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Your Spouse &
The Front Of The House
gourmet articlesarchiveyour spouse & the front of the house

Where have all the Mom & Pop businesses gone? I grew up in one. Well, sort of. My father was in the restaurant business with his cousin and their wives took turns at the cash register. It just depended on who would be closing on any particular night as to which wife you would find answering the phone and making change. When it was my mother's turn, the change that she would handle got a thorough examination as to its relative value (numismatically speaking) and she wound up collecting buckets of silver quarters at the time when our treasury decided to go to the more practical alloy of today. My cousin's wife didn't involve herself in such matters. We were lucky if the change got separated before it went into the drawer. And let's not even talk about her inability to face the paper money (a habit that drove the other owner's wife, my mother, insane). But this was an old-fashioned business, a simple deli, where we knew almost all of the customers by first name and the tasks performed by the spouse at the front of the house were the most basic and mundane.

Whenever my folks would take a break to have a meal, they wouldn't expect to be waited on by the staff. They were the owners. They knew where everything was and they considered themselves equal co-workers of their employees. They wouldn't dream of finishing their meal and then leaving the plates for the staff to clear. But I've worked for husband-wife teams who do that very thing. Unfortunately this creates some very negative feelings from the staff towards their employer/co-worker. It's a small thing, but it can loom large if the waiters feel dissed. Of course, should you take a night off and want to entertain in your restaurant, that's another matter. You become the guest and are entitled to all the attention of every other guest. But when you and your spouse are in the restaurant as part of the team, then it's important to contribute your energy to the communal effort of making the patrons feel welcome and appreciated.

Today when partners in the restaurant are also partners in life, they are taking a greater risk on both fronts. Restaurants have the highest failure rate of all small businesses and divorces are easier to get than ever. So should you decide that you would like to have your spouse in the front while you toil away in the back then be sure they aren't undermining your ideals. I have seen spouses treat the staff as if they were the personal servants of the owners with an unreasonable demand such as baby-sitting for the couple's children when other arrangements might have kept them out of the restaurant. And woe to the server who might indicate that this wasn't what they were hired to do and then say, "No." Or the spouse who thinks they have just the perfect sense of what music should be endured by patrons and staff to create the ambiance. (Never mind that your spouse has a fondness for Polkas and the restaurant is serving Asian-French fusion cuisine.) How about the spouse who includes themselves in the daily operations for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on the other or they feel lonely at home by themselves? You need to realize that there is a difference between family and business. If you can incorporate your family into the business in a positive way that adds to the energy of the room, then "Bravo." But if having your spouse around is just a way for you to spend more time together, then you need to address exactly how they can be a positive influence on your team.

You should know that if your waiters are unhappy about your spouses' involvement they won't say anything to you directly for fear of their jobs. After all, your significant other is the one who is up front. If he/she says that this server isn't cutting the mustard then who are you going to listen to? I think we both know the answer to that question.

Amy Sunshine's first job in a restaurant was washing the glasses in her father's Kosher deli. Currently she is a waiter at The Dining Room of the Ritz-Carlton. Please direct any questions or comments to [email protected]

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