My LinkedIn Post on Bad Toast & Bad Management


Previously on LinkedIn, I wrote about Kaizen in a wine bar and the need for restaurants not to blame employees for problems.

Yesterday, I published my 50th post for their Influencers program:

This Restaurant Server Sadly Explains a Widespread Management Problem…

You can also read it on Or below here in the blog post.

I hope it's thought-provoking about your own workplace.

My hypothesis is that a restaurant that was run as a Lean culture would greatly outperform the average restaurant.

Maybe I'll have to test that someday.

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One time, I had breakfast at a restaurant in Fort Worth that had been open only for a few months. It had many good reviews on Yelp. Like many restaurants, they seemed to have early problems that needed to be worked through.

My “avocado toast” (similar to what's pictured above) was really “avocado bread” in that the “toast” was soft and cold… not really toast. Actually, I'm not sure if that's an early kink in the system or if they just make a bad avocado toast. Only time and more avocado toast will tell.

I hesitated, but I tried to politely point out the problem after a few disappointing bites. My server was very kind about it, and the kitchen did better on the second attempt. It was actually toast! And it was delicious.

As I finished my meal, the server noticed that I was looking up at a menu blackboard that displayed wines and a list of desserts. Not that I wanted any of those things with breakfast, but I was curious to learn more about the place in case I decided to come back for dinner sometime.

The server said, about the blackboard:

“Keep in mind that's just a sample menu. That's not actually what we have. I've tried saying something about it… but you know how it goes…

She had no idea. It goes that way far too often in too many workplaces. And too many people sound sort of sad, as she did with her voice trailing off.

For my entire career, I've been working to change workplace cultures where employees don't have a voice… stagnant workplaces where managers don't listen. This was a huge problem back at General Motors 20 years ago and it's a problem in too many healthcare systems today. In workplaces like this, employees are unhappy, quality suffers, and the organization does poorly financially.

What happens when the restaurant's menu board is inaccurate? Customers try to order something. It's possible the customer has gotten quite excited about a particular dessert (the list looked amazing). Then, they order.

The server has to be the one to say, “I'm sorry, but the menu board isn't accurate. Would you like to order something different?”

The server has to deal with the disappointed customer. The server might be affected by the customer leaving a lower tip than they'd leave if they were fully satisfied with the experience.

People working on the front lines of our organizations, those dealing directly with customers, often know what problems lead to unhappy customers and poor reviews.

When servers speak up, it's probably easy for a manager or owner to be dismissive. “Oh, that's not really a problem” or “Deal with it” are things we hear far too often from managers. Does that happen in your workplace?

In comparison, a ” Lean” culture follows the lead of Toyota, where they say “no problems is a problem” or ” having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” Acknowledging our problems is the first step in solving them. Even if that restaurant manager admits the menu board is a problem, we'd want them to help solve the problem. They could give the server time to update the blackboard. Or, the manager could get the right person to do it. If the board wasn't really done in erasable chalk, the owner could help fix that system.

That menu board might not be the biggest problem that makes the difference between a restaurant failing or succeeding. But, a culture that discourages employees from speaking up, a culture of NOT continuously improving, is probably a better predictor of failure.

I wonder how the kitchen reacted to me sending back the avocado bread. Did they think I was wrong for not liking it as is? Do they take customer feedback to heart and improve their kitchen processes to prevent future defects like this? Or, do they make excuses or tell cooks to be more careful?

To her credit, the server didn't dismiss the problem with my bread/toast. She listened and took action to get me something I could be happy with. She apologized, didn't make excuses, and made it right.

Maybe she'd be a better manager than the people currently running the place? Will she get totally demoralized before she ever has a chance to lead? Will a place that's managed this way manage to improve or will they keep making the same mistakes over and over?

Originally published at in June 2016.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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