Person of the Week

Gary Lomker


I’m a lot more than a host. I do a lot more intricate things than that. I cash people out. I do some service. I bus tables. I’m a mixture of a lot of different things. It makes me diverse and it makes me very valuable. I can do all these things and do them well. No matter how good I am or what I do, there are some customers who are going to find something to complain about. But you are going to do your best. You are going to recover.

1.  What led you to the mission of being a host?

It was kind of a thing that I wanted to do. I needed a job at the time and I thought I’d like to be in the restaurant industry. registerMy original plan was to be in food service and I found that was something that was needed when the interview opportunity came.

The woman who interviewed me had a sense that I had good customer service skills. She really wanted me to start even though companies don’t always think they need hosts. Hosts are quite valuable to companies. Believe it or not, hosts actually make our restaurant better. Without a host, you don’t have anybody directing the store. This makes it difficult for the servers or someone else to get people to their tables and make sure the customer is comfortable. The woman who interviewed me thought I could make a difference and she wanted me to be a host. So that is what I was trained to do.

I’ve done customer service all my life. I was in mail and copy. I was a deliverer of items and mail. I was dealing with customers in that way. Steak-and-Shake-5It was a little different kind of thing, but it was the same dealing with people. I am used to dealing with their needs and making sure they are getting with what they need. That’s what led into my job.

The other thing that led into that – because I am a cashier and doing all these various thing – it led into dealing with phone in orders. This is something I really hadn’t done much of until I got to the restaurant. I had worked for a pizza company a month before my present job. It gave me a good idea of what it is like to look at a computer screen and put up orders. This was a baby step to being a cashier. Now I know computers backwards and sideways and can do orders really really quickly. I know what screens are and know what is on those screens. Everything led me to this job.

2. What does this mission mean to you?

It means that I am the first person that customers come into contact with when they come in the store. Steak-and-ShakeIt is really important to me to present a beautiful attitude, a happy attitude, — a “Hi and welcome to the store, come on in and enjoy lunch or dinner or breakfast, and make yourself comfortable.” I am the only one that can do that. I am the first human individual that they find in the store. It is very, very important that I do what I’m supposed to do and forget about anything else that is going on in my life – whatever it may be – and be a host. I have to do my job and get comfortable as a host. That is the first step in having a great experience. Steak-and-Shake-3When I take from coming in to sitting at a table, that is the first step and it is important to get off on the right foot – to get that first impression and make those guests feel comfortable and right at home that they are going to be served and get their food and everything that they expect when they expect it. That’s what I do. I set up that whole thing – the atmosphere – the whole thing.

I’m a lot more than a host. I do a lot more intricate things than that. I cash people out. I do some service. I bus tables. I’m a mixture of a lot of different things. It makes me diverse and it makes me very valuable. I can do all these things and do them well.

3.  What was your best day being a host?

My very best day is when everything is running smoothly at a reasonable pace. It’s not frenetic. It’s not slow either. It’s in the middle. We’re getting guests coming in every few minutes. We’re seating them. We’re just doing that all the way through. Every server is getting a table. Everybody is getting what they need. The guests are happy.

hamburger-signI am a person who takes ownership of problems. I don’t like to pass the buck. If I can I will do it myself. If there is a cold set of fries, I’ll go and get another set for them. I just go back to the kitchen and let them know and get another set of fries for them and place them. You can look at it from a business standpoint and say, “I put out fires.”   That’s important in any business that you put out the fires. There is nothing worse than not getting satisfied with an answer or not getting satisfied with something. That just gets you into a lot of trouble with the whole experience. One thing is wrong than another thing is wrong and it kind of snowballs.

I go around the room and check on them too. I’m like that often and will do that – go around and make sure everything is exactly the way they want it. That is the server’s job and I do it as well when I’m not busy up front. When it isn’t busy up there, I can take a walk around the restaurant and look around. I can usually spot if there is something the customer needs. I can usually tell. It might be a drink. It might be some napkins. It might be something else. It might be something I don’t know about but someone will tell me, “These fries are cold, can you give me another set of fries?” “It is not quite the way I expected it. Can you help me out?” Sometimes that might mean getting a server and sometimes that means doing it myself.

4.  What was your worst day being a host?

A day where there comes a point when there are just too many balls in the air. There might be five things that I have to do but can only get to three of them. pickupThe other two someone else is going to have to do or they’re going to have to wait until I can get around to that. That’s hard and I hate doing that because I want to help everybody – of course. But sometimes you have to set priorities and say, “OK, that’s more important than this is. This has to be done. I can do this one in a matter of less than a minute, but this one will take me three or four minutes to do.” You have to think of the work and what takes priority or precedence here. I have to do two or three jobs. I’m cashing out and do this and doing that. So I have to prioritize as a cashier, but I have to also be a host. There might be a waiting line to cash out. I may have to point to my servers and say, “Someone please get the door. I can’t.” I can’t do both. I want to make sure to help the people who are waiting. The job I have is mainly clearing the lobby as quickly as I can. Some days it is really, really tough to do that.

In our restaurant people tend to come and go at the same time. Can you imagine what that is like? People come and go in waves. The first wave will come in and get fed and are set to go. Then the second wave comes in and you’re still making sure the first wave is getting checked out or the next wave is crashing in behind you. You are doing the best you can and you may miss a few things because there is just so much going on. Some people may not get the best service as they would if the store was not crowded. But then they understand that you can’t help everybody at once. So you have to prioritize.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I do a lot of praying. I just say to myself, “It’s OK. You will get through this. It’s OK.” Steak-and-Shake-2In any business you are going to run into areas where it’s just frenetic like that and the only thing to do is to just get through it – work your way through it piece by piece by piece. You don’t try to do the whole thing at once. Little by little you work your way though it. That’s the way I do it – work my way through it.

It doesn’t do any good to get all flustered about it. It actually wastes time. If you get flustered, you are going to waste time worrying about it and getting all up tight about it and not really getting anything accomplished. You have to just settle down and go through what you have to go through. Then you will be fine. You will get through it but you have to be willing to settle down and get through it. The challenge sometimes is to get guests that are not happy either with the service or something that happened during the day – whatever it might be. They are simply not happy. Those people – you have to let roll off your back and act like a duck. Steak-and-Shake-4You can’t let those people wreck your day. They could wreck your day if you let them and you don’t move on. You might say, “Gosh I wish I could have done that better. I could have done that better.” But you’re shooting yourself in the foot when it is someone who is not going to be happy no matter what. You’re better off just forgetting about it and moving on to the next guest and continue to make people happy the best you can. You can’t worry about all those people who are looking for something to be wrong. They are going to find it. I guarantee it. It doesn’t matter what I do. They will find something wrong.

No matter how good I am or what I do, there are some customers who are going to find something to complain about. It could be anything – like the air temperature. Who knows? It could be anything. You can’t do anything about it. They are going to find something. It doesn’t matter what you are going to do to prevent it when someone is going to find something to be unhappy about. But you are going to do your best. You can forget about it and not let it ruin you day.

I’ve seen servers let it ruin their day – like someone didn’t give them a tip that they thought they should get or somebody didn’t come up with the food in the right way. They will let that ruin their day and their day is shot. You have to be willing and able to recover. You’ve got to be willing to let that go. It’s in the past. It’s over with. It is done.

6.  What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a host?

Be yourself. Be the person you know you are – which is a wonderful happy kind of person.mural Enjoy having the guests there and loving people. That kind of general love of your guests is going to go a long way. Treat them equally and not have any biases. This is a great place to be if you can do that. I tell people, “Listen to me. You better love kids. If you don’t love kids, you are going to have a problem.” Kids come to the store and love what we give them. They have their own separate world from adults. They are innocent and don’t know all the things adults know. So you better love kids and be prepared for dealing with what they need.

You also have to know how to deal with large parties – make them comfortable and give them a large enough table. You have to be sure everyone has what the need. You have to deal with people who want to eat right away, but they can’t. You first have to make them comfortable and do the best you can. You have to be able to plan ahead – get their name, the number in their party, what table would be the best, and where they will fit. You have to figure out how far along the people are who are eating and when the tables will open up for larger parties coming in. I have to constantly think about where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do. I have to have a plan of action and where it is going to be – how I’m going to make everything happen. I have to know when to call on people to help me out. So you have to have teamwork and it can be a lot of fun.