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Only Stupid People Touch a Hot Stove Twice

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by Restaurant Expert Witness – Howard Cannon

When I was a kid growing up, I spent many nights staying at my brother Bob’s house.

He had an old-fashioned, pot-bellied woodstove sitting in the middle of the living room floor.  Every few hours throughout the cold Wisconsin winters, you had to stoke up the fire with a few logs to keep from freezing your butt off. 

Well, that woodstove held a curious fascination for toddlers, because it seemed that every little child that entered the living room made a beeline toward the thing.  They wanted to check it out right away.  They would waddle over and touch the burning hot, cast-iron sides.

Now, you must realize that this was long before the advent of safety screens that nowadays keep people from touching cast-iron stoves and getting burned. 

Time and time again, their curiosity evoked the same response; and immediately following, the toddlers would vocalize the agony of their newly painful learning experience by screaming inconsolably at the top of their lungs.  That being said, however, I've got to hand it to the little guys - every single one of them had enough common sense never to touch that hot stove again. The message was sent, the lesson was learned:  “Don’t touch! Hot Stove!”   

That, in a nut shell, explains how my Hot Stove Theory was born.  There are some lessons and experiences that don't need repeating.  Only an idiot would toy with a hot stove twice. Leaders must have a set of Hot Stove rules that are not negotiable because these rules contain the core values that set the whole tone for the workplace.  If the rules are followed, then a lot of wasteful nonsense is avoided.  Adherence to the rules lays the groundwork for individual achievement among employees, growth, and advancement as a team, in addition to the success of your restaurant business.  If the leader allows the rules to be broken, then the leader deserves the chaos that follows.

So, I'm giving you my list of Hot Stoves, my ground rules for creating an environment where people can thrive and business can flourish.  And, now that you are no longer a toddler but are a mature, responsible adult – hopefully, now gifted with a little common sense; and, because I am warning you in advance, you should realize that if you touch these Hot Stoves - if you compromise what should obviously not be compromised - well, then, you deserve to get burned. 

My Hot Stoves:

The “No Lie” Rule.  If you lie to members of the team, you should no longer be a part of the team.  You don't deserve to be.  Lying undermines and destroys trust.  A half-truth or a lie of omission - it's all the same.  Lying kills all of the confidence you once placed in that person. And, if I start lying to you, I should resign. No job is worth my integrity. 

The “No Theft” Rule. I won’t steal from you, and I expect that you won’t steal from me. Short-paying an employee, for example, not paying him or her for all of the hours he or she worked, is theft.  Stealing a bag of potato chips from the stock room is no different than taking cash from the register. Theft of any kind, at any level, should result in someone losing his or her job.  There's no excuse.

The “No Laziness” Rule.  Not working hard and not giving your best effort is a form of theft. You are stealing from the employer; and, you are stealing from yourself.  Milking the clock - fooling around or wasting time just because there are no customers or managers around - cannot be tolerated.  When you shrug off the value of your work, you throw away one of the greatest opportunities that life has to offer you.

The “No Drug Use and No Alcohol Abuse” Rule.  If a drug is illegal, then the use of that drug in your restaurant or establishment must be prohibited. No exceptions. Excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t make you cute or funny; it just makes you a drunkard.  This is a no-brainer, folks. There are plenty of people that live a clean life and are ready and willing to work - those are the people you want on your team.  A business entity should not be running a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center.

The “No Rudeness to Customers” Rule.  Who's paying the bills? The customers.  A business cannot exist without its customers.  Their patronage puts money in everybody's pocket.  Rudeness to a customer, any customer, regardless of provocation, results in a lose/lose situation for everybody, but most especially your restaurant.

The “No Yelling At or Being Rude Toward Employees” Rule. Feel free to yell at the company president and find out how long you last. Go ahead and yell right up the chain of command, if you dare; but, you may not yell at or be rude towards other employees if you want to continue to be one.  And, if you think that just because you yell the loudest that you’re right, then you’re wrong.  As author Lewis Carroll once said:  “Courtesy is a small act but it packs a mighty wallop.”  It is a must, and is essential to the core of how you conduct business.

The “No Tolerance For Sexual Harassment” Rule.  No making unwanted sexual advances.  No asking for sexual favors.  No squirm-inducing remarks about someone's sex or sexuality.  It's illegal.  Sexual harassment of any kind is grounds for immediate termination and will not be tolerated.

The “All Men And Women Are Created Equal” Rule.  No decisions will be made based on race, color, creed, religious beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, age or gender. This is the world we live in. No bigots or chauvinists or EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) violations are allowed.  Period.

The “No Rumor” Rule. The rumor mill does not turn here. Malicious or titillating gossip at the expense of another person's reputation is wrong.  If you have something to say about someone, have the courage and decency to engage that person directly or don’t say anything at all.

The “No Negative Influencer” Rule. Negativity poisons the entire workplace atmosphere.  It dismantles morale, chips away at motivation, dampens enthusiasm, diminishes productivity, and completely turns off customers.  If you are going to be a Negative Influencer, go do it someplace else. We don’t need to be infected by you.

The "I Value the Opinions of Others" Rule. Every member of every team should be valued for the brains and the brawn that he or she brings to the job.  I value your opinion even if I disagree with it. I expect the same out of you regarding my opinions and the opinions of others. This is basic respect.  And, don’t tell people what you think they want to hear, tell them honestly what you think.  Who knows, they may want your input in order to improve upon something that will not only be beneficial to the restaurant and its customers, but perhaps ultimately to you, as well.

Those are my Hot Stoves.  You might have some different ideas that you want to add to your own list; but, I’m sure you will agree that, with your Hot Stoves (ground rules) set out clearly, it will be much easier to lead any group of people.

It’s your duty as the one exercising leadership to warn those you manage that you have rules that cannot be broken (“the stove is hot, do not touch”), and if they break those rules (“touch the hot stove”), they will get burned . . . but only once, because they won’t get a second chance.


ROI, Inc. © 2013 – All Rights Reserved


Restaurant Expert Witness – Howard Cannon has authored several books, written dozens of articles, delivered hundreds of speeches, seminars and interviews, and been featured on national, regional, and local TV and radio. His books can befound in bookstores in 76 countries around the globe. He can be reached at 800.300.5764 or at

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