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"We're out of salsa" -- decision making when the manager's not around

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Last night we stopped for a beer or two at a small-but-expanding franchise chain beer parlor. They did not have the soft pretzel ("We should get those next week.") but when we settled for chips and salsa we were told that the salsa had just gone ("We get deliveries tomorrow.").

Now this is no grand eatery, the kitchen is minimal and I'm sure that most is supplied via Sysco, but seriously? It's 7pm and you're open till 1am... and SuperWalmart is an 80-second drive. The staff are wonderful but apparently not big on problem-solving.

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  1. That's laughably bad! Were the staff all 20-somethings who don't understand that food can be prepared from fresh ingredients? Even Mr. Pine, food challenged that he is, could whip up some salsa.

    10 Replies
    1. re: pine time

      Good call on the staff, piney, exactly right lol. We giggled and debated in whispers whether we should run over for a giant jug of no-name salsa for them.

      1. re: pine time

        Were the staff all 20-somethings who don't understand that food can be prepared from fresh ingredients?

        From the OP: a small but expanding franchise chain beer parlor.......Now this is no grand eatery.....

        So, you think this place would have tomatoes, red onions, ancho chiles, jalapenos, red bell pepper, garlic,green onions, cilantro, fresh limes and appropriate spices just to whip up a little salsa on the fly?

        Also, chain restaurants are not allowed to deviate from any menu item specifications by agreement in their licensing the franchise, so the idea of making salsa on the fly is not allowed.

        1. re: fourunder

          You hit my point exactly, even running out to Walmart can be a big no-no for a chain since they usually have strict agreements with regard to the products they serve. This is not only for value/pricing but for conformity and consistency of the products they sell between their locations.

          A better question is how or why is the manager not available at 7pm during the main dining shift? Most chains have a management team, consisting of a GM and or an assistant, kitchen and or bar manager. It's highly unlikely to have a chain with just one manager on shift, even if so, they should always be "available".

          I would suggest an email to the manager and cc' the corporate office or entity.

          1. re: jrvedivici

            even running out to Walmart can be a big no-no for a chain ....

            or any business for that matter for the sole purpose of shopping. If the employee gets in an accident en route, it opens the company to potential litigation, as the employee was on company time.

          2. re: fourunder

            LOL -- fourunder -- 20-somethings making their own salsa? from fresh ingredients?

            look how many experienced, "30-and-up" cooks still seek assistance regarding salsa here on chowhound. ;-).

            (woe to me if i ever ask for help on salsa from the chowhounds here who have elephant's memories. LOL).

            1. re: alkapal

              I still hold that initiative wins out over leaving customers frustrated and hungry. A reasonable salsa can be made quickly and easily. I made it in my teens, in Kentucky, back in the dark ages when fresh cilantro was an exotic and hard to find ingredient.

              1. re: pine time

                i'm not undervaluing enterprise and initiative. i would've done it, because i like to cook, eat, and be a good employee, so could have winged it. (in my teens, i had never heard of cilantro, so i cannot go back in the time machine to include it now in my salsa-- at least in SW florida in the '70s. LOL). <now that you brought it up, i am trying to think when chips and salsa became ubiquitous for parties and gatherings?>

                i feel *some* restaurant employees are not that "into it" and don't go the extra mile that they would if it were their own business. others would go the extra mile. that night in question, apparently, the duchess and the duke got the first type.

                1. re: alkapal

                  The Costco Business Center near me sells pre- sliced tomatoes, pre-sliced onion, shredded lettuce and pretty much everything for restaurants already sliced in pre-packed measured containers.

                  I always assumed because of safety reasons- no slicing, no accidents, no sanitation problems.

            2. re: fourunder

              I see Friday's staff in our local Kroger (in the same parking lot) almost every Sunday when I am shopping. They get hit hard for brunch, and pick up strawberries, etc, when they run low. I asked them about it, and they said 'it happens'!

              1. re: jeanmarieok

                When it came to produce we were allowed to buy locally. If it was an emergency, we would call and say whatever office staff brought us a case of something would get a free dinner for two. They never said no!

          3. Email the manager and inform him of the problem. Your experience is just wrong. I've noticed that some chains use high schoolers or other younger "kids" at night. Perhaps that was the case then. The manager might want to know.

            11 Replies
            1. re: sueatmo

              Email the manager and inform him of the problem...

              The manager is the one who is at fault, not the staff....and if the staff was made up of *kids*, wouldn't he already know that since he makes the schedule.

              1. re: fourunder

                Ah, I'm not blaming anyone, especially the staff, as I said, they're a nice bunch. I'm guessing the owner/management doesn't encourage a structure/culture where employees feel empowered to act on a problem.

                The incident was really rather funny for us (I think my OP sounds a bit too serious now that I re-read). My husband keeps popping out of his office and yelling, "No more salsa!" at me. Was amusing the first 8 times.

                1. re: DuchessNukem

                  My response was not directed to you but the suggestion by sueatmo...but I do understand your disappointment, bewilderment and your thought process about the mishaps....it's just that most employees are not empowered to make decisions and problem solve the situation you mentioned...and similar ones that may come up. Most franchises keep a file on every employee as a matter of prudence. They record any infractions to their history should the need to let someone go. The file backs the restaurant should any complications arise in the future with allegations of impropriety....which happens more and more these days....Just ask Paula Deen.

                  I used to train staff for a large National Chain. At the time I used to tend bar until 3AM...get home and maybe get two hours sleep before I had to get up and be in the restaurant for 7AM training sessions. Two days in a row I got in @ 7:15AM. Month later I looked at my file and the MOD wrote me up for being 15 minutes late both days.....I promptly barred him from free golf and beer at my Country Club.....and tore up the file cards...

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Lol, I assure you "disappointment, bewilderment" not really huge factors in our responses. As I said, my phrasing in the OP sounds much more serious than we took things. :)

                    I did consider the liability of sending an employee off the premises as a factor -- believe me, if you ever need insanely rigid Policy & Procedure quoted at you, just work at a hospital lol.

                    Still, chain of command would suggest that one of the doe-eyed innocents should maybe call a manager and ask what to do; then said manager could perhaps get a jug of salsa there him/herself or via his/her designees. The likelihood of a random inspection from the franchise, the suppliers, and/or the health department at 7pm is probably low enough to allow this. I doubt the owner/general manager will ever know that he/she lost/loses profits this way.

                    1. re: DuchessNukem

                      gotcha....I actually didn't think from your post you were looking to chop heads...more of a...*Can you believe or how can you run a business like this* ....and the reason why I did not address anything to you at first...only to the others that responded.

                  2. re: DuchessNukem

                    I think the problem is inventory management not the employees. So the owner is the one at fault if there aren't dishes available early on in the evening.

                  3. re: fourunder

                    He or she might not understand what the "kids" are doing when he leaves.

                    I've actually had this experience several times.

                    1. re: fourunder

                      You do not know that the manager is the one at fault. It probably is the one that does the food orders that is at fault which may not be the manager. Frankly when confronted with the situation you had, I would just have gotten up and left.

                      1. re: cwdonald

                        Thanks for enlightening me on the possibility it was not the manager....but I have to ask, by the OP's description of the place *small*, how many others do you think could have that responsibility? The Cook? The Dishwasher? Do you really think there's a General Manager, Front House Manager, Kitchen Manager or Bar Manager? It's a *small* operation with a limited menu what apparently features snack items., but regardless of the menu, par levels are set for anything required to operate in franchise restaurants....right down to the toilet paper. There are inventory sheets and purchase orders. It's a manager's responsibility to know what is needed.....all they have to do is look at the shelves in inventory or storage.

                        The point was it's not the staff/server's fault

                        1. re: fourunder

                          I'd had the same thought. Even a small franchise would have all you describe. Otherwise why buy the franchise? And like you, I'd be almost willing to bet that the manager/owner is the one who does the order, at least in the beginning. If they don't know what's going on by doing things like that, then it's likely mishaps like the OPs are going to occur.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            All it takes is one party ordering twelve of something when the par is twelve for the week, not that night. Luckily busy restaurants now have cash registers that compute par stock (and percentage of profit, employee hours, when to send staff home due to slow business and etc) on a half hour basis. In our case, we were a big chain, so not only did we pull up the report many times a night, but headquarters also got it at the same time. This was in the 80s, now it is even more sophisticated. But, that said, it's not a "mishap" when you get slammed on one item that normally sells at par. That's the restaurant biz, you run on adrenaline.

                  4. Most chains actually aren't supplied by Sysco, there are specific distributors that specialize in that. Unless they are a really small local chain. They get weekly deliveries from out of state, so it the manager isn't on top of it, it's easy to run out of things like salsa, which isn't a main menu item. But they could buy something locally and take it out of petty cash, if they care about their customers. You can definitely get away with that once in awhile, if you have any managerial experience in that field.

                    But what kind of place doesn't have a manager on duty at 7PM if they specialize in beer? That does not compute.

                    1. This is an indication of how management runs the business.

                      With no manager around why would an employee spend money his own money and time to buy salsa? The management may not reimburse them for the purchase.

                      1. I've got one. I went to an El Pollo Loco once at around 7pm on a thursday night. I was told they were out of chicken. This was before they had an expanded menu. What else would I like to order?

                        Oh, I'll just have a side of beans, then.

                        If you're El Pollo Loco and you run out of chicken, just turn off the "OPEN" sign.

                        I, like the OP, didn't care much, just thought it was funny.

                        Now I refer to the chain as "El Frijoles Loco."

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                          I've been to a Dunkin Donuts that was "out of donuts" more than once -- always the same location in the Miami 'burbs.

                          1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                            I think that is totally hilarious!!!

                            1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                              Oops, I didn't see this post before I posted below but my experience has been the same at Peruvian chicken take out places, "we're out of chicken" at 5pm on a weekenight when they are open quite late.

                            2. If a restaurant is out of jarred salsa, you are in the wrong place.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Veggo

                                Lol, totally right. Except for the very very nice large rotating assortment of draft beers.

                                The Duke just woke me from a happy sofanap on his way out, and said we should go there when he gets back, for a special brewery/draft night.

                                Yer damn right I'll be ordering the chips-n-salsa.

                              2. Wow, that's quite frustrating. There are several places around here which are notorious for just claiming they just have no more food or are closing early always when the manager has left for the day. They are usually one-stop shops so it's easy to claim that they just ran out - for example, a local Peruvian chicken place will often claim that they just ran out of chicken on a weeknight at 5pm when they are open until midnight and clearly there is no management in the building.

                                1. In a similar vein, while dining at a popular sit-down chain-that-used-to-have-good-breakfast about 10 years ago, I was told I could not have a straw because they were saving them for the children's drinks. They were running low....on a Sunday....early in the day.....could they have *somebody* run out to get some? Nope. Just don't give them out to anyone but kids. Nice decision making.

                                  The chicken stories cracked me up.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Dee S

                                    I'm not sure if it's true or not but there is a suspicious rumor that Popeye's also ran out of chicken once so I guess even bigger chains are not immune to running out of the one thing they are designed to sell.

                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                      My local Popeye's closes at 1AM....only been there a few times close to that hour after a bender or after work.

                                      I'm not privy to any Popeye secrets or operating procedures, but from the layout of the land and since the kitchen area is clearly visible....I can certainly surmise by the refrigeration on premise the capacity of inventory capable of being stored. I do not believe they marinate their chicken overnight before coating....so it's not possible to dip into such a supply if needed. Like all big chains, they have a pretty good idea of what to expect when it comes to sales on any given day and appropriate orders are made accordingly. I can confidently say all Popeyes receive daily deliveries each morning for the day. In the event they sell out, that's it. There's no chicken in the freezer for backup or emergencies.

                                      When a restaurant sells out of its signature item, it's a good day.

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        Not about a restaurant but a grocery store. We live at Lake Tahoe, a summer and winter resort. Last week with the 4th falling on Thursday, our local Safeway was overwhelmed with about 100 people in the checkout at 11AM on Friday. They were calling in people from other areas to work but obviously ran out of products. But I can extrapolate that to a restaurant and see places flat out running out of food. If it happens, so be it. More than once, maybe not.

                                      2. re: fldhkybnva

                                        That happened several years ago when Popeye's ran a big promotion with a super cheap price for a bucket of chicken. They got a much greater response than anticipated and police had to be called in to several locations to control crowds. It made the TV news.

                                        1. re: pamf

                                          There were actually several separate incidents in different states with the National $4.99/8-peice Promotion....all well documented on YouTube. Some places did run out of chicken, but some franchisees resented the promotion and choose not to open their stores for the day in protest.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            Ahh, that makes sense then. Thanks for the clarification.

                                    2. I remember visiting a Waffle House once in Kentucky and trying to order several items, and one after another, they were out. No chicken. No chili. No steak.

                                      No big deal, I'll stick with their standards -- I ordered a waffle and hashbrowns with cheese. "Sorry, we're out of cheese." I must have looked incredulous because the guy said something like "Why are we out of cheese? Wait a second, be right back," and went into the back room. I watched out the window to see him run out the back of the restaurant to a nearby gas station, buy a pack of Kraft singles, and run back to make my hashbrowns.

                                      1. Just another thought, there is a thing known as the "86 board" in every kitchen I've been in. It lists what items they are out of, updated by the kitchen constantly. Yes even at Red Lobster! Usually the server will recite them as soon as she/he gets to your table, before any other chit chat.

                                        I realize it is shocking to run out of salsa at a beer joint, but if I was the server I would have a good suggestion for a substitute on the tip of my tongue, before I got any further. I'm wondering if the server had an attitude like they just didn't care? Because then that would be inexcusable to me.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: coll

                                          I'll bet the manager WAS on duty and he was the one who directed them to 86 the salsa. In a beer parlour, they serve drinks for men who want to get drunk fast. They don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere"

                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                            I commend the cynicism.

                                            1. re: jrvedivici

                                              Then you can commend Mr Martini, at Martini's bar in Bedford Falls!

                                              1. re: coll

                                                It was Nick, actually. Don't make me throw you two pixies out of here.

                                                1. re: small h

                                                  Oh I should have looked it up. I love every second of that movie!

                                        2. Working for minimum wage plus tips tends to inhibit problem solving when there is not a ready source of money... taking it from the register could get them fired.

                                          1. This isn't exactly the same thing, but I had lunch once at a Ruby Tuesday's and I ordered some plated entree like meatloaf. I wanted some bread or a roll or a biscuit to go with it.

                                            The guy waiting on me was almost dumbfounded. Like "we NEVER, EVER get ANYONE asking for something like that, and we simply Do, Not, Ever!!!! Have Anything Like that."

                                            Ruby's sucks, of course, but it was like I was asking for rack of lamb for one, or sushi.

                                            Watching lots of restaurant rescue and makeover shows like RI, KN, "Restaurant Stakeout", and "Mystery Diners", I have realized since then that in most restaurants, especially chains, you may as well be dealing with robots... robots with lots of emotional needs and problems and downtime.

                                            "Guest wants bread... DOES NOT COMPUTE... NORMAN, PLEASE COORDINATE." (Smokes starts coming out of the waiter's ears.)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: donw9876

                                              Some chains (like the one I worked for) did have rules but we also emphasized a "sense of ownership". Many of our waitstaff had been there for 20 years or more though, so it wasn't hard to enforce. They really did think they owned the place! So it actually DOES come back to management in the end, whether they are on premise or not.

                                              1. re: donw9876

                                                Doesn't Ruby's give you complimentary cheesy biscuit or something when you first sit down? I rarely go there....only if I'm in the mood for the salad bar, but for some reason I thought they did offer biscuits?

                                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                                  This could be from years ago. . . . They didn't always have them.