More than two decades ago, Richard Hauck and Joseph Saccone were working at a chic rooftop restaurant in an upscale hotel. The restaurant typically drew a steady following of local gourmands, so the two were no strangers to a hectic dinner rush. On one particular night, a sudden maelstrom of guests and orders sent the kitchen into an uncharted state of pandemonium.
“I remember the place got packed,” Hauck says. “The kitchen got swamped, and the dishwasher was swamped. Dishes were stacked up everywhere.”
Abandoning his post as maitre d’, Hauck rushed into the fray to help. He had witnessed lesser chaos in the restaurant industry before, and he was no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and lending a hand. When he entered the kitchen on this night though, he saw something that caught him by surprise: “I went back into the dish room, and I saw the company’s vice president, who was there with his wife and family having dinner, back there with an apron on washing dishes. He just took his sport jacket off and threw on the apron and started working like that’s the most important thing to get done.”
When you’re trying to establish a culture of excellence, Hauck and Saccone say you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Just as that vice president stepped away from his own plate to wash everyone else’s, you can’t hesitate to step in and serve as an example for your internal constituents.
That’s something the duo has tried to do since founding their own restaurant group in 1988. From the day their first Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse opened in Cleveland, the partners and owners have chipped in at every level of the company to contribute to an unflappable culture of success.
“It’s really just leading by example,” Saccone says. “It was whatever it took washing dishes, cleaning up after people in the bathroom whatever needed to be done. It really started off early, setting the standard that we were going to be above and beyond the best we could possibly be and showing it by example.”
That philosophy became even more pronounced as the partners expanded their business into 10 new markets and under two new brands. Today, Hyde Park Group’s revenue is in excess of $40 million per year, while averaging 15 percent growth during the past 10 years.
Here’s how Hauck and Saccone made sure their culture was cooked to perfection before serving it up in new markets.
Establish your culture
If you fix your gaze a mile down the road while jogging, you’re going to trip on the ground right beneath your feet. The same is true in business. You’ll never reach that goal of responsible expansion if you don’t first look to develop a strong cultural base at home.
When Hauck and Saccone opened their first Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse in 1988, they didn’t suddenly look for new markets in which to open their second restaurant. Instead, they worked to strengthen the company’s culture and mold it as a point of differentiation within the industry.
“Our entire approach from day one has been to be the local guy,” Hauck says.
Adds Saccone, “We (also) said, ‘We’re not going to be the second-best steakhouse in the city. We’re going to be the best one.’”
Once they decided to pursue a goal of providing a first-rate dining experiencing combined with a local touch, the partners began to visit other area restaurants to vet their competition. Likewise, when you begin to craft your cultural identify, shopping your competition is a great way to gain some perspective. Look at what similar businesses are doing, how they’re doing it, and then how you can distinguish yourself.
“We go to all different types of restaurants and try all different types of foods,” Hauck says. “We want to see what’s out there and to see what the trends are. We go out and look at the competition, and we say to ourselves, ‘We’re better than these guys.’”
Saccone says you may be tempted to follow your competitors in the process. What’s familiar often feels safe. Instead, use the exercise to gain perspective and then focus on what cultural tenets make you different within the industry.
“You’re supposed to know what your competition is doing in business,” he says. “But then also you need to not follow your competition; you need to lead. You need to be different; you need to set yourself apart. It’s harder, it’s a challenge, and sometimes, it’s more risky to do that.”
As you begin to foster a culture that sets you apart, the leaders say not to drift toward extremes. If you went to a steakhouse that was renowned for its 24-ounce porterhouses, for example, you would be pretty upset if they served you an eight-ounce cut instead.
“It’s not reaching too far right or too far left,” Saccone says. “To be a leader, you don’t need to go to the extreme. The most important thing is if you do go too far out, you have to have the ability to adjust back quickly. If it doesn’t work, you’ve got to say, ‘We’ve stretched a little too far here.’”
Communicate to promote accountability
The ability to adjust back quickly is made a lot easier when you have a system in place to hold managers accountable. Just because you’re waving your cultural flag for all to see doesn’t mean a member of your leadership team will be able to wave it in exactly the same way. As you implement changes to lead your industry, your managers may falter and stray from those tenets you hold most dear.
To combat such deviations, Hauck and Saccone say to turn to your front-line staff for help. You may not be able to work alongside every manager as your company grows, so use the eyes and ears of your lower-level employees. Develop a questionnaire that rates their managers’ performances based on your cultural canon.
“We let our employees survey and give feedback and rate their managers,” Hauck says. “We do that about once every three months. When the manager’s not present, HR will go in and do these questionnaires. We want to know how the employee feels about how good their managers are.”
Use a mix of closed and open-ended questions for the surveys. Have your lower-level employees rate each manager on a scale of 1 to 5 based on the tenets of which you hold them accountable. Then have employees provide brief explanations to expound on the ideas you’ve presented in the rating scale and to identify specific strengths and weaknesses.
“They’ll rate three or four managers, and after that’s done, we consolidate the responses, and then we sit down with the managers and then we’ll talk to them,” Saccone says. “Say, ‘These are your strengths and weaknesses and challenges that you have that some of your staff members are saying you need to improve on.’”
When sifting through that feedback, Saccone says to look for general trends.
“Of course, you have the highs and lows, so try to filter through and see where the majority of the concerns are or the challenges are,” he says.
Address extremes only if they represent a serious concern or lapse in judgment on behalf of the given manager.
Even then, you can’t just rely on surveys when holding your associates accountable for your company culture. Saccone and Hauck say there’s no substitution for hitting the road and visiting different locations to see them in action. Getting such ground-level perspective puts you in a much better position to steer the company culture back into alignment if it’s jumped off the tracks.
“Visitation to the units, the factories, to the restaurants firsthand and seeing it and talking to them would then allow me to filter through what information is coming across my desk,” Saccone says. “You have to make the jump not only to introduce yourself to the line people that are out there but also to find out what they’re saying.”
Put a face on your culture
Last Mother’s Day, Saccone was working at one of his restaurants during brunch and found himself in a bind. A sudden maelstrom of guests and orders sent the kitchen into pandemonium, and dishes piled up everywhere.
Just like the vice president from Hauck’s younger days, Saccone rushed into the fray to help, with similar results: His employees were stunned, but it sent a message.
“I was basically cleaning plates and stacking for the dishwasher last year,” he says. “I did it simply because they needed help for about a 45-minute period.”
If you want to establish a thriving culture, Hauck and Saccone say you have to serve as a living, breathing example for everyone to see. That doesn’t mean you should always drop what you’re doing to work in your plant, cold call clients or even wash dishes. Saccone says if he stopped to help each of his approximately 750 full- and part-time workers, he would have worn himself out a long time ago. Instead, simply be willing to interact with your management team and employees to exemplify your cultural canon.
“Whenever that possibility arises that you can put your face to the name, we believe you need to do that,” Saccone says.
“It puts a human face on the company for the staff,” Hauck adds. “People really look and respond to people.”
Put aside your pride in the process. You’re not going to convince anyone to follow your lead if you refuse to tread on the same ground.
“It all kind of starts when you check your ego at the door,” Hauck says. “Take your plaques off your walls or your degrees. It’s not all about you. The organization is what made you successful. It’s really the people below you that really make it all happen. The people are the ones in the engine room making it go.”
If you actively engage your employees and serve as a living representation of your company’s culture, you should be able to spread those tenets to other locations during expansion. Just be sensitive to any fallbacks in the process, and don’t hesitate to slow growth to shore up any gaps that develop along the way.
“Stay focused on what your first objective always was when you first started,” Saccone says. “You know when you’re growing too fast. Everybody feels it. You feel it yourself. Maintain your principles.”
Hauck adds, “If you feel any kind of slippage at all where people are not getting it and the company’s culture is not getting through, that mission statement is not fully executed, be prepared to take a step back. You’re better off having X amount of units that do very well and get the result that you want than double X and the whole thing is going to hell in a handbasket. Just be very sensitive to growth. When you feel the stumbles and rumbles, be ready to pull back a little bit. Not everything is about being the biggest. It’s about being the best.”
HOW TO REACH: Hyde Park Group, (216) 514-1777 or www.hydeparkrestaurants.com