- Private Sector “Cra Cra” At Applebees in Little Elm
- Public vs. Private – The Promotion
The Public vs. Private series will look at this these topics related the structure of our economy and, specifically, the relative roles of government and industry in the delivery of goods and services. The series will consist of a number of articles that ask the reader to provide his/her perspectives, experiences, and suggestions.
OK, I know Dallas, TX is in the heart of Bible Belt USA. But I’ve had a number of experiences that illustrate a saturation of gigantic church structures does not shield an area from its own brand of “cra cra”! This article recalls one of the latest experiences and further underscores the thinking behind the Public vs. Private series.
THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY…
This past Friday evening, I visited the Applebees in the Little Elm area to grab some food while working on my computer. Closing time was approaching, but waves of customers were still coming into the establishment. At approximately 1:45AM, Applebees continued to serve food and drinks although the restaurant was scheduled to close at 2:00AM. I’m there, finishing up some work. Putting down some coffee to avoid nodding off, banging my head against the keyboard, and jolting back into consciousness with drool all over me! A bit of embellishment there, but you get the point.
At approximately 2:00AM, people were still consuming food and drinks at various spots inside the restaurant and in the patio area. However, the mood had changed. Workers were scurrying to close out tickets. And the manager with whom I briefly conversed earlier in the evening had transformed into Kunta Kinte’s slave master. Arms flailing. Barking orders at employees. Racing around the floor like someone frantically approaching their home in a desperate need to get to the bathroom.
And then, it happened. The F-bomb.
Pointing at tables across the room, the manager says (and excuse the language), “We are now in violation of the law. Time to get those fuckin’ drinks off the tables.”!
I almost choked on my java. The manager might as well have used a megaphone. His voice filled the dining area. In full view of customers, he was dressing down employees. But captive to the dictates of a “superior”, the employees accepted it. Guests, on the other hand, were stunned at what we heard.
It was bad enough that the manager unloaded an F-bomb, but what was more shocking — the hypocrisy in it all. First, had any of the employees used such language, the manager would have fired the person on the spot. Further, Dallas is a large city. Customers have as many dining choices in Dallas as any city in the USA. But these guests chose to spend their money at Applebees, only to be exposed to open disregard. In addition, I could not avoid noticing the racial composition. The guests were overwhelming African American. But not a single African American worker on-site at Applebees; not even the proverbial dishwasher. My sense was that had that composition been different, the antics we were witnessing would not have occurred.
And perhaps oddest, but what should have been the obvious, observation. Namely, guests were only consuming the food and drinks that Applebees had served them! If the manager was going to be tight in the jock strap over us being there at 2:00AM, he should have instructed his employees to stop serving drinks well before that time – perhaps at 1:30AM. But when 1:45AM rolls around and restaurant is eking-out those last few dollars, the manager should have expected that his decision was headed for an operational collision. That last $40 in bar receipts would mean customers having the audacity to actually finish their last $40 worth of drinks!
NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY….
Before leaving, I called the manager over for a one-on-one conversation. In that, I shared concerns about his treatment of the guests. I was caused to think about nearly forty years of watching my parents interact with customers in their businesses. Customers who, through their support, enabled decades of great experiences. Using profanity with employees and doing so in the presence of customers would have been inexcusable.
During the exchange with the manager, I noted that people spend their hard-earned the money to pay his salary. That none of us owned anything in that Applebees, but that he is the face of that location. Disgruntled patrons, some who might not return, is literally reaching into the pockets of his employees and taking their money. We considered that what the guests just experienced could get him fired; with the demoralized employees laughing under their breath as he is escorted from the premises. We discussed the the fact that it was not the fault of his employees that food and drinks were still on tables. But that his management decision to keep serving drinks well after 1:45AM made late stays in the restaurant inevitable.
The manager owed the guests and his employee an apology. While he shook my hand, I observed no other public conciliation. And upon exiting, an African American gentleman said to me, “You can’t change Archie Bunker.”
In my reply, I noted that I’ve seen quite a few Archie Bunkers change over my years. Indeed, each of us is on an individual course of self-improvement.
AND THIS POINT…
Ultimately, the Public vs. Private series and this story illustrate that our nation’s rush to castigate government services and government workers, while assigning complete virtue to the private sector is mythological at-best and irresponsible at-worst.
The onslaught of attacks against teachers, public healthcare agencies (e.g., Veterans Administration), postal workers, and other public providers borders on conservatives’ preoccupation with privatizing America. A strategy that some argue seeks to prop-up companies at a time when our economy is stagnant.
Private providers share the same virtues and vices as their public alternatives. At the core are imperfect people operating in both planes. If we can cite customer service failures in public agencies, one need only to experience what occurred at Applebees to remember that the private sector often fails in customer service as well.
Private vs. Public articles will continue to expose the myths. Not with an intent of harming the private sector. But simply to encourage that we explore the politics of privatization behind distortions perpetuated to shape public opinion against the public sector. Former President Reagan was wrong. Government is not the problem. Human nature is the problem. Wherever we find human nature, in public or private venues, we will find problems. And yet, because of our ability to get it right, both the private and public sectors of our society have the capacity to make us a better nation.
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