Harrisburg Spice

Sometimes — and I know this is going to be hard for some of you to believe — companies do colossally stupid things.

Take Spice, for example.

A few days ago, two Spice employees — Molly Turner and John Burkholder — spoke with a Patriot News reporter about how the economy is affecting their tips.  It was an interesting story, and the fact that the employees were actually willing to give honest answers made it somewhat refreshing in this era of watered-down press-release-driven commentary.  Nothing is more droll and un-insightful than reading a corporate press release, so when actual employees give actual answers, it’s always a welcome change of pace.

Today, Nancy “Serious Business” Eshelman is reporting that both employees were fired.  Not so much “fired” as in “somebody called them up and told them not to come back”, but “fired” as in “Spice management took their names off the schedules and apparently didn’t bother to let them know until they arrived.”  When asked for a reason, Eric Desrosiers — CEO of Capitol Entertainment Group, owners of Spice — simply stated that their comments were not in line with Spice’s business principles.

That’s an interesting point.  They weren’t fired for talking to the media; in fact, the reporter actually had the manager’s permission (who in turn led the reporter to the waiter).  Rather, it appears that they were fired for not saying what Spice wanted them to say.

Naturally, Spice has a right to fire their employees for any reason and at any time.  If Eric Desrosiers doesn’t care for the fact that one of his bartenders drives a car, for example, he would be well within his legal rights to fire said bartender.  Pennsylvania is an “at-will” state which, with a few tiny exceptions, means that you can be fired without cause.  Unless the employer terminates over a protected class (such as firing an employee because she’s a woman), or violates a written employment contract, the employer is in the clear.  So with what I’ve read so far, it appears that Spice is entirely legally in the right.

But that doesn’t mean it was a wise decision.

Second Street is a picomarket driven by nothing if not PR.  My axiom for wireless applies to the downtown scene as much as it did to my stores:  The only metric that matters is customer perception.  All of the marketing, all of the sales, all of the P&L, all of the ARPU, all of the EBIDTA forecasting, all of the inventory, all of the specials — it’s all irrelevant if your customers don’t like you.  And Spice’s actions certainly aren’t going to win them anyone’s praises.

I’ve done a lot of time in corporate America.  From small regional companies with barely a hundred employees to large-scale international mammoths.  I’ve seen managers lash out at their employees in anger.  I’ve seen employees fired without so much as a phone call because said employee is dating the boss’s boss’s ex-girlfriend.  I witnessed one employee terminated because her boss got a speeding ticket on the way to the office and needed to lash out at someone.  It’s not businesslike, and it reflects very poorly on the business at hand — to say nothing of the manager.  It’s tacky, it’s classless, and, like the schoolyard bully who beats up the other kids as a means of venting his own frustration, it’s indicative of a lack of grip on reality.  And professional standards.

But as some less-ethical types will quickly point out, it isn’t technically illegal.  Therefore, they’ll continue, it must be okay.

A better approach would have been to find and resolve any underlying problems that might have been the root of the commentary in question.  Is Spice failing?  Are the prices too high for the crowd?  Is the crowd too high for the prices?  Are there too many fights?  Is the staff allocated in an inefficient manner?  Any manager worth half his or her paycheck would look to eliminate any underlying cause of the problem.  And since the problem is our slowing economy, there’s little that Spice can do.

Short of reflect back on the idea of launching a new mid- to high-price restaurant in a recession, of course.

So rather than take the comment for what it was — a realistic observation on the real-life impacts of the worsening economy — Spice got mad.  Real mad.  They lashed out.  For a comment that did not reflect poorly on Spice at all, Spice fired two employees, then tried to cover the matter with some corporate babble about the Spice experience.

Good job, Spice.  Some high-class ethics you’ve got there.

3 thoughts on “Harrisburg Spice”

  1. Oh brother. Fired? Really? For a not-well-thought-out comment that most likely twisted a bit differently once edited to print?

    Good lord.

    Little Napoleans are the worst kind.

  2. It is pretty standard practice for a resturant to “fire” someone by taking their name off the schedule. I did a stint in the resturant business a few years back and I saw it happen more than once.

    That being said if they have the stone enough to fire someone for a comment that didn’t reflect on the resturant they should also have the stones to tell them face to face. Their actions are purely passive aggressive. A quality I hate. I had little desire to go to that resturant (he is the one that parks the lamborgini out front right?) before after will not now.

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