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The Shift with a Skeleton Crew and 80 Unexpected Tourists

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It was a typical quiet Tuesday lunch shift—one of those shifts you could work with your eyes closed, passing the time with side work like rolling up silverware and refilling condiments. We weren’t even worried about running on a skeleton crew because, ironically, our store was always dead on Tuesdays.

That is, until this one Tuesday in particular. The quiet was shattered by the rumbling of a massive tour bus pulling into the parking lot. Eighty very hungry tourists stepped out of the bus and into our dining room without any advanced notice. 

Let me take you through the shift from my perspective.  

As our crew exchanged panicked glances, we desperately tried to corral tables together to accommodate each group. We barely had enough staff to handle a regular lunch crowd, let alone 80 unexpected diners.

I gathered my two servers and one bartender for a quick huddle to discuss our strategy for handling the guests. Luckily for me, the crew that was working were veterans in that location, and they had been in somewhat similar situations like this in the past. The bartender (who had been part of the restaurant's opening crew 10+ years prior) calmly said to me, “We’ve got this, don’t worry about us. The kitchen is going to need you more than we will.”  

With that, I hopped back into the kitchen, grabbed an apron, and informed my two line cooks about the situation unfolding out front.  I asked them where they wanted me on the line, and my grill cook (a veteran from this location’s opening crew) just deadpanned to me and said “Wherever you’ll be in our way the least.”  So down to the fry station, I went!

Despite the initial chaos, a rhythm soon emerged. 

When the first group was given their bill, it seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel. But that “light” was quickly dimmed when our POS system decided to crash. Having been dubbed as “the computer person” throughout my restaurant tenure (if you know, you know), all eyes were on me to figure out a way to fix it. Little did I know at the time, this was only the start of my deep involvement in all things POS—but more on that later. 

Without the POS, we were running blind without data to make decisions on staffing, ordering, etc. I did my best to troubleshoot, but more tables began requesting their bills, and time was running out because they had to get back on the tour bus. 

The only thing keeping us going through this chaotic shift was the hope of a good tip, and now that was in jeopardy. After trying seemingly everything, eventually the system came back up, thanks to my *expertise*—unplugging it, and plugging it back in again. (Yes, it really was that simple).

Though that whirlwind of a shift eventually came to an end, to this day, I still think about that shift, and many others, and all the lessons learned from those experiences that I still use in my role today. Here are a few that continue to ring true for me: 

  • You have to be disciplined enough to follow recipes and put out consistently great product, yet be able to thrive in a chaotic environment and problem-solve on the fly.
  • You have to demand and deliver excellent customer service from your staff, yet be humbled and take your lumps when you fall short (and you better have thick skin, because you’re going to fall short A LOT, maybe not you personally, but if it’s your name on that front door, you’re responsible for what goes on within those four walls).
  • You have to be an expert communicator who knows how to get your people to respond. You must not be afraid to call someone out when it’s warranted, yet you must also be able to shrug it off and work as a team going forward. 

If you’ve found yourself nodding your head in agreement, then you get it. You’re also probably having some flashbacks to a particularly rough shift that you’ll never forget. Or maybe thinking about that one manager that you always looked forward to working with because their shifts just always seemed to go right, and got the best out of everyone. 

It also definitely makes for a unique work environment because, well, let’s face it…restaurant people are our own unique breed. The industry isn’t for everyone, and it takes a pretty broad range of skills and personality traits to be successful.

So where does this leave me now?

I’ve been fortunate to work in many different facets of the industry from casual dining to retail food, and now hospitality technology. From my first restaurant job at the age of 14, to my current role some 30 years later, every job I’ve held in my life has been either directly in, or supporting, the hospitality industry. To say the industry is in my blood would be an understatement. I’ve worked at every level of management in the restaurant world from Service Manager to Bar Manager to Kitchen Manager all the way up to General Manager for some big brands in casual dining, including Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Texas Roadhouse. 

As I alluded to earlier, being the computer/POS guy allowed me to transition out of day-to-day operations into the tech side of the industry. I started off working for a POS software company, and ended up leading the customer-facing POS integration team at Crunchtime for almost a decade now, working closely with the development team to implement this functionality for my customers. In my opinion, the human element will never be removed from restaurants, and at Crunchtime we are dedicated to making the technology piece complement the human piece as much as possible. This position is the perfect blend of skills for me. I’m able to use my technical knowledge to solve customer problems, while tapping into my experience in the industry that I know and love to help make our integrations as user-friendly and useful as possible. 

It turns out that when you staff a tech company with folks who intimately know the industry they’re supporting, it makes for a great customer experience. The wealth of knowledge that we’ve collectively accumulated throughout the restaurant industry is what sets Crunchtime apart. There’s a level of comfort and connection that customers exude when they realize the person they’re talking to really gets it. That person knows what it’s like to be at the store at 5 a.m. to count inventory and be judged on those numbers, or perhaps has even had to figure out how to handle a tour bus of 80 folks who showed without advance notice when you’re running a skeleton crew on a Tuesday lunch.

About the Author—Scott Morra is a Lead Technical Consultant at Crunchtime with a passion and unique skill set to help support and actively improve the tech experience for the restaurant industry. Scott has over 30 years of experience spread across casual dining, retail food, and hospitality technology.

The Shift is an industry-focused blog series from contributors who share their inside perspectives on life working in foodservice and restaurants. Click here if you're interested in sharing your story on The Shift.