In short, it was a perfect night for a restaurateur — from a business point of view.

My uncle was walking around making sure that the operation was running smoothly. As he approached the hallway that bridged the kitchen and the dining room, he noticed a piece of paper on the ground. His instant reaction was, “I need to pick it up immediately before someone slips and falls on this piece of paper.”

But something made him hold back and watch.

For the next 15-20 minutes, he sat at the edge of the hallway watching servers and bussers step over the piece of paper. In total, a crew of 25 people noticed it enough to step around it while carrying large trays, but no one took two seconds to pick it up.

So, in the middle of a crowded restaurant with 45-minute waits and an overloaded bar, my uncle stopped everything.

He pulled the kitchen team, bartenders and servers out into the hallway and made them stare at that piece of paper. For the next 10 minutes, the theme of his Greek-style rant was, “I can’t believe that you don’t love each other enough or care about your jobs enough to pick up this piece of paper.”

Everyone thought he’d lost his mind. The server told me at the time, they were all looking at each other thinking, “Oh God, he’s lost it.”

At the end of the conversation, my uncle’s staff members realized any one of them could have slipped on that piece of paper causing injury to themselves or others. And on top of that, the team members were taking the risk of dropping food and ruining the guest experience.

That was 27 years ago.

That server saw me and recalled that story within minutes. She said she has always kept a safe station since and she tells this story when she’s training new servers. And though it was easy to think of my uncle as crazy, she doesn’t remember him that way at all.

Keeping our employees safe is a top priority in our restaurants and hotels. We know our industry is not successful unless our employees are successful.

My uncle lost business for 10 minutes because he wanted the place run the right way and he cared about his team. He wanted his team to learn that keeping a safe station is as important as great customer service and great food because they each impact the others.

I hope this story, and our articles on safety, inspires you to be the ultimate workplace safety rock stars in the entire state of Washington.

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