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(NYT)   Dilbert's creator has become that which he hates most, but without pointy hair   (nytimes.com) divider line 19
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4064 clicks; posted to Business » on 13 Nov 2007 at 11:24 AM (6 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2007-11-13 11:36:18 AM
Boo...registration bad
 
2007-11-13 11:36:33 AM
Bad subby.
 
2007-11-13 11:41:11 AM
tortilla burger: Boo...registration bad

Kar98: Bad subby.

Ur doing it wrong.
 
2007-11-13 11:48:28 AM
I didn't have to register either, but I got to the end of page one, saw there was more, and wandered off. Too long an article about too dull a subject.
 
2007-11-13 11:49:27 AM
I didn't have to register...it went right to the story.

At least Adams seems to have a clue that he's not altogether qualified for the job (or so the article leads one to believe), unlike the pointy-haired boss who fired me recently.
 
2007-11-13 11:50:55 AM
Dilbert's creator has become that which he hates most, but without pointy hair

FTFY
 
2007-11-13 12:04:52 PM
FTFA:While the chains have 30-minute waits for tables on weeknights, Stacey's at Waterford has more jewel-tone microfiber chairs than diners

This is sad (assuming that Stacey's has good food), and an unfortunate reality all over the country. Most of the people in this country are sheep and go to where they are led by their Madison Avenue Overlords. 30+ minute waits for mediocre food at restaurants with more "flair" than class, while small, simple, clean mom and pop restaurants with fabulous food close for lack of business.

People are too afraid to take a chance and try something new. Granted, it could go horribly wrong (I still have nightmares about that little Italian place that opened near my home in Las Vegas), but that's all part of the fun of dining out. If I want the same-o same-o, I'd stay home and eat my wife's meatloaf.
 
2007-11-13 12:09:09 PM
If you're having to register:

THIS is yet another story about a clueless but obtrusive boss - the kind of meddlesome manager you might laugh at in the panels of "Dilbert," the daily comic strip.

The boss in question operates an upscale restaurant serving California cuisine about an hour's drive east of San Francisco. The restaurant, Stacey's at Waterford, is in trouble - two decades of rapid population growth in the region has prompted an influx of national competitors like P. F. Chang's China Bistro and the Cheesecake Factory.

While the chains have 30-minute waits for tables on weeknights, Stacey's at Waterford has more jewel-tone microfiber chairs than diners, and is slowly but steadily losing money. To make matters worse, this befuddled manager has never run a restaurant before or even supervised another person's work in more than 20 years. His greatest qualification for the job, one might say, is 17 years spent satirizing cubicle culture.

In other words, Scott Adams, the "Dilbert" creator and the progenitor of the multimillion-dollar Dilbert empire, is now a pointy-haired boss himself.

Mr. Adams had repeatedly vowed never to let it come to this, refusing for years even to hire a personal assistant to help with Dilbert-related projects. "I did a really good job not being a boss for a long time, and I was happy with that," he said.

But never say never. A decade ago, flush with Dilbert riches, he and the restaurant veteran Stacey Belkin opened a restaurant called Stacey's Cafe in downtown Pleasanton, Calif., a bedroom community of San Francisco. Five years later, they opened Stacey's at Waterford in an unremarkable strip mall nearby, in Dublin, Calif.

Until this summer, Mr. Adams's involvement consisted of signing checks, writing clever jokes for the menus and leaving big tips for the wait staff after his regular visits. Then a personal battle between Ms. Belkin and a former chef intensified just as the big feed chains began staking their claim on the booming exurbs - thrusting Dilbert's creator into the middle of a managerial nightmare.

Stacey's Cafe is smaller, in a better location and is regularly packed. But Stacey's at Waterford, never profitable to begin with, was suddenly seeing a 10 percent decline in revenue. Ms. Belkin, who was running both restaurants, was overextended.

Mr. Adams, meanwhile, was dispatching his comic-strip responsibilities in just a few hours each morning. So, in July, he agreed to take over day-to-day operations of Stacey's at Waterford, thus becoming what he has consistently ridiculed: a boss.

"I am highly experienced at making funny comics about managers," he wrote at the time on his popular blog, dilbertblog.typepad.com. "How hard could it be to transition from mocking idiots to being one?"

Those in his 35-member staff at Stacey's at Waterford can gladly answer that one. In interviews authorized by their generously self-deprecating boss, employees describe him as trusting and appreciative, full of off-the-wall ideas about how to turn around the business, and dramatically clueless about the harsh realities of the restaurant industry.

"I've been in this business 23 years, and I've seen a lot of things. He truly has no idea what he's doing," said Nathan Gillespie, the new, wise-cracking head chef, after discussing a recent dust-up with Mr. Adams over the grilled salmon filet. (Mr. Gillespie had experimented with what he called small changes to the dish; friends noticed them and told Mr. Adams, who admonished the chef that new dishes need to go through a formal review.)

Mr. Gillespie is still miffed. "He's a really nice guy, but he relies on his friends' opinions," he said, lamenting that his boss's friends probably think a chain restaurant has good pizza.

Emma Lewis, the lunch manager, describes Mr. Adams as someone who should be shielded from tough decisions the way a crawling infant needs to be protected from household hazards. "We laugh and say we're not going to let him watch the Food Channel," she said. "He'll think he can run a restaurant."

On the other hand, employees also say he knows his limitations and combines deep trust in them with an instinctive ability to motivate people. They understand that to survive in this age of dominant restaurant chains, they must embrace some of his more unusual ideas and obsessions - but more on those later.

No one is more critical of his management skills than the humorist himself. "I'm quite sure I've succumbed to the pigeon theory of management," he said. "Flying in every so often and dumping on everything."

"THE most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management."

- Scott Adams

"The Dilbert Principle"
Mr. Adams, who turned 50 in June, has closely cropped, receding hair, spectacles and an unsurprising resemblance to his ink-drawn alter-ego. He is quick to recognize how the cynical cubicle-worker wisdom that propelled "The Dilbert Principle" onto best-seller lists is at work in his role as restaurant boss.

"Certainly I'm an example of the Dilbert Principle," he said. "I can't cook. I can't remember customers' orders. I can't do most of the jobs I pay people to do."

But restaurants, he says, are in his DNA. Before he was born, his family owned and operated a diner called the Blue Moon in Windham, N.Y., in the 1950s. In high school and college, he bused tables at resorts in the Catskills.

"I have no interest in ever stepping onto a sailboat," he said. "But I walk into a restaurant and all my senses and interests are activated in a single moment."

Enriched by the 1990s success of Dilbert, he indulged his obsession. After investing in Stacey's Cafe, he started a company, Scott Adams Food, in 1999. Its first and last product was the Dilberito, a vitamin-packed meatless burrito with a wheat-based meat substitute intended to give workaholics a full day's worth of nourishment.

The company placed the Dilberito in national supermarkets, but Mr. Adams now complains that rival food makers surreptitiously sent agents into stores to bury it on the back of shelves. He closed the venture in 2003, though he licensed the protein substitute to a food conglomerate and continues to draw small royalties.

Two years later, he curtailed speaking engagements after contracting spasmodic dysphonia, a rare brain disorder that robbed him of his voice for a year. Gradually, he learned tricks like altering his speech patterns or talking in rhymes, which let him regain some speaking ability, though his voice remains halting and wispy.

Today, he is married and a stepfather to two young children. He still awakes at 5 a.m., drawing his strip and producing books like "Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!" his most recent collection of entries from his blog. Cartooning now comes easily to Mr. Adams, who gets many ideas from readers via his Web site and draws strips in a few hours each morning on his computer. "I spend less time thinking about the strip than anything else I do," he said.

So when the numbers on Stacey's at Waterford started to go south, he had the free time to try to protect his investment. He declines to disclose exactly how much he has already spent or what the restaurant is losing. "The trajectory changed," he said. "It was moving in the right direction and suddenly started moving rapidly in the wrong direction."

"We needed a change in strategy."

"THE purpose of a plan is to disguise the fact that you have no idea what you should be doing."

- Scott Adams, "Dilbert's

Guide to the Rest of Your Life"

The linchpin of Mr. Adams's strategy is the 50-person banquet room. "We are three banquets a week away from being on our way to riches and glory," he said.

After taking over this summer, he hired an events coordinator who began attracting outings from local companies like Oracle, Chevron and Safeway, and introduced bonuses for employees who refer banquet business. He also turned to Dilbert fans for suggestions on how to use the party room, in a posting on his blog titled "Oh Great Blog Brain."

The Dilbert faithful responded with more than 1,300 comments, mixing interesting ideas (interactive murder-mystery theater) with unlikely mischief (nude volleyball tournaments).

Mr. Adams asked his employees to read the comments and is now slowly trying some of them. The idea for Mommy Mojito Night, for example, originated on the blog and has met with initial enthusiasm from customers.

Along with such ideas, he also started indulging some odd, pointy-haired-boss-like obsessions.

He believes proper light is the primary factor in a restaurant's success - not food, price, location, location or location. "With the right light, you look better and your date looks better," he said. "That influences your impression of everything else."

But when they designed their space, Mr. Adams and Ms. Belkin blundered by creating multiple, large floor-to-ceiling storefront windows that are now proving impossibly expensive to cover.

He always despised the light in the restaurant. So, skeptical employees in tow, he embarked on a surreal hunt for window coverings. One interior decorator after another suggested translucent curtains, or curtains that gather on the sides, or curtains designed to stay rolled up.
"Every meeting was the same conversation," he said. "They couldn't understand that the point was to have less light." Roman shades would have done the trick, but they cost $50,000.

The project was temporarily shelved this fall, but not before it had become a source of comedy among the wait staff. "At this point, I'm sure he wouldn't care if we put cardboard on windows," said Kristina Jernigan, the bar manager.

More recently, Mr. Adams began plans to "Dilbertize" the restaurant. He hopes that adding more conspicuous references to his celebrity might create what marketers call a "purple cow" - that singular distinction that gets people talking.

The restaurant recently invited its bar patrons to draw on blank comic book panels; it will post the best efforts to its Web site, www.eatatstaceys.com. Mr. Adams also plans to add a flat-screen television to the bar and to run a constant loop of "Dilbert" strips on it. "For a fairly low investment, it becomes an automatic talking point," he said.

But no one knows better than Dilbert's creator that changes from above can stir fear and conspiracy among the troops. Converting the existing bar into a "Dilbar," as employees called it, became the source of an uncomfortable rumor in the restaurant: that Mr. Adams would soon ask them to wear Dilbert-style white short-sleeved shirts and ties that curled upward.

"It is definitely not going to up our cool factor," said a bartender, Brian Bundy, who believed that such a change was imminent.

Mr. Adams says he has no plans for such a requirement, and two employees deviously take credit for the starting the rumor. Still, many at the restaurant seem to think it's a possibility.

"I bet you six months from now, you walk in here and see the ties," said Ms. Lewis, the lunch manager.

Mr. Adams recognizes how such fears may have taken hold. "If you put that in context of my other bad ideas, it makes sense," he said.

"LEADERSHIP is a flavor of evil. Obviously no one would need to lead you to do something you wanted to do anyway."

- Scott Adams, "Dilbert's

Guide to the Rest of Your Life"

Mr. Adams tries to avoid the bad-boss stereotypes he mocks in "Dilbert" and his best-selling books. Occasionally, he slips up. Trying to coordinate a conversation between a reporter and the dinner manager, Mr. Adams calls the employee on his off day and asks him to come in anyway. He agrees.

"I like to hire people with no life," Mr. Adams said wickedly after the call.

That demanding streak is tempered by a more benevolent side: Mr. Adams generously tipped the entire staff after his 50th birthday party at the restaurant, though he'd spent part of the evening grousing that the lights were too bright.

In sizing up his own struggles as boss, he said: "The toughest thing is I have trouble being evil. I never punish mistakes, and it's impossible for me to ask people to work harder. So my defense is to make sure people are happy about being here."

Some employees, accustomed to hard-edged politics at other restaurants, think that this approach might further disadvantage Stacey's in such a brutally competitive environment.

"He's extremely loyal to people - in this business that can be deadly," said Mr. Gillespie, the chef.

Mr. Adams shrugs off the possibility of failure at Stacey's and said he has the money and willingness to keep trying new strategies until he finds one that works. "Any combination of things can help us," he said. "If any of these new ideas take off, we'll be fine, and if they won't work, we can walk away from them and try something else."

He adds that running a restaurant complements his life nicely. "It's a source of stress, but it adds such richness and happiness to my life," he says. "The problem with being a cartoonist is that if you don't have someplace else to go, your life just gets so small."

At the very least, Scott Adams is getting fresh insight into Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.
 
2007-11-13 12:13:19 PM
Breakfast Menu:

Eggs with Dill but no salmon

/Got nothin'
 
2007-11-13 12:40:24 PM
He's a good boss but bad manager.
 
2007-11-13 12:49:23 PM
Thanks, and creating a nuisance.

Well, better being a sucky restaurant owner than a dead one. The owner of one of our two downtown restaurants was robbed and killed Sunday night.
 
2007-11-13 12:51:15 PM
We tend to turn into those folks that we spend most of our time thinking about (even when we are thinking about how we DON'T want to be like them.)
 
2007-11-13 12:58:13 PM
Grandemadaca: If I want the same-o same-o, I'd stay home and eat my wife's meatloaf.

That's what "massage" parlors are for.

\Remember to pay cash - no paper trail
//or so I hear from this guy from the internets
///his girlfriend lives in Canada
////I don't know her
\neither do you
 
2007-11-13 01:33:35 PM
This sounds like a job for Gordon Ramsay!
 
2007-11-13 04:10:59 PM
browser_snake: This sounds like a job for Gordon Ramsay!

I can see it now:

img267.imageshack.us

/shack, Thanks
 
2007-11-13 07:42:10 PM
brandied: We tend to turn into those folks that we spend most of our time thinking about (even when we are thinking about how we DON'T want to be like them.)

Do we all become our exes?
 
2007-11-14 08:25:49 AM
The guy from Boondocks should run a restaurant.

Now that would be funny!
 
2007-11-14 04:12:15 PM
Grandemadaca:

This is sad (assuming that Stacey's has good food), and an unfortunate reality all over the country. Most of the people in this country are sheep and go to where they are led by their Madison Avenue Overlords. 30+ minute waits for mediocre food at restaurants with more "flair" than class, while small, simple, clean mom and pop restaurants with fabulous food close for lack of business.

People are too afraid to take a chance and try something new. Granted, it could go horribly wrong (I still have nightmares about that little Italian place that opened near my home in Las Vegas), but that's all part of the fun of dining out. If I want the same-o same-o, I'd stay home and eat my wife's meatloaf.


Chain restraunts operate on the same principle as any other large-scale business in that once you establish yourself as a brand, people will be willing to pay extra (financially or otherwise) for the expectation that that level of quality will be maintained wherever they go to which for the large chains is still pretty damn good considering several foodie friends still complain about different chefs making the same dish at two different Olive Gardens.
I barely ever go to McDonalds for food any more but it doesn't mean I won't occasionally have a hankering for a parfait or chicken nugget and I don't need to worry if the one down the road is any different from the one 10 miles away. Same goes for the family of four who goes out to eat once a week. They probably don't go to TGI Fridays every single Saturday, but the food, atmosphere, and service is good enough to warrant going back to in one or two months which they can afford while mom and pop eaterys would need you to come back more often just to stay afloat.
As for people being sheep because of Madison Avenue, I've never seen PF Chang ad in my life; learned about cheescake factory by word of mouth; didn't notice a TGI Friday's commercial until after I'd been there; and have been to an Olive Garden and Outback a grand total of once each. I'll gladly go back to any of them in the future just as likely as any place that has proven themselves to have great food. But since I don't regularly blow $40 on a single meal, I'm gonna pick the place I know will give me what I expect and test out the little bistro when I only need to spend $10 as in my experience they usually aren't worth it.
It is also worth pointing out that the restraunt business in the US is already so competitive that most banks are loathe to give you a loan to start one because of the risk of bankruptcy. So you can't entirely blame successful ones like Cheesecake Factory who compete better just by virtue of existing.
 
2007-11-15 01:58:18 AM
They should rename Stacy's to Dilbert's. Or, have some kind of Dilbert related prize system for frequent diners.
 
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