Internal Memo to Restaurant Staff in Response to Negative Yelp Reviews; “You are the LOSERS!!!”

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Rules of Engagement

Posted: 12/8/2010

According to Donna Goodison in today’s Boston Herald, Kevin Fitzgerald, the owner of Jacob Wirth, a Boston institution, posted a memo to his servers that included the following comment and ultimatum:

“You are the LOSERS!!!” … “Change or be changed. Please, don’t force your termination for the holidays.”

The Herald piece goes on to say; The memo, posted Saturday in a private work area, included eight pages of mostly negative customer comments about Jacob Wirth from Yelp, an online review site. It was e-mailed to the Herald by Southie resident, Megan O’Connor, a Jacob Wirth server who quit in response to what she called the “unprofessional and appalling” memo.

A few observations after reading the article and the ‘entertaining’ comments on the Herald’s site:

  • Posting a memo stating, “You are the LOSERS!!!!” is wrong on so many levels. If the service was poor, that’s not how you fix the problem. The memo is also not going to help recruiting new employees. (Kevin Fitzgerald-If the comment was taken out of proper context, I invite you to post the full memo and/or your comments below.)
  • Stating that, “…it is very important that every customer have a satisfactory experience.” is not setting the bar very high. (Kevin Fitzgerald’s quote in the Herald.)
  • Fostering a culture with great service and hospitality takes lots of training, role-playing, hard work, and great leadership by example.

It would be interesting to hear from Kevin Fitzgerald, his daughter, Megan O’Connor, Jacob Wirth employees, and customers who have been to the restaurant within the last 6 months to get the full story. Please pass this link along to invite comments from all interested parties. Thank you.

As always, please keep your comments respectful, on-topic and civil or they will be edited.


24 Responses to “Internal Memo to Restaurant Staff in Response to Negative Yelp Reviews; “You are the LOSERS!!!””

  1. Lou says:

    As a motivational technique/tool, I have never found threats to work. A little “team work rah-rah speech” and the carrot at the end of the stick (bonus, promotion, or something) work alot better. As a rule, positive works better than negative. No wonder some staff left…and how would he face the holiday season without a knowledgeable staff? Perhaps, he’s cuttng off his nose to spite his face.

  2. Big Paulie says:

    I’m familiar with the area of Boston where Jacob Wirth is located. I’ve eaten in Chinatown but not at Jacob Wirth. The college students who frequent my favorite Chinatown place, The Peach Farm, tend to behave poorly, are very needy, and leave 5%-10% gratuities if any at all. Now, Jacob Wirth is an entirely different dining experience.

    It’s up to Mr. Fitzgerald and his managers to demonstrate to their servers that the servers must take the ball and run with it regarding the write-ups in Yelp.com. In metropolitan areas I find that Yelp reviews can be skewed because needy customers use it to exact revenge upon restaurants that don’t bend over backward to satisfy their every whim. Service with a smile that’s efficient is disarming to people who come to a restaurant loaded for bear and looking for a reason to be unhappy (often so they can extort management for “comps” up to and including entire meals).

    The way to deal with the throngs of college students is to apply an auto-gratuity system. Period. Mr. Fitzgerald will find that, with time, servers whose managers advocate for them will do a far better job than servers whose managers care not a whit about their earnings. In our area (Hartford, CT) there are a number of restaurants where the service is absolutely outstanding — and by far they’re places where management will actually intervene on behalf of a server who’s gotten stiffed and invite those guests never to return. More times than not, they’re Groupon holders or gift-certificate recipients that the place will never see again, at least not dining at “rack rate.”

    It seems tht Mr. Fitzgerald let the place slide into a culture of poor service that’s going to be extremely hard to turn around. I wonder how often Mr. Fitzgerald and his daughter are on the dining room floor, checking with customers and observing the goings-on. I’d hazard a guess not very often, if only half of the service complaints are valid.

    It’s the responsibility of Mr. Fitzgerald and his management team to ensure good service. If he’s surrounded by lazy, careless workers, by all means he should dismiss them and get others. Sure, the training’s going to be labor-intensive for management but they can instill in their new workers a service ethic that, sadly, the existing servers can’t seem to figure out for themselves.

    It’s wrong to call them “losers” or use any other strong language. I’m not saying that he should get all touchy-feely and round them up and say “gee, I think something’s wrong here…” but he seems to be willing to use abusive tactics instead of just laying the truth on the line and saying “improve or get fired.” I can’t repeat frequently enough that a long-standing culture of slow service is an extremely difficult thing for a restaurateur to turn around, particularly in an historic place like Jacob Wirth. For every six months of “business as usual,” a place is going to have to withstand a year of growing pains to get the train back on the track (just my unscientific experience; 32 years in the business).

    Right now, it’s an employer’s market (even in the restaurant business). It astounds me when I discover a poor employee in any business these days who’s still employed. Many good employees are unemployed or under-employed. I assure Mr. Fitzgerald that by offering a job where management’s just a bit supportive, he could find plenty of professionals to staff his restaurant.

    Ms. O’Connor has a pretty thin skin for a restaurant worker. If she’s guilty as charged (by the “losers” memo) perhaps she should either start to carry her weight or move on. If she’s not part of the problem then she shouldn’t take it personally. That simple. In most restaurants there’s a lot of heated discussion that takes place daily. If Ms. O’Connor can’t take the heat, perhaps she should get out of the kitchen.

    This post opens up a whole can of worms that you’ve been doing very nice work on so far, but need to address more often. In the old days, slothful, less-than-cheerful employees could slide a place into its grave and nothing could be done about it ’cause when this kind of culture is finally realized it’s too late. Now, with Yelp and TripAdvisor on-line, owners can get a picture of what the public (a very specialized, tech-savvy, often entitled cross-section of the public) thinks about their places and can be immediately proactive to address customer concerns. If you can please the toughies on Yelp, I’d hazard a guess you can *delight* the rest of the dining public.

    I recall sitting in a bar near me, listening to two servers talk to the bartender. “Oh, I worked back-to-back doubles Tuesday and Wednesday and I think I’m gonna die!” I wanted to vomit. How busy could Tuesday and Wednesday be? Don’t these people want to make any money? Both of these servers were models of inefficiency, inable to multi-task. Sure, there are plenty of restaurant workers who’re professionals. It’s the lazy ones who’re as narcissistic as the entitled customers who give workers who work for tips a bad name.

  3. coffeesnob says:

    I have, in the past, posted poor yelp reviews and my thoughtful responses to them in the employees only area. Mostly to show by example how to respond properly to unhappy customers.

    However, I have learned that Yelp is full of so much misinformation and cowardly statements that I no longer visit the yelp website.
    The kicker for me was the guest who complained that there was “too much ground beef” in our chili. Our chili is VEGAN – that pretty much sums up for me how valid yelp reviews really are. Sometimes the internet populace is simply the lowest common denominator.

  4. Jolie says:

    Berating the employees is not only counterproductive but out right stupid. Owners like this tend to lose their restaurants after such an outburst 1. Because the staff lose respect for their boss and quit to find someone who knows how to maintain a professional atmosphere. 2. The community responds to such an outburst and the declining service standards due to all the new hires needed to replace the professional staff. 3. Vendors respond to their lack of general respect for anyone. among other things of course. This man needs to be reminded of whatever motivated him to own a restaurant in the first place. Stabbing the backs of the staff who make your sales and profits will only end your career, not theirs.

  5. Jan says:

    Good luck, Mr. Fitzgerald, you have publically stooped to a level beyond reconciliation. Now who’s the LOSER. Have fun getting any respect from your staff now! OH – and Happy Holidays.

  6. Jon (mr gin) says:

    As simple as – Poor Management

  7. theaterdistworker says:

    Something odd has been going on at Jake Wirths lately. I work nearby and have gone there often. Since this Spring, at least one person in my party has received an incorrect meal every single time. Not as in potato salad instead of fries or white instead of wheat. Just the wrong thing altogether. It’s not one particular server or during extra busy shifts, it’s always. Something must be up. Hope that the managers get it together and stop treating their employees like garbage. I’m sure the abuse and hostility does NOT help.

    BTW, because it takes a village to get food from kitchen to customer, I have a “tip at least 20% no matter what” policy; the servers aren’t getting burned for the mix-ups.

  8. steve t says:

    Unfortunately we live in an “it’s all about me” society that bad actors have found that all they have to do is to make a lot of noise (either in person or online) and they will get some action.

    Superior restaurant management (which unfortunately seems to be a dying breed) will spend a great deal of time on the floor, listening to customers as well as servers. They will know both their customers and their servers and will be able to make wise decisions instead of taking shotgun approaches.

    Poor management will instantly side with the noise makers regardless of the merit of complaints.

    The bottom line is that it takes both good servers and good customers to make the experience worthwhile.

  9. Scott says:

    Regarding management, in any business, I have found that “the fish rots from the head down” to be a valid statement. If you have underachieving employees, it’s up to you to solve the problem. I was bothered, though, by Big Pauly’s comment about gift certificate users. When I have a gift certificate, my tip is bigger because I am not paying for all or at least a portion of the meal. I thought that everybody would do the same. Is that a big problem out there?

  10. MEH says:

    Honestly there are so many restaurants in and around the city that one bad service experience could keep me from ever going back (unless the food is outstanding of course).

    Going out to dinner is becoming increasingly difficuly in this economy. If people are spending their hard earned money to go out to dinner, they should receive great customer service (and tip appropriately for it). People who have jobs should be giving it 100% everyday.

    I hate to say it but as far as our jobs go we are all replaceable, so don’t take it for granted.

  11. Johnny says:

    Too many owners and Managers Focus on YELP reviews.
    Yelp gives everyone the chance to play food critic, but ask yourself before you Yelp how truthful your post is.
    OWNERS: to put that much stock into Yelp reviews is not a way to run an operation. Anyone can make a fake profile and log onto YELP. Most people on YELP have no clue what they are talking about anyway. Yelp should be a tool to train your staff but never take something out on them over a Yelp.

    To call your staff names in a memo posted in your place? Well is to say the least the most unprofessional, childish, uncalled for, thing I have seen. I like J W, love the Beer, love the food have never had bad service in many years of sitting at the bar.

    As for your Friend, I wonder who he is, what is he doing that he is at a bar taking gossip from one bar across town. Now you have a negative media spin on your place and if you spent the time on the floor training and working with your staff not calling them names in a memo you might be better off. Maybe your friend needs to just shut up, as for the bartender who was talking, when working in one establishment you never bash any other establishment by name in front of any guests ever. Maybe someone from this well known seafood joint should talk to his staff about such matters.

    For the record I do work in a bar, and have been in bar management for many years. I started as a server and I know how much day to day BS they get just for showing up. Even my less than perfect staff is above me ever calling them a name. After all I hired them, I trained them, I set the bar, so I am no better than they are. It all starts at the top and runs down ………

  12. Me, The JerBear says:

    I read the Herald article and all the comments posted to it. Most of the comments seem to belittle and berate Ms. O’Connor for being a bad person, a bad server, a bad employee and an all around wuss for not doing her job well enough to satisfy her rookie manager boss, who is of course completely in the right for being a take charge kind of guy. One comment (written in the obligatory 100% all caps)was the prototypical ‘That sorry waitress should just be glad to have a job/ The customer is always right’ kind. A few comments made fun of this chick for wearing a green jacket. Umm . . . Bostonians, what are you smoking?

    People that automatically side against those in the service industry obviously have no real experience dealing with the type of manager that this Kevin guy apparently is. If they did they would probably and properly assume that this memo was likely just the tip of a very large iceberg of mismanagement and mistreatment. I don’t for a second think that this chick is so easily offended that one silly memo would be enough to make her quit. That kind of camel back breaking pile of straws builds up over time.

    Yelp reviews are just too unreliable to start abusing your staff over.

    Dignity and Respect
    Me, The JerBear

  13. Patti DiVita says:

    What a mess this one is. Two wrongs don’t make a right! What does make a right is management and owners who care about their employees and treat them with respect, and care also about the public opinion of their restaurant (all encompassing) and know how to balance the two. After all, we sure know how word goes around about the bad and not so around about the good. Sad way of the world.

    I just have a comment about the person with the 20% rule for tipping regardless. I am assuming you are a server and understand how it all works and yes it’s not always our fault, I agree. But do you give 20% to servers who have obvious bad attitudes about their job, giving the impression that you’re lucky they showed up for work and they deserve a good tip regardless of how they treat and serve you?? Oh good, I didn’t think you did, because as we both know, that would be reinforcing bad behavior! ;-) Cheers.

  14. p.mac says:

    Please! Will somebody post that Extensive tirade posted on the wall of Jacob Wirth’s so that we can ALL get a look at it?
    At this point it’s all just a guessing game as to what the specifics were, here. No doubt, it pissed off many employees, but what were the specifics contained in this long diatribe that went on for several pages?
    I would be shocked to find that all of the blame for bad reports rests upon the shoulders of the wait staff, alone! Where is the management present here? Don’t they do “table checks” to monitor the service, as well as the food presented? This is the managment’s responsibility to “over see” the dining room. Any ship that sails at sea needs a captain at the helm in order to complete a successful voyage. Isn’t this a good “team” effort, this restaurant success thing?? The most successful bussinesses are built upon strong leadership, and the earned respect of all involved.

  15. Mike Q says:

    It may be that the owner’s problems began when he swallowed comments from Yelp whole, without considering their source. Although Yelp has it’s merits, lately I have never seen so many whiners use the site to spew their general bitterness. In one comment about Johnny D’s, a restaurant and music club, a Yelp reviewer complained that he was asked for a cover charge when coming to the club to redeem a Groupon discount. He felt simply being ASKED for the cover was a “WTF just happened?” experience. Then, after being admitted WITHOUT paying the admission that everyone else was happy to give, he complained that the cover charge was too high. Patrick Maguire was in Johnny D’s a few weeks ago, and he left us a card for SERVER NOT SERVANT. I’m glad he did … this is a great site. ( If you like bar stories, check http://www.lifeonacocktailnapkin.com.)

  16. drew says:

    I just have something to say to the guy that commented he wanted to vomit when he heard a server say they worked two straight dbls. first of all, they probably worked a minimum of ten hrs each day, likely more like 12. Anybody who worked 20-24 hrs in two days has the right to gripe a bit, especially to their coworkers. second, what if that person has a kid, another job, is in school, etc? Its a little melodramatic to say that made you want to vomit. That is all.

  17. sol says:

    All management knows that feeling, All management knows that the holiday parties have not been as strong this year. All management knows to say this to your spouse at home, Your manager in the office, your pairs in another establishment. But belittling your staff in writing before shift. Maybe not. As much as Fitz cares about his customers your staff makes or breaks you and today you owe all of them an apology. I will not have an issue of taking a waitress off the floor if I see they are incompitent, incoherent or telling them to take a smoke break if they are in the weeds, if I did not train enough but I will always support and apologize for their behavior in front of the customer, and deal with them one on one with suspensions or shifts that they can have more support to be able to do their job better and more relaxed. We have to love our customers but, We must respect our staff

  18. KC says:

    Yelp is a great way to either compliment or remind a restaurant that when it makes certain promises through brand, menu, and service, it needs to deliver accordingly. However, if a restaurant falls short because of bad service, this is usually a symptom of a bigger problem. The owner/manager of this restaurant clearly failed in delivery and looked for a scapegoat. This type of management style will likely not reap success.

  19. p.mac says:

    Yelp is a web site for crybabies!
    Those of us in the food industry know damned well that “unhappy customers” have a good clear shot at having any problem solved on the spot, or within minutes when they are dining at our restaurants… any fuck-ups will be compensated for, ASAP. The whiners who wait to get home to log a complaint are only looking for a free meal.
    Many restaurant complaints stem from… “the front door staff was rude and unacommadating”… this usually means that the guests didn’t get the table that they wanted, having been held for a reserved party who had had the good sense to call earlier. How is this “rude”? Such childish “reviews” usually carry on into the dining room service, also.
    Granted, the economy has taken a down swing, as we all know all too well…. but when, in the midst of all of this did the dining public expect magic to happen when dining out?
    Could one expect to be given free bags of groceries if one had to wait in line at the Super Market for the same time it took to get through the same line 10 years ago? Should you expect to gain a free pair of shoes because you had to wait for a sales person to find you your correct size in a stock room?
    This GIMME self-entitled attitude is going to break the back bone of our civilization as we have known it.
    This “I must have it NOW, and it had better be perfect or I’ll get your ass fired” concept is all wrong. Where has the American consumer’s heart gone?
    The great changes that we have seen in technology during the last 15 years alone have led people to believe that everything should go faster, and we should be happier, instantly.
    There are a few factors in here that will never change. We, in the service industry have, and will always be limited to two feet and two arms. Meat on a grill will always take twenty minutes or longer. A large stock room at a deparment store hasn’t gotten any smaller since the economy shit the bed.
    Item’s that you’d always waited for in the past cannot be “beamed down to you” within seconds, and never will within your life time. Chill out. What ever happened to respect here?
    Where do YOU work where everything spells instant happiness for everyone? I want to work there!
    Has the word “humanity” somehow escaped the English language when we weren’t looking?
    If your taxi shows up 10 minutes late, should you refuse to pay the fare, or seek to get the driver fired for this offense?
    As money gets tighter, is it really OK to bite each other’s feet off by being more demanding of services? Is this the right thing to do?
    CHILL OUT! We are all in this together. Have a heart!

  20. nana says:

    I have to say, where I work, our management is great. Not only do they have our backs 100% of the time, rather than criticizing what we do or don’t do, they offer in a positive way the preferred method of acting in a situation and set the example by “doing”. They are greeting guests, expo-ing, running food and doing table checks all the time.
    We have had bad yelp reviews too, legitimate or otherwise but it has never been used against us as employees, knowing that every shift is different, every guest is different and it is practically impossible to be “spot on” 100% of the time. We are not robots.
    The dining room is organic and it has different dynamics every single day, not to mention the kitchen, pantry and dish tank. What can steer those dynamics toward success or failure is Management.

  21. p.mac says:

    Bravo, nana!! You have hit the nail right on the head!

    The conducter who stands in front of a symphony orchestra may appear to be a rather insignificent part of a performance, waving his baton, but I assure you that he is the most important person up there. Truth is, that every musician in the orchestra can only hear those musicians closest to them… and have no idea whether they are all on key and tempo, as there are dozens of instruments being played at the same time, many feet apart, on a large stage. If it weren’t for the conductor at the helm to “cue in” the strings or woodwinds, or drums, it would would never, ever work, in unison. EVER. If the orchestra failed to play a flawless piece of music without the conductor, should they be fired? How many of them? And who should be blamed in the end? Would it be fair to berate the hard-working musicians because the conductor was not at his post at show time?

    And would it be fair for the audience to complain about this? Of course, it would be! Somebody dropped the ball, didn’t they? Sometimes the old “pass the buck” thing works for a while, but more often than not the guy who deserted his post gets to stand in the unemployment line, in the end. The “blame game” always starts at the top, doesn’t it?

  22. Bob says:

    Um, what about management/owners? Do they view themselves as being the losers for not doing their jobs? Lousy service/food is sometimes solely the fault of a server or back of the house. But once the pattern is shown to be repeating itself, then it’s management that is the problem.

  23. Cindy Conrad says:

    I just have something to say to the guy that commented he wanted to vomit when he heard a server say they worked two straight dbls. first of all, they probably worked a minimum of ten hrs each day, likely more like 12. Anybody who worked 20-24 hrs in two days has the right to gripe a bit, especially to their coworkers. second, what if that person has a kid, another job, is in school, etc? Its a little melodramatic to say that made you want to vomit. That is all.

  24. D. J. Fone says:

    We all know what flows downhill, and it usually starts with the owner/manager and ends up, eventually, all over the customer.

    “The beatings will continue until morale improves” has never worked, and never will. It’s evidence that a manager no longer has control of the situation, and his best people have bailed, or soon will. He’ll be stuck only with lowest-common-denominator staffers because they have no other job options.

    Imagine being a baseball pitcher, and knowing that if you walk one batter, you’re being sent back down to the minors. So, you throw everything down the middle, and what happens? You get shelled far worse than any walk could ever hurt.

    Servers know every single customer has the power to get them fired. That’s the power of tipping poorly for bad service, no matter the reason. If you’re understaffed and suddenly slammed, even the best server will not provide good service, unless he/she has alerted everyone to please be patient. Even that admission might anger people. How DARE a lowly server speak to me that way!

    Strong managers must be willing to back up their good servers, since much of the job’s stress comes from being utterly powerless. Even if a customer is rude and ignorant, you can’t say anything…especially if it’s a chain, where the fool will keep calling up the corporate food chain until he finds some exec with more title than common sense, and gets you fired with creative lies.

    After all, the likelihood of a corporate restaurant drone parroting “The customer is always right!” is in direct proportion with how many years it’s been since he/she dealt directly, and powerlessly, with a customer. In a cubicle at HQ, every customer is a saint, since you didn’t have to sacrifice your soul and dignity to satisfy him.

    I learned a valuable lesson when working for the Auto Club in SoCal, taking 50-100 calls per day from stranded motorists, ALL of whom were angry, frustrated, or scared. Occasionally, a member would demand to speak with a supervisor…then tell him I was being profane, rude, and unprofessional. At the behest of a longtime cohort, I was told “Next time, tell them ‘run the tape’. Just ‘run the tape’.” So, I did. Sure enough, I never got written up, because once the supe heard the CUSTOMER going off profane, rude, and unprofessional, I was off the hook.

    I learned to, whenever an obstinate member on the phone wanted to speak with a supervisor about me, I’d say “Let me first get the number of this call, so the supervisor can hear the entire recording of this call before you speak to him/her.”

    (Click). The older I get, the shorter my BS-detector’s fuse gets.

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