The Traveling General Manager

June 18, 2012

in Editor's Bite

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Letter from the Editor

Written by: Tom House

Welcome back to Editor’s Bite everyone! Here’s just a little update on other work I am doing besides food critic. Of course it is still restaurant related because that is what I know best.


Today I am a working “restaurant and nightclub consultant”. What makes me qualified you ask? I have been working in all aspects of the hospitality industry for more four decades, from owner to dishwasher and everything in between. Even though it says “consulting” on my business card, I have found that terminology to be somewhat offensive to club and restaurant owners these days. I now prefer to offer “Celebrity Service Seminars” and Restaurant Operation Evaluations to restaurants with a staff and management who know they are in need of help and willing to learn. This is consulting in essence, but I am fixing their problems instead of simply pointing them out.

Tom House's Business Card

The road to having a great restaurant with first class food and service is a long one, wrought with many bumps and potholes along the way.  This is not something most owners want to deal with alone, and frequently they cannot find qualified management. This is where I come in. Let’s talk about service today.

With restaurant service, there is a ton of idiosyncrasies that once discussed and mastered…the rest comes easy. Much of being a great server and restaurant owner for that matter is actually mental, and I convince my audience (service professionals) of this very fact. It is all in how a person approaches this type of work that separates the pros from the perpetual rookies. Yes it is challenging most of the time, but it is a lot like show business too, and that is a crucial factor that many restaurants seem to forget about. Going out to dinner is supposed to be a form of entertainment for customers. That’s where the phrase, “Dinner and a Movie” was born!

If all one ultimately does as a “restaurant consultant” is to pick the respective establishment apart with a negative 5-page essay, or a verbal report highlighting the same…it is no surprise that consultant work is very difficult to come by these days.

Tom was involved is all aspects of creating Ernie's Italian Chophouse finished in early 2012

Owners put their blood, sweat and tears…and many years…into their restaurant’s creation, (money too) and they have sensitive egos because of it…whether they want to admit or not. The last thing they want to do is to PAY someone to find out that they are terrible at what they do…or at least hear that there are many areas in dire need of improvement. A strange oxymoron indeed…but all too true.

On the other hand, if a “consultant” guarantees to improve sales and service at a particular club or restaurant…that consultant will get a lot of work. This is what I have been doing.  I have been successful at doing what I guarantee, and word of mouth has got me more and more work. Social media has helped get my information “out there” too. I have been successfully doing this for many years with my company A Better House, Inc.

I will bring my 2-hour Celebrity Service Seminar to servers, and all hospitality employees at a given establishment. I actually teach them many of the “tricks of the trade” that I have garnered in my 43-year career in many of South Florida’s best restaurants and clubs of all time. To date, I have delivered these seminars at countless clubs and restaurants. I like to call myself, The Traveling General Manager!

Tom traveled the USA for this glossy and is mentioned on the cover of the September 2009 issue. - Click to Enlarge -

In my career, I have filled every hospitality position from dishwasher to owner of various nightclubs and restaurants, even including owner…so today when I get in front of a group of employees to speak; they know I am one of them within a few minutes. A bond quickly forms between us, and they suddenly are interested in what this old dinosaur has to say. It often ends with a standing ovation!

Of course there is always at least one employee in every group who thinks there is nothing more to learn, and it takes a few minutes longer to win some of these stubborn people over. I love to watch for that moment however, when I have actually turned that uninterested employee into a spellbound student. The topics I discuss are completely designed to help the employee (especially servers) become more efficient at what they do. Anyone who earns tips for a living should be eager to get some new (old) pointers!

When a restaurant hires someone like me, it is not cheap. Employees should realize that just like with a wine seminar or food seminar, these exercises are designed to help the employee to be more informed, giving them the opportunity to make more money through increased awareness and knowledge. I always remind employees at my seminars of this fact, and that management and ownership cares enough about them to hire an expert like me.

I use many Zen concepts to get my points across, such as. “The less effort the faster and more powerful you will be.” Bruce Lee. Another Bruce Lee quote that actually uses a popular “restaurant slang” term is, “Never let negative thoughts enter your mind, for they are the weeds that strangle confidence.” This is perfect for ITBers!

All of that being said, almost any restaurant you walk into today could use some help in the service training department. When was the last time you dined somewhere and thought, “Everything was perfect!”? Not too often I am sure, and perhaps your answer would be NEVER! Great service, although multi-faceted, can be achieved with a “less is more” approach, as well as the typical alternative, which is an over-blown amount of attention and fussing. Each restaurant has its own vision of what it is they are trying to achieve…and if they do not have that vision or fail to achieve it… they are in trouble!

Along with artist Shawn Nicholson (, Tom created this logo for his client

With my Celebrity Service Seminars, I always make sure I leave restaurant staffs with many pointers and strategies that they never used before. Example: Have you ever heard of a “marking tray”? If not, this is a server’s plate of polished forks, knives, spoons, etc., etc., that is used to “re-mark” tables between courses. When food arrives for a customer you NEVER want them asking for a knife or fork! The great server never misses this step; after all, good service means never having to ask for anything! Instead of delivering the new silverware in your hand, this sparkling plate of polished silverware is brought tableside and the new utensils are placed carefully in front of each guest…with style and class! See! I got carried away there. My point is many of the restaurants I have trained had NEVER even heard of a marking tray before I got there! They looked at me like I was the most interesting man alive!

If you are a restaurant or nightclub owner reading this, please give me a call. I will be happy to make a very unique presentation to your staff. I guarantee to improve sales and service, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I am on a mission to improve sales and service one establishment at a time!

There are laws governing the proper handling of food and liquor, but there are no laws governing restaurant service, and the art of dealing with people. If “bad service” were illegal, I’d be a millionaire already! — Tom House.

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