• Stephan Busch

The Illusion of control. Why Hospitality would do better with less levels of management and administ

"Illusion of control is the tendency for human beings to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over." (Ellen Langer 1975)

Hotel, restaurant operations have multiple levels of control to ensure profits are made, revenues are generated and not too much is leaving the premises without prior notice. Hopefully. Most operations have even the position of a Controller.

A human business to control

Hotel and restaurant business is a human business. We deal with Guest, Staff, Suppliers, Partners and many more humans. And here starts the problem if an accountant or Administrator wants to control the operation. They don’t know or even try to control the humans directly. Somehow they feel more comfortable with paper than with human bodies. That’s there nature and makes them good at their job. So they control paper. Statistics, inventories, orders, delivery notes. They implement procedures that those at the front line have to follow. Count the inventory, forward the delivery notes and check the delivery and so on.

The Front Line

Now what happens at the front line? The Chefs, the waiters, the purchasing manager who’s job is actually serving guest, planning and executing the operation and running the business? They have their hands full and work long hours. They understand the need of control and inventories but set their priorities of course differently. As long as the administration is not over the top they will follow through and contribute their part. Once it gets out of hand – and that is happening to often – they will – mostly without bad intention – stop controlling and concentrating on satisfying the Controller and Administrator instead. A deadly downward spiral is set in motion.

The Manager

But here we have the Manager. The Manager is the middleman. Understanding what it takes to operate the business, support the front line staff and at the same time understands the Administrative part and guarantees harmonious cooperation. But that Manager has disappeared. A very good recent article by Vijay Vergehse descripted how this manager is now buried in spread sheets, knows guest opinions only from trip advisor and has all guest names inside his computer instead of in his head. His staff are not Tom and Mary anymore but cost factor 4 and 11.

Computers add to the Illusion

In F&B and Front Office computer make life much easier and control more tight. But only relying on them creates the Illusion of control. They are by far perfect. Additional forms and administrative procedures can’t control the operation better. They instead help to cover errors. But they give the Controller and at the end the management company and the owner the Illusion of control they ask for.

Management far away from the operation

A great example was the Adlon Hotel in Berlin managed by Kempinski where an experienced management company with all procedures in place did not realize that the employees were able to steal 1 Million Euro over a long period of time. (https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/polizei/skandal-im-nobel-hotel-die-abzocker-vom-adlon-26880414). I bet all inventories and control sheets were filled out to perfections. Controllers and Administration were satisfied as the staff gave them what they ask for. A perfect administration but just not the truth. The company did not ask for it! In fact they even needed an outside company to discover the crime. Management seems to have been far away from the operation.

This is an extreme case but the more we save on staff, the more we believe in the power of procedures the more often this systems are bypassed. The less trust exist in an operation, the less the staff feels valued - every extra form to fill out will be done so under the aspect: What numbers would they like to see in the office so I have my peace and not : what are the real numbers?

More Management results in more people sitting on computers but not more control on the floor which would also benefit the guest and the overall service. But with more Management in Guest areas I don’t mean the manager who occupies a table in the restaurant with his laptop the whole day.

Controlling a hotel or restaurant operation to perfection would require a few essentials skills. Experience, knowledge, trust ( yes – it is hard to believe but still exist in some remote locations) and putting the guest, the staff and the operation first before the spread sheet.


© 2017 by Stephan Busch