An intriguing idea came through my email today – I’m calling it the “Waffle House” Rule.
The notion was posited by Sam Walker, writing in the WSJ, and, in turn, had been suggested by a reader, who said that he was of the belief that if you could manage a Waffle House, you could manage anything. The elements of a good Waffle House manager – ? Speed is of the essence in order to meet the company’s goal of serving every customer in eight minutes or less. In order to accomplish every efficiency, the waitstaff doesn’t punch orders into a computer. Instead, they write them down in a code of their own and call them out to the cooks, who remember them by arranging condiments on empty platters (such as a face up mustard package means pork chops). If the restaurant is busy or short-staffed, the managers are expected to lend a hand – at whatever needs to be done, from cooking, cleaning, waiting tables. The Waffle House managers report that this helps them stay connected to the operation. “You learn a lot about what’s working and what’s not,” one said. The next management challenge is endurance. In essence, the Waffle House never closes – and there’s the Waffle House Index that we’ve discussed in previous posts – FEMA uses these stores as a way to measure the damage of storms – because the Waffle House is always the last to close – if they have, the storm must truly be a bad one. Another requirement is one of teambuilding – to encourage retention, the company offers managers bonuses for keeping turnover low. And, stores that have high sales figures are expected to have high staffing costs as well, to ensure that employees aren’t overworked. And, the manager is expected to cultivate regular customers, which requires the ability of relating to people from “all walks of life.” One manager has pointed out that he will not hire an employee that doesn’t smile readily and make easy conversation. In looking at the overall management requirements at Waffle House, one former manager has said, “It’s about being prepared for anything and not having one answer key to deal with life. . . this builds resilience and resourcefulness.” Yes, indeed. So, to recap: Those who desire to do a better job of management could learn from Waffle House that speed, resilience, all-around-ability to do anything that the job involves, endurance, team building, and the ability to deal well with all customers are all elements that could go a long way toward the making of a successful manager. Sounds right to me.