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Key Idea: Hire Personality And Teach Skills

The wait staff at Mickey Finn's has lots of fun taking care of their customers.

Key Question:


Hire people who smile and connect with you in the interview process.

Q: Why is it so important for servers to like people?

A: The cooks make the food in the kitchen and the beer is made in the brewery by the brewmaister. The only job a server has at Mickey Finn's is to take care of the customer - properly. If you like people, you have a much easier time achieving this goal.

How does a server please a customer?

A: Greet the customer with a smile and a welcome. Listen! Listen carefully. Read the body language of a customer. If they're in a hurry, you be in a hurry. It they are relaxed, you be relaxed--but not slow--to deliver drinks and food. In fact, moving quickly is part of the corporate culture at Mickey Finn's. Customers can chew as slowly as they want, but Bill and Pat hope they will eat and drink a lot, then pay and leave. This is not fine dining which has a much slower pace than family dining.

Q: What does Bill ask employees to leave at home when they come to Mickey Finn's?

A: Their troubles. This doesn't mean he doesn't care about his employees. During off-hours, he'll spend time sorting through problems with employees. This means: our customers are here to have fun, laugh, relax and enjoy themselves. The employees have to "put on a happy face" to help the customer have fun. This is "dining as entertainment" and is very much the new reality in most restaurants. People don't want to just eat when they go out, they want an experience.

We suggest that providing service to customers over and over is emotional heavy lifting. Just as a roofer does the heavy physcial work of carrying tiles up a ladder, a service worker is dealing every moment with the unseen feelings of every customer. The service worker then can succeed only if they have the natural ability to interact easily with many different types of people who are all strangers.

What does Bill look for when he interviews potential servers?

He looks for strong communication skills and excellent body language. Another way to explain body language is to say he looks for a person who expresses themselves with their face and hands. He watches to see if the person mirrors him. This tells Bill if the candidate will be able to "read" the customer, which is the key to success in a service position.

What did Bill and Pat learn from their experience working for big companies?

A: Everything they knew about business, both good and bad. The good lessons included how to put ideas in writing, how to forecast sales and how to produce and measure a quality product. The bad lessons included too much short-term focus to increase shareholder value and the "slave driver" mentality when it comes to handling people. In other words, they learned from big business how not to treat people. They have created a fun place for nearly 100 people and they're not worried about short-term profits. This is a lifestyle for Bill and Pat - they wear shorts and ball caps to work. They are not trying to grow the business quickly in order to sell it off and retire.

Think about it

Do your service providers like people?  Do your service providers make you smile?  Do they make their customers smile?  Do they have fun at work?

Clip from: Mickey Finn

It is hard to imagine at one time this downtown was bleak.

Libertyville, Illinois: Discover how two men changed the face and the fortunes of a town. Pat Elmquest and Bill Sugars invested in their local community when no one else would. They dared to dream an impossible dream. The old downtown was virtually abandoned -- over 60% vacancy -- with pawn shops and the like.  Pat had bought a little pub; then with a $2 million loan, they expanded to make a brewery and restaurant... and the old downtown transformation was underway.

They were true pioneers ...the visionaries.  Today, Libertyville is an award-winning historic business district.

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Mickey Finn's Brewery

Brian Grano, Today's Owner & CEO

Founders: Pat Elmquest & Bill Sugars
412 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Libertyville, IL 60048

Visit our web site:

Office: 8473626688

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1990

Hire Personality And Teach Skills

BILL: All of our staff is required to go through specific training. We don't make them go to weekly meetings, but we have training sessions that deals with customer service. They have to be able to describe the beers and the menu items. And we have a rule here: When you come in to Mickey Finn's to go to work, you leave your troubles outside, you know?

HATTIE: How do you find people that do that well? Because you don't have time to teach people that.

BILL: No. I think when we hire people, we're very specific on who we hire. They have to have a certain personality 'cause you can't teach people to be--they don't have to be funny, per se, but they have to be pleasant. They have to smile. They have to be willing to interact. And I know one of the other things that I was getting at just a minute ago was, body language is extremely important and...

HATTIE: Oh. So when you interview, do you look for those things?

BILL: Absolutely.

HATTIE: You're looking for people to--like eye contact?

BILL: Absolutely. And people that will read my body signals and give me feedback on that, because if they can't read my body signals, they're not gonna be able to read a customer's body signals. If all they're worried about is regurgitating our menu and giving them the beer sample sheet and say, `Here, here's our beers,' rather than try and romance it you know, `We make all of our beers on premise, and this chart describes each of our beers. What style beer do you usually drink?' And if they say, a Heineken, they say a Miller Lite, we can then take that information and translate it to our beer sheets. So we give them plenty of tools, but they have to be able to understand the ability to read the customer.

For example, you're walking through the restaurant, customers are looking around like this, they want something. They're not just doing that. So you have to be attentive and observant and be able to react to that need 'cause that's what separates us from all the other restaurants. And so they have to be able to react to my manager's body language and my body language 'cause the two things--like I was saying, first of all, customers don't like to feel rushed. Number two is they hate to be ignored. And if you're busy, all you have to do to someone is say, `I'll be with you in just a minute.' I said, `Here's a beer sheet. Here's a menu. Give me a few minutes. We're really busy and I'll get right back to you.' But when you walk right by and ignore their (makes pointing motion) like this or their (makes face) like this, it irritates them. So...

HATTIE: So what you're looking for in the interview is someone who's sensitive to all these things.

BILL: Absolutely. Absolutely. Our people make good money. Pat and I treat them very, very well. We have a very relaxed environment here. Some restaurants have been known to sort of be a slave-driving mentality. Well, Pat and I made a promise--we both came from corporate America, Pat from the plastics industry and me from health care--that we weren't gonna create that corporate environment here. All we ask is when people are here, they give us the same effort that we give this place. When they leave, they're on their own. But while they're here, they have a responsibility to the business and to the customer.

HATTIE: So the teaching point here is: Don't just run out and start a business.

BILL: No, 'cause you're destined to fail. Unless you're extremely fortunate and you fall into something that--you might as well win the lottery. And, see, I don't believe luck. Luck is a word. Luck is being ready to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. And for probably about eight years, I've always been dabbling with ideas of, `What would I do if I wasn't doing this?' And there came a time--I was about 42, 43, and the opportunities came to me that I was fed up with corporate America, only from a st...

HATTIE: Well, what was that? You know what was that...

BILL: ...the frustration of dealing with a hierarchy that is very much in tune with bottom-line profits and not really too worried about long-range planning. And everyone goes through a stage. I went through the stage where that was very important. In my late 20s and 30s, you know, position, title, perks was very important...

HATTIE: And now you come...

BILL: everybody.

HATTIE: work in shorts and tennis shoes.

BILL: Absolutely. This is my outfit and my hat. That's my trademark.

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