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Break the computer habit

It’s not that George McKerrow hates computers. He just hates what computers do to restaurant workers. A 30-year industry veteran, McKerrow, founder of Longhorn Steakhouse and, more recently, co-founder (with Ted Turner) of Ted’s Montana Grill, remembers taking restaurants public as late as 1990—without the help of computers. “I miss those good old days,” he says. “Our management teams had a much more thorough understanding of guest satisfaction. And that’s because they had to live it to gather that information. They didn’t get it from a computer.”

Problem: Your crew is too dependent on computers, making them vulnerable to crashes and uneducated in restaurant basics left to POS machines.

Solution: Crash the computers yourself without telling your staff and make them learn how to live without.

It’s not that George McKerrow hates computers. He just hates what computers do to restaurant workers.

A 30-year industry veteran, McKerrow, founder of Longhorn Steakhouse and, more recently, co-founder (with Ted Turner) of Ted’s Montana Grill, remembers taking restaurants public as late as 1990—without the help of computers.

“I miss those good old days,” he says. “Our management teams had a much more thorough understanding of guest satisfaction. And that’s because they had to live it to gather that information. They didn’t get it from a computer. What’s missing in our industry, and in society in general, is the up close and personal.”

McKerrow isn’t ready to do away with his chain’s computers altogether—“They give some useful information”—but he is doing the next best thing: “I’m causing an artificial crash.”

In coordination with regional and store managers, McKerrow shuts down one of his unit’s computer systems every so often. He gives the crew no prior notice.

“It’s a controversial thing with operators,” he admits. “They feel it’s a drastic step. I feel it’s important.  ”When the computers go down, “crash kits” are issued, complete with pens, pencils, paper guest checks, calculators and even candles and flashlights. For two hours servers have to write up tickets, calculate tax and basically rethink the way they do their jobs. Managers have to manually enter information at the end of the night.   “I’m trying to get a competitive edge here,” McKerrow says. “I don’t want my crew panicking if the computer goes down.”

And, he says, he’s trying to instill some of the good old days in his workers.

“I think this younger generation, they’re too comfortable with computers,” he says. “When in doubt, they’re going to rely on computers rather than their own instincts. Well, computers can’t tell you how to run a restaurant.”

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