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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The All Star Team

Just a few years ago, I was asked to assist a high profile chef in pricing a new menu for a hotel restaurant in New York. My initial impression still remains with me and I believe there are several points to take from the experience.

When I entered the office area (in a small building across the street from the construction) the place was like a beehive. People were going in every direction and there seemed to be endless distractions for all. It was difficult to determine who made decisions and it may have been a committee.

I was asked to wait and I was assigned a seat next to a woman working the phones tirelessly. During my two hour wait, I observed her phone conversations. She was phoning top flight restaurant personnel from across the country. There was a chef skilled in Japanese cuisine, a maitre d'hotel from a world famous hotel. All the waiters were working at well regarded and highly rated dining rooms in New York and elsewhere.

The one thing which seemed lacking was focus. With weeks to go, the menu had not been finalized and the purveyors had not been selected. I was finally introduced to some top notch purchasing managers for both food and beverage. Both had just been hired and this was their first day. They apologized for the chaos. I told them I was used to it.

As the weeks passed and the restaurant opening was days away, some of the all star team had developed strong dislikes for other team members. There were three camps and each had a separate agenda. Each leader had a rapport with the consulting chef and mornings were spent complaining about the idiosyncrasies of the other groups.

To add to the frenetic pace, the same management group was starting work on a second hotel restaurant all the way downtown. Hours and days would go by with many key decision makers waiting for final approval. Often, a decision was made by one top executive only to be rejected by someone slightly higher in the chain of command.

Despite the stellar credentials of the well trained members of this all star team, the company failed and declared bankruptcy. It was surprisingly fast. As a tiny creditor, I received less than 30 cents on the dollar for my final invoice. Fortunately, I had persisted in getting paid as the contract progressed and I only suffered a tiny loss.

When people talk of some of the disappointing performances in the Olympics of the professional teams sent by USA and Canada, I always bring up my experience.

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