Tuesday, October 5

Rules: Intended for rule-breakers?

one of the challenges each small business owner faces is when and where to make rules. rules for employees and for customers. where do you draw the line? how do you deal with inappropriate behavior? are there clear lines that need to be set forth? do people require guard rails in order to behave according to your expectations?

we have had our fair share of decisions to make regarding customers: how to deal with campers (people that sit for a long time), cell phone use, large orders in the drive-thru, using the WiFi and not buying anything, one person taking up a four-top (table for four), kids, dogs, et cetera. i could bore you all day.

we also had to decide how to govern our employees: dress code, hair code, tardiness, missing shifts, drinking and eating on the clock, handling money, dealing with unruly customers, breaks, schedule request, on and on ad nausea.

i had worked in food service industry for over 20 years and i had a very clear idea of all these types of rules, who would break them (and how), and the short/long term consequences of drawing the lines. and i did NOT want to be the type of manager who ends up being little more than a babysitter to the employees and customers.

so we went a different direction.

we started with the assumption that people are mature, reasonable and trustworthy. what kind of lines need to be drawn if they are? hmmm...not many. why not set as few rules as possible and just give everyone the benefit of the doubt?

but, but, BUT! what about those scofflaws who will insist on pushing the boundaries? those who will cheat, steal, lie and harm puppies must be confined and restrained and in general told what they can not do! true. very true.


what good will it do to make rules those types of people will break anyway? why constrain those who otherwise don't need it? aren't most rules made as hasty reactions and then enforced on the general population who don't really need them?

if we assume that all people are mature, reasonable and trustworthy (until they prove otherwise) what good is an all-encompassing blanket rule? we decided to deal with those who break the natural laws of human behavior on a case-to-case basis. we empowered our employees to say "no" if the situation calls for it. (WHAT? isn't the customer ALWAYS right? well, yes....except when they are wrong.) we gave them the freedom to make decisions as mature human beings. we also made sure that Vintage was a mistake-friendly zone. if you were not making mistakes, it may be because you were not working hard enough.

nearly four years after opening, we are very pleased with the results! in that time we have only had to fire one person, and have discussions with specific employees five different times. our employees are the hardest-working, most problems-solving, friendly and willing to go way beyond expectations bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. and (i've said it before) our customers are the BEST in the world.

give trust and you will be given trust. choose to honor and you will be honored. treat people like mature adults, and they will surprise and impress you.

and if they don't, you deal with it quickly in a compassionate, even-tempered way.

that is our recipe, what say YOU?


  1. First...
    It seems like you are a good judge of character in the interview process. If you weren't, this strategy would not go quite so well. In my business, I am somewhere in between the dictator and Mr Easy-going. The work atmosphere is relaxed but don't think you can take advantage. For instance, my security cameras are targeted at customers AND employees. Camera #1 points right behind the counter. I could read the serial numbers of the bills you are taking in if I wanted to.

    I echo the whole "customer is NOT always right " sentiment. We care about our customers, but there are always the ones who will attempt to take any scheming advantage they can (i.e. return policy etc.)

    The only potential negative to your case by case basis strategy could be an inconsistent system when corrective action is necessary. A like offense deserves a like consequence.