Bad Management Theater

On a recent trip to Florida, my husband and I stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast. As we walked up to the iconic yellow building, a smiling employee held the door open and greeted us pleasantly with menus in hand.

They were busy and there was a wait for either a table or a booth, so we sat at the counter. We had no idea what we were going to experience; this was the first visit to a Waffle House for both of us.

Our servers – actually, all the employees – were smiling, pleasant, and seemed to be enjoying working with each other and interacting with the customers. We were happily watching how efficient they all were, and how they assisted each other in seemingly small ways. The restaurant had a buzz, a general overall positive, almost exuberant, feel.

After we ordered, a sour-looking stick of a man walked in from the back. The entire atmosphere changed in an instant.

He proceeded to butt into each and every station and activity, scolding along the way. We didn’t need to see his name tag to know he was the manager. He made sure, through his actions and body language, that everyone in the place knew it. Even the poor person doing the dishes (employee “since 1997”) got a lesson on stacking the dishes the “right” way.

Meanwhile, a customer entered the restaurant to place an order to go. She wanted to be sure the steak she ordered was well done, but not burnt. When this manager shouted the ticket out to the cook, he translated the instructions to “medium well.”

This was a small restaurant, and we were all right there, including the customer who ordered. She spoke up right away, “Well done, no pink, but not burnt.” The manager ignored her. The employee manning the dishes (directly in front of us) turned around and repeated the customer’s instructions to the manager. He obviously resented the correction and scolded her, telling her that was exactly what he’d said. When she turned back towards us, she rolled her eyes. The cook overheard the entire exchange, and I do believe the customer received what she wanted – no thanks to the manager.

After paying our bill (less than $20) and leaving a sizeable tip ($10) for the great service, we left the building and looked at each other. “Did you feel that?” my husband asked. “Yes, of course,” I responded. Knowing my position both as a manager and assisting other managers, he then said to me, “Let that be a lesson for you!”

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

April Kunzelman

April Kunzelman, PHR, has a wide range of experience in many aspects of personnel management. For over 10 years, she served as the HR Director for, building an award-winning culture. April now spends her days working with the non-profit organization Chemo Cargo, aimed at assisting first-time chemotherapy patients. Connect with April on Twitter as @akunzel and @chemocargo.


April Kunzelman

@Chris: Thanks to the twitter stream, I’ve been in communication with Waffle House HQ. I need to return a call tomorrow. I’m going to emphasize the great food and service – overall we were happy.

Chris aka newresource

I like good service and try to make it a point to let someone know. If would be awesome if these employees and the regional manager could read this post. They would be proud.

Tamkara Adun

Such managers are what I refer to as (tongue in cheek) “notice me or I die…Managers”

They are less concerned about fostering a conducive work environment and more interested in ensuring that everyone, customers and employees alike understand their importance in the grand scheme of things.

Imagine for a moment that the situation was different and that the manager was more considerate and abounding in emotional intelligence. What would be different?
Certainly, the appearance of an open and friendly manager would have accentuated the cordial atmosphere and increased the general feeling of goodwill and well being experienced by the customers.
This is definitely a lesson for anyone in or aspiring to be in a leadership position. Thanks so much for sharing.


Great observations! I heard a lot of signs that this manager was not in the right job, and lacked a lot of self-awareness (or just didn’t care). I’m sure this manager would change his presentation if his boss was in the room.

One of my favorite research articles on manager performance statistically shows that the worst performing managers grossly over-rate their own performance compared to the way others (direct reports, peers, managers) rate their performance. I’m sure that the dishwasher since 1997 has found his way of doing his job rather efficiently.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.