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Blog Editor Allen F. Weitzel has been a trailblazer in the recreation field for 45 seasons, most recently leading the safety and training department at a California amusement park for 25 seasons.

By Allen F. Weitzel

I made a mistake. I committed the error of not following my own philosophy. Let me tell you more.

Not a Glorious Start

We had a slow draining sink in our master bathroom at home. Certainly, something every Mr. Fix-It believes they can handle. The repairs did not go well and we had to call in a professional. While calling the plumber, my mind flashed upon those clever signs that you see in repair shops: “Our hourly labor fee is $80 per hour. It is $150 per hour if you try to help!” I then remembered my own time-tested philosophy that I had failed to heed: the same thinking that got us into this mess cannot be the same thinking to get us out!

How It Came To Be

For one of my jobs in the amusement industry, I had been hired as the director of food, merchandise and arcade at a well-known tourist attraction. The key to my employment was my skill at improving ailing operations, as well as my knowledge of food services. This facility wanted to desperately improve their food and gift operations, and I was selected as their leader for the task.

Getting Started

Phase one of this endeavor was to clean up the snack bar that the facility management had comically claimed was their food operation. That entailed improving the food quality, making repairs and performing clean up to the service area, as well as retraining the staff on proper guest service. I resolved that phase quickly and handily. Phase two was to be an elaborate change, creating a café operation, which included a more attractive menu and increasing per cap spending. A gift shop modernization would follow the café remodel.

Taking a Turn

During this second phase, the board of directors decided to employ an outside food expert, not schooled in amusement facilities, to shepherd this project, and shifted my skills to daily operational needs. The board of directors worked directly with this expert to design a facility that matched their personal tastes. Unfortunately, my years of industry experience and input were not utilized throughout the project. I disapproved, but was ignored. I still had my hands full with the gift and arcade operations.

Long Story Short

The ultimate outcome was that the project failed. The café was built and the snack bar went away, but the new operation had issues. Due to industry inexperience, and input from the board of directors, the expert delivered a facility where:
• The kitchen designed was too tight for seasonal workers (rookie cooks need plenty of space so they do not run into each other or drop food).
• The menu was too exotic and expensive for the clientele, and many of the best selling items were deleted. It was the wrong menu for the customer.
• Food prep was laborious, which inflated operating costs.
• The projected income was never realized, as the guests were dissatisfied with the new café.

The initial profit and loss report told the tale: income was down and costs were up. Again, I was not consulted. The board of directors blamed the line employees and the supervisor we had hired to run this ramped up, super-sized facility. The solution that the general manager and board of directors proposed was to fire the existing workforce and re-hire the original consultant to fix the café.

An Axiom Is Born

Once I learned of the proposed action, I went to the general manager and put his feet to the fire. I told him that he had hired me to do a job, ignored my expertise, hired a non-industry consultant, permitted the board of directors to insert their personal whims into the project, and he allowed the project to spin out of control. Now, his proposed solution was to blame the blameless. I passionately exclaimed that the same thinking that got us into this mess cannot be the same thinking to get us out!

A Better Solution

The ultimate result was that I was authorized to hire an industry consultant, who shared my philosophies, to work side-by-side with me to revamp the facility. Due to the costly construction changes made to the original facility, we did not have the budget to tear the café down and start all over, but we were able to make internal and operational changes. The facility improved, but it never fulfilled an ideal return on investment, as it would have, had it been originally created with guest service and efficiency in mind. Eventually, the board of directors realized that their personal preferences clouded their judgment. That mistake cost them a solid, long-term café profit.