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What a restaurateur can teach you about better managing your law practice

By June 11, 2018March 25th, 2021law, new orleans, Operations, systems

You can learn a lot by working in the restaurant business.

I definitely learned a lot working at Commander’s Palace, one of the premier restaurants in New Orleans—indeed in the entire United States.

I worked there for a few years before I went to law school, and looking back I realize now what an incredible opportunity it was.

My first day on the job was Paul Prudhomme‘s last day. I remember him well because he bopped me on the head with his cane.

I was clueless and deserved it (because I was trying to remove a dish from the kitchen before it was fully garnished).

On busy nights, Commanders would serve hundreds of meals to hundreds of guests. And yet, the food quality was always exceptional.

So was the quality of the service.

I started out as a mere food runner but eventually worked my way up to waiter. The training process rigorous and relentless.

The person most responsible for making Commanders such a great restaurant was…

Miss Ella

Ella Brennan passed away a few days ago.

But her DNA was firmly implanted into her restaurants and will live on forever.

After she passed away I came across a documentary about her on Netflix called Commanding the Table.

I highly recommend you watch it for lots of reasons.

But one reason is so you can learn how to create a world-class law practice.

What? Why is that?!

Ella Brennan is the perfect model for learning how to build ANY kind of business.

Watch this short trailer and then I’ll explain more below.

Okay, so what was the first thing you heard?

Emeril Lagasse saying “I don’t even know if she owns a pan,” right?

Meaning: Ella Brennan did not cook food.

Never cooked any meals. Not even in her own house.

Crazy right?

Crazy because she ran a world-class restaurant and closely supervised several chefs who went on to rock-star celebrity status.

If you watch the documentary you’ll discover that, while she didn’t cook…

Ella Brennan understood the essence of great food.

And she taught that to the chefs that worked for her.

But her biggest lesson wasn’t about food.

Her Biggest Lesson

Ella’s most important lesson was about how to run a business.

Let me explain…

At Commanders Palace, people like me (and Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse) worked IN the restaurant.

Ella Brennan, on the other hand, worked ON her restaurant. She did not work IN it like the rest of us.

That’s a big difference—working ON instead of IN—as many savvy consultants will tell you.

And what exactly did she work ON?

Well, everything that led to customers having an incredible experience.

Vision Was Her Job

Ella’s job was to impart her culinary vision to the chefs that she hired to run the kitchen.

Emeril Lagasse explains in the clip above: “I could really execute a lot of those visions that she had.”

In other words, Ella’s job was to envision what kind of restaurant she wanted to have and then convey that vision to the people that worked there.

She also had a vision for the kind of service she wanted her waiters to deliver.

Her vision was communicated through the intense training I mentioned earlier.

Did she do the training?

No, most certainly not.

She simply told her managers what she wanted to happen in the dining room.

For example…

In the documentary, there’s a scene where a waiter approaches a table and then discreetly moves the salt and pepper shaker to a new position.

The reason?

Waiters do that after taking a table’s drink order to signal to others that the drink order had been taken already.

In other words, Ella decided that it’d be intrusive to have a second waiter come to ask if the table wanted drinks when another waiter had just done that.

She didn’t come up with the salt-shaker method.

She didn’t have to.

She let other people figure out how to solve the problem.

She let the people who worked IN her restaurant find the elegant solution.

Train Everyone to Understand Your Vision

Ella Brennan trained everyone to understand that she had exceptionally high expectations.

That was her vision.

Everyone else’s job was to figure out how to implement that vision.

Did all of this happen overnight?

No, of course not.

But it happened.

And it happened only because Ella Brennan focused on high-level aspects of her business.

She didn’t get caught in the crabgrass of pesky details.

You know, the ones that most business owners let themselves get sucked into.

So…

How about you?

Are you spending more time working in your practice than you should be?

Are you too busy putting out fires to create a vision for what your ideal practice should look like?

Well, perhaps you should be more like Ella Brennan.

Maybe you should run your practice more like she ran her restaurants.

And perhaps you’d enjoy watching this excellent documentary so you can learn more about how she did that.


P.S. If you appreciate my approach and observations, you might want to check out my free PDF download.

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