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By: Dr. John T. Self

Wrong Work Culture

I don't know about you, but I have definitely been in the wrong work culture. Or you might call it the wrong work environment. Whatever you call it, you know it is wrong.

I first experienced the wrong environment when I left my job at Steak and Ale. I was totally happy in my career and my job. I was working with great people; my boss and my boss's boss were great. My fellow managers were terrific and I loved everything about the company. Seems like the perfect time to leave, right? Not surprisingly, leaving turned out to be a huge mistake.

Steak and Ale had a very defined mission to be the best theme restaurant chain in the country. S and A had assembled the best managers who were all committed to making it the best company we could. We all felt we were listened to, respected, and valued as individuals as well as for the job that we did by upper management. Yes, I've questioned myself many times for this move, but of course, it seemed right at the time, although there were indications that all was not right.

I was naive to think that all companies would be like Steak and Ale. I left for what I thought were good reasons. Moving closer to my wife's parents, having a part ownership in the restaurant, company car, more pay, better benefits, etc.

Those reasons are all great, but they have to be honored to be worth more than a cup of coffee. In my case, they were not honored and it turned out to be a disastrous experience, but I did learn from it. Way too much. I definitely came of age.

It was a different culture at the new company where there was no concern for employee welfare. Management worked a minimum of 70 hours a week. The company car was a station wagon - used station wagon. The part ownership? "We'll let you know after a few years if you've done a good job." What is a good job, you ask? "We'll let you know in a few years."

They didn't trust the managers to have all of the financial information. This was new. I had always had full access to the financial reports of my restaurant. Not so here. None of the fixed expenses were visible. And of course, guess where my bonus was paid from? Exactly. I couldn't see where and how it was arrived at, it was just told to me.

This all bred a culture of distrust, anger, and frustration.

If you find yourself in the wrong work culture, CHANGE. It will be the best decision that you will ever have made. But the best solution is to explore it thoroughly before you leap into something that could prove toxic.

About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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