Bill Tobin is the Co-owner and CEO of Tiki’s Grill & Bar and a business mentor on his Restaurant Leadership 365 podcast. He has over 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry as a manager, owner, mentor, and consultant. Bill Tobin is a veteran of the US Army and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Bill Tobin talks about his start in the restaurant industry
- What a customer can expect at Tiki’s Grill & Bar
- How has the pandemic affected operations at Tiki’s?
- The idea behind the Restaurant Leadership 365 podcast
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Bill Tobin, Co-owner and CEO of Tiki’s Grill & Bar and mentor for The Restaurant Leadership 365 podcast, about the busiest independent restaurant in Waikiki. Tiki’s has survived many challenges since opening in 2001, including a complete shutdown in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Bill uses his experience and savvy to help others in the industry through 2-3 minute podcasts that tackle some of the most common challenges facing restaurateurs.
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here co host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25media.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Tobin is the host of the Restaurant Leadership 365 podcast. A podcast of quick two to three minute tips and advice to restaurant owners, managers and others. He is also Co-founder and Managing Partner of Tiki’s Grill & Bar. Tiki’s Grill & Bar is the busiest independent restaurant in all of Waikiki. Bill. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
Bill Tobin 1:26
Thanks for having me, Chad. How are you today?
Chad Franzen 1:29
I’m doing great. Thank you. So tell me a little bit more about Tiki’s. And what a customer can expect when they go there?
Bill Tobin 1:36
Well, I think a lot of people have a vision of what a tiki bar is. And we literally have Tiki icons or Tiki statues throughout the restaurant as well as hanging glass balls, a bunch of memorabilia on the wall. A few different types of totems. It’s a fun place, but I think what a lot of people what we surprise a lot of people with is that we have an open air restaurant, even though we have about half of our restaurant is covered seating, we have open air with the ocean view. And we have fantastic food when you think of a old 1950s style Tiki Bar. It was really focused on cocktails, which we certainly do tons and tons of cocktails. But we also have excellent food and we’ve really positioned ourselves that way with that.
Chad Franzen 2:25
Can you kind of characterize the food for me? Give me some garden variety examples.
Bill Tobin 2:29
Oh, we have lots of fresh fish. Of course we have a little bit of chicken on the menu. We have steaks, we we have lots of appetizers, shrimp and hummus and smoked fish dip. It’s a fun place and a variety for just about everybody.
Chad Franzen 2:48
Wow, sounds fantastic. And it’s in Waikiki. So the weather there is pretty much nice all the time.
Bill Tobin 2:53
I would say we have we have rainy days here and there. But I would say most of the time, it’s very, very nice. And our cold days it gets down to maybe 65 or 70 at night and on and hot during the day might be 90 degrees 95 on a really really hot day and but generally in the in the mid 80s
Chad Franzen 3:17
Sounds good. How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
Bill Tobin 3:21
Well, it was really by accident. I was I wasn’t I was at enlisted person in the army in Georgia. And my girlfriend at the time was a cocktail waitress and I used to every weekend I had off I went to the same spot. The owner said, Hey, if you’re gonna come here every weekend, can you check IDs for me at the door? I said Sure. No problem and, and then one day a barback doesn’t show up. He says hey, can you wash some dishes for me? I said, Yeah, no problem. One day, the bartender doesn’t show up. He says, Hey, can you make some drinks for me? I said, I don’t know how to make drinks. He says, Well, what do you think? Then I run a coke. And I said, Ron Makoki says you’re hired. And then it became a second career for him. Your second job I got out of the army. And that’s how I put myself through school after that.
Chad Franzen 4:07
What are some of the kinds of restaurant jobs you had before you co founded Tiki’s?
Bill Tobin 4:12
Well, I after a few different bartending jobs while I was still in the military, I moved back to Hawaii where I lived before I went active duty, and I worked as a doorman for the Hard Rock Cafe and then as a as a bartender for a Hard Rock Cafe for several years. Got out then became I worked in construction management for a little while. Then when I heard Hard Rock was looking for managers. I thought this might be fun. I worked as a manager for Hard Rock then another small independent restaurant chains here in Hawaii. And then I sorry, and then once I got tired of trying to convince my bosses how to make money, I decided to do it for myself.
Chad Franzen 4:59
Very nice. is very nice. So how did the idea for Tiki’s come about? And how did you get started?
Bill Tobin 5:06
Well, it’s kind of fun. I had met up with a couple of fraternity brothers that also wanted to open a restaurant. And we, we were looking for a place that we would like where we wanted to build a restaurant that we wanted to go to as well. We wanted to hang out and have fun, we wanted to make it a fun inviting environment for for families and, and young adults. And we, we thought, okay, well, here’s a few different spots, what, what fits, and then we went through names, and we’re just throwing names against the wall. And one of my partners said, Tiki’s. And I said, That’s it. And then we built the theme around the name as funny as that sounds,
Chad Franzen 5:50
what were the early days kind of like? And how are they different than than you know, it is now?
Bill Tobin 5:55
Well, it’s kind of funny. You’ve heard the expression, you don’t know what you don’t know. And certainly when I had been a general manager for a restaurant for three years, by the time that and another high volume restaurant, and I thought that I knew everything, and this is going to be no problem. And of course, when you’re when you start signing the checks yourself, and you’re dealing with payroll and a lot of other issues, let alone the vendors and stuff. You say, Oh, yeah, there’s a lot more that’s involved than just just standing on the floor and making sure your people show up to work.
Chad Franzen 6:30
How many people are on the team? At Tiki’s?
Bill Tobin 6:34
We have 130 people right now.
Chad Franzen 6:36
Oh, wow. Do you have any tips for managing a large staff like that of restaurant employees?
Bill Tobin 6:41
I would say a holding people accountable, but also giving them a pretty long leash. You know, I think, I think what a lot of people don’t understand, or maybe forget is that when we whenever anybody, I would say 99% of the people, people in general when they start a job, and it’s can be any job, it doesn’t have to be in the restaurant industry. Usually when people start a job, they say, Hey, I want to do good, I want to I want to do well, in this new job that I’m starting on. Day one, I’m going to go in, I’m going to show the bosses that I’m they made the right decision in hiring. And I think that what what happens soon after that first or second day is people kind of fit into the culture of that establishment. And so if they are really high achievers, but it’s a low achieving establishment, the low achievers or the culture will kind of put them in place to Hey, don’t over achieve. And the same time if they’re, if it’s a high cheating environment, and they’re typically at a low achiever, that will often bring those people up. And and as leaders, you really need to hold your people accountable, especially when they’re starting. And if you’re trying to change the environment, you need to change, you need to hold people accountable to that higher standard. So that when people are coming in, they’re coming into an achieving environment versus an environment where everybody’s okay with mediocre status quo.
Chad Franzen 8:15
So what does accountability look like? I’m guessing, you know, a lot of the employees maybe aren’t career restaurant workers, maybe they’re, you know, students or whatever is a part time job. What does accountability look like for a staff kind of like that?
Bill Tobin 8:27
Well, it’s, I’m glad you asked, because there’s, there’s different avenues to take for different situations. And I think that a lot of people who have worked in any type of establishment, especially a corporate establishment that have lots of employees, they are used to progressive discipline type of accountability, where you, you correct action by giving people a warning, and maybe you give a write up the first time, second time. And the third time, you, you dismiss them, or what we say returned to return to the workforce. But we but what what people forget is that you don’t have to always do progressive discipline, if somebody is not fitting into your culture. And maybe I shouldn’t say first, part of the reason we do this progressive discipline is so that we don’t have we give people chances to grow and fit into what your expectations are. And that communication is necessary to make sure that you’re giving them every chance to succeed. But the problem is that a lot of it is also based around. We don’t want to have a wrongful terminations or get people for get rid of people for unfair reasons. The flip side of that is that sometimes we hold on to people too long because we think we need to do the progressive discipline, and the progressive discipline. If you know that somebody is stealing from you, you don’t give them a warning and say hey, you can’t steal again. If you say, You know what, this is the wrong place for you, you can find a job someplace else. And and the the, the concern a lot of people say, oh, I want them to have to play pay unemployment because they’re gonna say I didn’t give them the chance. And I say, Well, would you rather have this person who is not right for your culture working for you longer and hurting your culture? Or would you rather just pay unemployment for the short time that is, and a lot of people forget that you’re not going to be punished for getting rid of people that don’t fit except for maybe you have to pay unemployment for a short time, but it’s going to benefit your culture and your organization. In the long run, if you make those decisions quicker than we normally do.
Chad Franzen 10:43
How important is it to hold your hold yourself accountable?
Bill Tobin 10:47
Absolutely important. I do goal setting and I do daily list, I have a written plan or next to me and I freely admit that I’m I’m not perfect. In many, many ways. I I fail myself, but I also do a weekly review and monthly review and a quarterly review to say, Hey, what did I do here? Why didn’t I accomplish this? What is the roadblocks and then what can I do better to to overcome those obstacles. And sometimes I have, like everybody, I have roadblocks that make it difficult for me to overcome or, or projects that maybe I don’t want to jump into for whatever reason. And sometimes it’s just taking that first bite of the elephant to make it happen. Or maybe it’s something that I know that I’m not gonna start and I need to delegate to somebody else, because it’s just not fitting me. But I, it’s very, very important to hold yourself accountable even even when on the personal life too. If I want to spend if I say want a good marriage, and I want to spend time with my kids, then I have to make a commitment to do that. And if I’m not doing it, I have to say, why not. And I have to change things so that I can have the obviously those should be priorities for everybody. And I have to make those a priority to make it happen.
Chad Franzen 12:09
Can you kind of tell me about the process of setting clear expectations. So you know, everybody is ready to be held accountable for whatever they’re going to be held accountable for?
Bill Tobin 12:20
I I think that it’s all about communication. And it’s, it’s kind of funny, when people start at Tiki’s, were very quick to say, Hey, you’re using analogies that people understand, we say, Hey, you’re on the varsity team now. And the expectation is higher. I don’t know where you worked before. And we love that experience that you had. And we hope that that is going to help you succeed here. But now you’re on the varsity team, and our expectations are high. And you have to be able to reduce if you don’t, if you’re not doing the job as we expect. We’re going to talk to you about it. Don’t take it bad work just like a coach on a sports team. We’re going to tell you what you’re doing wrong. We’re not going to attack you as a person. But we’re going to tell you if you need to correct some action in your work. And then we’re going to give you many chances to succeed. But if we don’t see that continual growth and production then then maybe maybe you’re not ready for varsity yet.
Chad Franzen 13:27
How has COVID affected operations at Tiki’s?
Bill Tobin 13:31
Oh, man. I think first we our restaurant closed down not not because we we because we got any infections, but because of mandates through the state and just trying to keep people safe. And because we’re in a resort area. Takeout was never a big thing for us takeout or delivery. So we didn’t we didn’t put a lot of effort or focus into that. We’re in the upstairs location too. So just getting delivery drivers or people that come upstairs is a is a challenge. But then as we reopened actually, we had a lot of staff that didn’t want to come back to work or staff that left Hawaii altogether and went back to wherever their safety net was. And so we started off short staffed and and then we did a we tightened up our menu and tightened up a lot of our operations and a lot of it was very good learning experience for us. And then through March of last year, we got really busy and things were good again until we saw the beginnings of the Delta variant and travel started to tighten up and restrictions on restaurants tightened up again. Most recently, we went through a surge of Omicron like everybody did, and On many restaurants in Hawaii, not just our restaurant, suffered with people getting infected in and like a wave going through your restaurant. So as some people are coming back to work after their 10 days of what what ended up being for most people a very mild, cold like symptoms, then we’d have another wave of people go. And I think now we’re finally through it. And we’re just hoping that people are traveling, it’s been a decrease in our revenue, but we’ve been able to manage our expenses very well. I think overall, it’s been very difficult, but a very good learning experience and help with us, increasing our efficiencies.
Chad Franzen 15:44
Tell me a little bit more about the Restaurant Leadership 365 podcast, how long have you been doing that?
Bill Tobin 15:51
It was an it was not, not planned for COVID, actually part of 2020 I’d said I wanted to start helping restaurants and start doing a podcast to spread some of my, my knowledge in the industry. I spent a lot of time with other restaurateurs and helping people in general anyway. And I thought, Well, why can’t I get this information to a lot of people and I thought a podcast would be the best way to do it. And lo and behold, I, I created this little studio that I’m in right now in my basement at home with the expectation of doing that, and then COVID hit, and suddenly had a lot more time to do it. And I so we actually went live April 1 of 2020. And for one year straight I did every single day until April 1 of 2021. And then then I was doing it five days a week. I backed off a little bit since then, but I actually have a bunch of content that I’m getting ready to record again for a bunch of new episodes. And how long is each episode about two to three minutes. And it’s just, there’s there’s no sponsors and no long explanations. It’s really quick tips for people to start their day, I don’t want to, I think I think if it’s less than five minutes, it’s worth listening to even if it’s something that you already no or need to remind her on at the same time. If I take it, there’s lots of things that can explain and do a quick hit with and if you want more information, you just go to my website or somebody else’s website to look up the concepts or the principles.
Chad Franzen 17:40
I have one more question for you. But first, how can people find out more about techies? And also where can they find your podcast?
Bill Tobin 17:45
So Tiki’s is you can find Tiki’s at tikisgrill.com Real simple. And then the podcast is restaurantleadership365.com is our website. And it’s available on all your streaming apps that do podcasts like Apple Music, Spotify, I Heart Radio, wherever you find your podcast.
Chad Franzen 18:10
One more question for you. What are some books or maybe other podcasts that you either read or listen to that you’ve found valuable or enjoyable during the course of your career?
Bill Tobin 18:20
There’s there’s dozens of books I recommend books to people all the time and podcasts as well. I think one restaurant particular podcast that I enjoy a lot is called uncorked. I’m sorry, I’m forgetting the author or author’s name, but yeah, he’s a great guy. And I enjoy it. And then the another podcast I listen to is the guy from morning brew. But the books that I read, I just recommended this last week to somebody. It’s an old one, but it’s a good is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And it’s, it’s still relevant today. They have a 25 year edition. I also recommend for new managers the One Minute Manager, another old one but goodie, and restaurants specific but this has a lot of business lessons in it as well is Danny Meyer is setting the table. It’s an excellent book and has a lot of Danny. Danny talks about a lot of challenges that he made in his career started now and but also kind of sets a good standard for other restaurant tours on how they lead their people and lead their companies.
Chad Franzen 19:41
Okay, that’s the sound great. Hey, Bill, it’s been a great pleasure to talk to you. I really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much.
Bill Tobin 19:47
Chad Franzen 19:48
So long, everybody.
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