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  1. #1

    Default Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Was just talking about this with a friend after a pretty bad experience on Friday night. I'm not going to name names because this seems to be almost a universal problem.

    A few years ago I lamented that there were simply too many new restaurants and bars coming on-line for the OKC labor market to absorb. Unemployment remains very low and it's not like we have hundreds and thousands of people sitting around waiting for the new places to open. I've heard from many operators that finding and keeping good people is by far their biggest challenge.

    It seems we've crossed from worry into full-on critical mass. I almost always sit at the bar when I go anywhere not only for social reasons but because I am almost guaranteed decent service, as the bartenders are right in front of you the whole time.

    The more recent times I've sat at a table I'd say it's about a 50/50 proposition between decent and quite poor table service. Generally people with little to no experience and who would probably not ever be hired into these positions other than warm bodies are desperately needed.

    I am a very laid back person and very forgiving but bad service is just uncomfortable and can easily ruin a good time.

    Without going down the 'chain' road I can say I've had great experiences at Good Egg and Hal Smith concepts. I suppose it helps greatly to have a large organization where there is a career path for the motivated.

    It's a problem that seems to be getting worse and I'm wondering if others have noticed the same.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Excuse the poem, but...yes and no, depending where you go. And I WILL name names.

    I believe I've mentioned it before, but the Yukon Jimmy's Egg is just flat out awful. It's not based on server mentality, it's from the top down, to the point where last time I was there they initially refused to honor a promotion sent to the Jimmy's Egg email list, because the location didn't specifically list 'Yukon'. When pressed, they said they didn't have to honor it, but they would this one time only because they recognized us as having been frequent customers in the past. If you're a member of their email club, you know it lists many locations, some out of state. I contacted them for clarification, because to me it was really obvious they intended the coupon to be honored at any location in the OKC metro area, not just within the confines of OKC itself. They confirmed this, and I suggested they add the word "metro" to the list because some locations were trying to dodge honoring the deal, which they have done. tl;dr: The Yukon Jimmy's Egg does not give a crap.

    But the other day I went to the Los Vaqueros in Mustang, and everyone there seemed happy to be there. The drinks never went below half-full, the food was brought in a timely manner, and the orders were accurate.

    But overall, I think I would agree that there's a decline, and I stop going to places where it's really bad. I'm not talking about brought me the wrong drink, that's minor, I'm thinking specifically of a burger place I went that tried to charge for an appetizer of bacon because I ordered a bacon burger. The server actually argued with me, and I made her go get a menu so I could show her that believe it or not, bacon was indeed listed as an ingredient in the bacon burger. I then asked if the appetizer had only two pieces of bacon, she said no. She eventually removed the overcharge but still gave an overall attitude that I was the one trying to rip her off, not the other way around. Haven't been back there, but have had similar experiences elsewhere.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    We are loyal to a handful of restaurants that offer consistent food & service. Don't want to blow $100-150 on a clueless server, table next to the bathrooms, bad acoustics, cold food, empty glasses, etc.

    Pete, the industry will sort itself out. Guernsey Park, West and Kaiser's are three recent examples of a closure, sale by an unsuccessful operator, and an inevitable closure.

  4. Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    If it doesn't fit into a routine interaction that they've had a million times, people will freak out over having to use their brains for anything.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by CloudDeckMedia View Post
    Pete, the industry will sort itself out. Guernsey Park, West and Kaiser's are three recent examples of a closure, sale by an unsuccessful operator, and an inevitable closure.
    All those places will reopen as new restaurants and there are at least 30 very large operations that will be opening this year: Uncle Julio's, Firebirds, Birra Birra, 2 Hopddodies, Burn, Hatch CC, Industry Gastropub, BWW... I could go on and on.

    And of course in 2017 we had a ton of new places.

    Where are the service people going to come from?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Big national chains have slipped, but the local chains and local spots I hit up are as good as ever. Never had any problems at the mule, press (or anything else in the plaza), Mary Eddy’s, Yuzo, Jones, any steakhouse, drake, republic, upper crust, etc. You can tell the market is stretched but I don’t think it’s anywhere near “crisis” levels.

    Even if it is at “crisis” levels that’s ultimately a good thing. Restaurants will increases prices to pay staff more, staff gets paid more and does a better job, rising wages attract more people into the service industry, on the flip side as prices rise the pace will slow down and we’ll come to a natural equilibrium.

    To make a long post short, trust the free market it’s really really good at solving these things.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    All those places will reopen as new restaurants and there are at least 30 very large operations that will be opening this year: Uncle Julio's, Firebirds, Birra Birra, 2 Hopddodies, Burn, Hatch CC, Industry Gastropub, BWW... I could go on and on.

    And of course in 2017 we had a ton of new places.

    Where are the service people going to come from?
    Out of state, rural.

    I talked to a waiter from Austin the other day who moved here because the money is 90% of Austin but the cost of living is half.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    ^

    I don't disagree but IMO things are getting worse and will continue to before we see any turnaround.

    Also, operators seem to be having an increasingly difficult time in this area. It comes up almost every time I talk to one of them.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    ^

    I don't disagree but IMO things are getting worse and will continue to before we see any turnaround.

    Also, operators seem to be having an increasingly difficult time in this area. It comes up almost every time I talk to one of them.
    Generally speaking the best operators will raise menu prices to pay and attract the best staff.

    The reason local will run circles around national is a local operator has the flexibility and speed to do it, big chains have a mountain to climb plus shareholders to answer too.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    That is true and what is happening more often is that the best people are getting a share of the profits.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    To be honest, I think it's a lack of good managers/operators. Service remains very good at the places that are well-run, Good Egg and Hal Smith restaurants being good examples. Both of those groups, though, offered great service before they were huge operations and really offered a "career path."

    Management at some places really cares, and at other places they don't. Makes a huge difference.

  12. Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    ^^^^^^^^
    This is true but also due to training as much as ongoing oversight. Hal Smith has a very rigorous training program. Not sure about Jimmy's Egg. I've talked about this quite a bit with the general manager of Mickey Mantle's, who is a friend. That is a place where the service has not slipped in 18 years, despite several GM changes and most of their management staff over the years getting their own stores or otherwise moving on. Yet they never miss a beat, and it is in large part because they invest so heavily up front in training. A server there won't interact directly with a customer until a couple of weeks of training, and an experienced bartender from somewhere else always starts on the floor and has to work their way back behind the bar.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by gopokes88 View Post
    Even if it is at “crisis” levels that’s ultimately a good thing. Restaurants will increases prices to pay staff more, staff gets paid more and does a better job, rising wages attract more people into the service industry, on the flip side as prices rise the pace will slow down and we’ll come to a natural equilibrium.

    To make a long post short, trust the free market it’s really really good at solving these things.
    Really? Does this actually happen? Granted it's been a bit, but I've not known a single restaurant in OKC to pay servers above minimum hourly wage.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by Urbanized View Post
    ^^^^^^^^
    This is true but also due to training as much as ongoing oversight.
    Right, absolutely, and part of that training process being weeding out poor employees. But developing that kind of program takes a major investment from management.

  15. Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by CloudDeckMedia View Post
    We are loyal to a handful of restaurants that offer consistent food & service. Don't want to blow $100-150 on a clueless server, table next to the bathrooms, bad acoustics, cold food, empty glasses, etc.

    Pete, the industry will sort itself out. Guernsey Park, West and Kaiser's are three recent examples of a closure, sale by an unsuccessful operator, and an inevitable closure.
    Guernsey Park is re-opening with the same owners, kitchen and wait staff, just a new concept, Kaiser's is beset by owner and operator problems, not really a service problem, and I think West was something the owners just couldn't get a handle on, again not really a service problem.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by stjohn View Post
    Really? Does this actually happen? Granted it's been a bit, but I've not known a single restaurant in OKC to pay servers above minimum hourly wage.
    It will if this is a true "crisis". Labor shortages drive wages up, it's econ 101.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    I work in the grocery industry and see many of the same problems. I think it might be a sign of a more systematic issue. We can't afford to pay everyone crazy money, we typically hire high school kids 16 and up. We start them at $7.50 and can have them up to $9.00 or so within a year if they're hard workers. That's damn good money for a high school kid working 20ish hours a week. IMO of course. The problem is, most kids think they're worth $11-15 an hour to sack groceries or mop bathrooms. I've hired probably 300 kids in the last few years, we employ between 80-110 people depending on the time of year. I can name one two hands the number of kids that stood out to me in that whole pack. Most just don't care, and almost act like they deserve a check whether they work or not. But boy when you find a good one you can usually tell within the first week and they're always the ones that end up running a department or being a lead in an area. The work ethic of a lot of teens sure seems to be on a very gentle downhill slide. I dunno, maybe that's just the way I see it but I feel that's the consensus at a lot of places including restaurants.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    3.2% is really really really low unemployment rate. 4% is considered full employment.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    It's not just here. Any developed nation eventually hits a point of "apathetic excess" where nobody has ever really "had it bad". Why try hard at anything when your fall back is still a warm bed, a car, and a smart phone that can give you everything in the world that can be digitized?

    Couple that with special snowflake parenting and you have exactly what John1744 describes. There's no passion, no desire, no drive. The line between 'okay success' and 'massive failure' isn't really a big deal and the worst possible case is living with your parents for another few years until you find something else.

    Social media has literally everyone thinking that they can be a stay-at-home, overpaid Instagram model some day, so everyone's sights are set way too high and in most cases outside of geographical possibility. So when reality comes crashing down and your best bet to living a semi successful life is to wait tables at a trendy restaurant, you're going to be bummed out.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    It’s amazing that some places have good service with those lazy, privileged kids while others just blame the “generation” . Just maybe some operators don’t do a very good job of real training and real managing. Then, they staff lean to keep overhead down and stress the employees out.

    There are several fast food places I go to from time to time whose employees are great and others have chronic service problems. Same brand, same wages, same city. Might it be more about the managers and owners than the “kids”?

  21. #21

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    This is a great thread and let me give my .02...

    Up here in the Twin Cities unemployment is like 2.4% or something, crazy low. Every low end job place you can think of (fast food, c-store clerk, etc) has damn near permanent signs up for "Help Wanted, $13/hr plus" out front.

    This problem, however, is not unique to service. I work in the heavy civil construction field, and in about 99% of the offices I visit, finding AND keeping good help is nearing critical stages. Unions are big up here and the halls have no one there for jobs (and the ones there are there for a reason...they suck). Men who have owned and operated family businesses for 30+ years are closing up shop, not because they're losing money or anything, but because they can't fill crews with capable operators, nor do any of their kids want to work to learn the business and take it over.

    Filling construction jobs is going to continue to be a big problem. It can be a lucrative industry to be in, but you've gotta work. Industry organizations are working to get in front of HS kids to show them what's out there in construction. In a union state like MN (and even in non-union states), you could go work construction out of HS, live at home for a few year, bankroll thousands and then if you really enjoyed it, go get an associates in something related, or even go 4 year for construction science and then move into the office for estimating/project management.

  22. Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    I think that part of the problem is the Federal minimum wage for servers hasn't gone up, or at least since I have been in the restaurant business and I started in ~'88?? Granted servers in the US do make tips but unless those menu items and average bill has gone up as well, servers are basically making the same amount that they were 30+ years ago. Unless you are working at high end restaurants or you are turning tables 3+ times a night every night it is hard making ends meet.

    I have been on holiday in Spain a couple times and there tips are not necessary and if you do it is only a dollar or two, and service there was as good there as it is here. For people to think that you have to tip a server for them to do their job is just an excuse. How about making a decent wage, loving what you do, and wanting to keep your job to do a good job? I don't expect to get tipped at my current job to perform the way I do. I didn't expect to put out good food for tips when I did work in restaurants, I did it because I love cooking and wanted to keep my job.

    There is also this: American tipping is rooted in slavery—and it still hurts workers today

  23. #23

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by tfvc.org View Post
    I think that part of the problem is the Federal minimum wage for servers hasn't gone up, or at least since I have been in the restaurant business and I started in ~'88?? Granted servers in the US do make tips but unless those menu items and average bill has gone up as well, servers are basically making the same amount that they were 30+ years ago. Unless you are working at high end restaurants or you are turning tables 3+ times a night every night it is hard making ends meet.

    I have been on holiday in Spain a couple times and there tips are not necessary and if you do it is only a dollar or two, and service there was as good there as it is here. For people to think that you have to tip a server for them to do their job is just an excuse. How about making a decent wage, loving what you do, and wanting to keep your job to do a good job? I don't expect to get tipped at my current job to perform the way I do. I didn't expect to put out good food for tips when I did work in restaurants, I did it because I love cooking and wanted to keep my job.

    There is also this: American tipping is rooted in slavery—and it still hurts workers today
    Curious, were menu prices more inflated there? One of the arguments of restaurant operators here is that the labor cost would increase menu prices by 30-50%. I don't think tips should go away, but I shouldn't be directly paying the salary of someone's worker. If you require your employee to wear your uniform, represent your brand, and sell/upsell your items - you should be paying their wage. If they go above and beyond, by all means leave a few extra bucks.

  24. #24

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by catch22 View Post
    Curious, were menu prices more inflated there? One of the arguments of restaurant operators here is that the labor cost would increase menu prices by 30-50%. I don't think tips should go away, but I shouldn't be directly paying the salary of someone's worker. If you require your employee to wear your uniform, represent your brand, and sell/upsell your items - you should be paying their wage. If they go above and beyond, by all means leave a few extra bucks.
    Menu prices were higher and service is crazy slow because they don’t have many waiters. Average waiter in Malaga probably waited 20 tables. It’s pretty common place to order a beer and a cocktail. You drink the beer while you wait 15-20 minutes for a cocktail.

    On the flip side, Europeans find american waiters highly annoying.

  25. #25

    Default Re: Is service nearing a crisis level in OKC?

    Quote Originally Posted by stjohn View Post
    Really? Does this actually happen? Granted it's been a bit, but I've not known a single restaurant in OKC to pay servers above minimum hourly wage.
    Bigger tabs = bigger tips. People might think raising the menu price of menus an average of $1 wouldn't make a huge difference, but if the average guest orders 3 items and you run through 25 guests per night, that's $75/night of sales which should equate to $10-$15 extra cash a night. That probably increases a server's yearly wage by around $2,500. Not a lot of money per se, but for someone making under $50,000, it's not insignificant.

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