Tonight’s “Restaurant Stakeout,” the investigative program on Food Network hosted by Willie Degel, owner of several successful steakhouses in New York City. He plants hidden cameras in failing restaurants and discovers the reason or reasons why they experience low sales, unhealthy happenings in the kitchen and poor service. His claim to fame is that he does the same thing in his own restaurants, which are well run and thriving.
In this episode titled “Giving Away the House,” Willie Degel heard from Audrey Kneuer, general manager “Gus’s Franklin Park Restaurant.” This restaurant was in her family when her grandfather, Gus opened it many years ago and the family lost ownership until about nine years ago when her brother Ernie bought it back. Now in the third generation, the restaurant is losing money and on the way to closing. Audrey knows what the restaurant means to her brother and called Willie to help save it, without her brother’s knowledge.
Willie employed his four-part strategy: identify key staff, observe their behavior, test the systems, and then confront the staff. Audrey was impressed with the camera setup. Karen is a hostess who has been there three years, a trusted and great employee. Stephen is the bartender who was answering the phone because there is no phone in the hostess station. Tommy Lee has been their bartender there for 18 years and from the old school. Willie noticed Tommy Lee scooping ice directly from the ice machine, a bad thing because he could get cut by broken glass.
When customers sent their food back, a waitress told Ernie about it and he told her to take it off the bill then came to the customer to apologize and said he would take care of it. Audrey told Willie that he gave away free drinks and dinners. Their grandfather was an entertainer who knew how to run a restaurant and make money. Ernie is trying to give away the house.
Customers were sent in by Willie to celebrate a big promotion. Ernie brought them a whole bottle of wine on the house. Watching Tommy Lee pour beer from the tap, there was more waste than in the glass, repeatedly, he wasted beer. Willie sent in two women to see how newcomers would be treated by the old school bartender. He was kind, but rough around the edges and did not treat the women well and alienated the new customers.
When a woman came in to book a party for eighty people, the bartender did not know anything about the menu and had to leave her alone while he answered the phone. A waitress, Joanne who has been there for years was clueless about the menu when asked specifics. Willie knows that they must be trained. The hostess went above and beyond to promote the menu when a customer wanted to try an oyster.
When a group of six ordered expensive items on the menu because it was a woman’s birthday, Ernie told them the entire dinner was on him as both Audrey and Willie were in shock.
Audrey gathered the staff for an emergency meeting, then Willie took over. Willie talked about what he, and Audrey saw. Willie gave Ernie the scoop and told him that if he thinks he has to give everything away; he should not be in business. The staff and customers need training, and the owner must be clued into the bottom line.
The next day, Willie came in to meet with individuals. Willie showed Tommy Lee how to pour a good tap beer. In the office, Audrey and Ernie showed Willie their records, and Willie showed them that their giveaways should be only five percent.
Six weeks later, Willie returned to find the restaurant packed with paying customers, and the service was superb, thanks to Willie and his staff, this “Restaurant Stakeout” was a huge success and will remain in business and be a lasting tribute to their grandfather.