Book Excerpt – Paranoia, Pennies, and Paying Managers on Profits

Jeff Gigante co-owns Ciccio Restaurant Group, which has six restaurants in Tampa Bay, FL. Jeff started his first pizzeria in his final year at Florida State University twenty years ago, and he’s been in the restaurant business ever since. This man knows what he’s doing. Period. He runs popular, profitable restaurants, and focuses every day on his 300+ staff and the 35,000 people his restaurants serve every week. Want to learn some lessons from a guy who has had every job in the restaurant business, and is now a highly successful owner? Read on…

Don’t Be Partners With Your Best Friend – Don’t go into business with your best friends. I think successful business relationships come from being able to leave emotion out of it. And when you have lifetime experiences with a best friend, you get very personally, emotionally involved. And then you get your feelings hurt. And that on top of business mindset and outlook differences can lend itself to a whole lot of problems. How do you separate business and personal relationships? And if you have to part ways, how does that not affect the friendship?

Know What Areas Of Town Will Work – We had a good generalized idea that we liked Tampa better than St. Pete, but for knowing what area to pick, we just listened to our friends and family that had lived there for decades. They knew which areas were hot, or dead, or up and coming. They’d drive us to the areas that we liked, and then they’d drive us all around the area, and show us the different homes, and that type of thing. And I think that type of research is invaluable. Not to mention that we would also go out and eat lunch and dinner two or three days in a row in all of these areas that we were looking at, to just kind of get a feel for what kinds of people were eating in those places, and how busy they were at different times. We wanted to see what areas were populated by which types of people. We were looking for the young families, the young professionals, the gay crowd. I wanted that to be a big thing, because in my opinion that makes for a great cultural crowd. We always look for that.

A Little Paranoia Is Good – We’ve always had an air of paranoia. When we’re busy, we want to be busier. When we’re not so busy, then we’re really concerned, and we start introspectively looking at everything. I’m a perfectionist, so that means that I’m not ever fully pleased with how things are going. I’m cautiously optimistic when things are good, but I always know that at any given time, things could fall flat, like the economy we’re living in now. Or after September 11th. There are a lot of different things that affect the economy and our industry. So I think being paranoid, and constantly striving for excellence, as well as constantly checking and re-checking your quality controls. Your food. How’s the presentation ? How’s the taste coming? How’s the cost looking? Are things fluctuating too much? If they are, what’s the cause of that fluctuation?

It’s A Business Of Pennies – When I was a fifteen year old bus boy working for Chili’s, I’ll never forget what the manager told me. He said, “Son, this is a business of pennies. You watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” And I would catch him on more than one occasion out back, shifting through garbage, finding all of the packets of ketchup, the salt and peppers, the plastic silverware that was still in its wrapper. He’d say, “This affects my bottom line. We pay hard pennies for this, and people throw them away. And that’s unacceptable.”

Watch Costs Carefully – I’ve always been cost crunching, and focused on the money, because I want to protect my income fiercely, and voraciously. And I’m not even saying that we’re the most successful restaurateurs. I’m sure that people profit a lot better than we do. But we’ve been consistently earning and profiting better than nine out of ten restaurants around us.

Pay Managers On Profits – We don’t pay huge salaries up front, but we do give huge bonus incentives, because we want people to have the mindset of owners, and know that if the store does well, they’ll do well. And they can earn as much money as the effort they want to put in. For the most part, our managers and assistant managers are bonused out on bottom line profits. For instance, we have a catering manager who oversees the catering. And depending on what he does to grow that business – because I truly believe it’s in his hands – he can earn quite a bit of money.

Enable GMs To Become General Managing Partners – We’ve financed a lot of our partners that ended up becoming general managing partners of our business after they’ve been managers for a couple of years, and they want a piece of it. For me, it’s very important that people are willing to put skin in the game, because then they’re truly vested like we are. And they live and die by the success of the business. It’s easy for a GM who’s making $60,000 a year to become indifferent to the bottom line. But when they know that they’ve borrowed money from their mother, and stuck it into this restaurant…and she’s calling and saying, “How is it doing son? Are you doing o.k.? Are you making money? What, you made a $2,200 bonus at the end of this month? That’s phenomenal!” That’s a different aspect altogether. That’s the people we’re looking for. Because this is my passion. This is what I do to take care of my family. I don’t think our structure is the norm. But I think it should be the norm.

Promote From Within – It’s hard to hire somebody from the outside, with all of their thoughts and expectations and philosophies, and have them come in and try to meld with what we’re doing. It’s much better to have servers that grow to head servers, and say, “You know what? I love what you guys do. It would be a dream for me to have a piece of this.”

Be Passionate About Staff And Customers – I’m honestly and truly always thinking of all of our 300 plus employees, as well as the 35,000 people we feed every month. Those people are in the foremost of my mind, because those are the people that create the life that I’m able to lead and give to my family. I’m very appreciative of it. And very protective of it.

You’ve Got To Make Sure The Customer Is Happy. Period. – If the customer is not pleased for any reason, you’ve gotta do something for that table. Even if they’ve eaten the whole meal, and they say, “You know what guys? We eat here all of the time, and you guys are great. But this meal was a little off.” And they’ve eaten it! A lot of people will say, “O.K., we’ll try to do better for you next time.” Not us. We’ll buy that meal. We’ll deduct that from their bill, and thank them for letting us know.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) If You Want To Expand – The Daily Eats concept is eggs, and burgers, and shredders, and all of these things that we’ve created. I’m confident that I could go in the kitchen – and I haven’t cooked in ten years – and pretty much make anything on that menu, and have it be 80% as good as how my chef makes it. That’s big. That’s huge. You want something that’s manageable, that’s not a huge footprint. It’s about 2,800 square feet. So when you’re as busy as you can be, you’ve got 120 guests. It’s very doable for expansion. Right now, we do anywhere from $1,300,000 to $1,700,000 a year, in a little place like this. On 20%+ profit margins. Those are good numbers.

The Schedulefly Crew