Restaurant Stakeout is the investigative new program on Food Network hosted by Willie Degel, owner of several successful steakhouses in New York City. He plants hidden cameras in failing restaurants and discovers the reason or reasons why they experience low sales, unhealthy happenings in the kitchen and poor service. His claim to fame is that he does the same thing in his own restaurants, which are well run and thriving.
In this episode titled “Damsel in Distress,” Willie Degel heard from Melissa O’Connell, owner of “Pepper Jack Grill” on the North Shore of Staten Island, New York. Melissa is the fourth generation operating an establishment in Staten Island and has a young daughter who is her world. The restaurant is failing because of unruly staff and communication between the customers and staff are just a few reasons why the restaurant is having problems. In comes Willie to the rescue.
The next day, Willie and his staff install the hidden cameras and he and Melissa got to see the staff in action. The bartender, Willie is doing everything but tend to customers, he is there to watch sports, not the business. The waitresses are good and bad, including the waiter, Anthony. Melissa finds it hard to be stern with her staff, but Willie is determined to change that. Several of the staff keep customers waiting while the kitchen staff takes long breaks with no supervision.
The bartender is drinking on the job with customers. The chef even came from out of the kitchen to do shots with customers. He brings in his staff of customers to give the staff a test to see how they react. One customer tries to make a date with the waitress and succeeds. Aimee is the best waitress and tries to keep order among the slackers on the staff.
More staff is put to the test, waitresses know nothing about the menu and when questioned, fail the test badly. Melissa makes excuses for her staff instead of realizing their failings. Willie sends in a party of seven people and they stand around for a good while before anyone even greeted them. They finally got a table big enough for them and then waited over five minutes to get a menu and another eighteen minutes to put slacker Anthony to the test. He passes the test on several points, his attentiveness passed and when food was sent back, it was brought back right away; had he been quicker to bring menus and drinks, he would have received an “A.”
When a clearly intoxicated customer starts getting rowdy, the bartender redeems himself by cutting him off. Willie determines that though unprofessional, their hearts are in the right place. He knows that there is no clear system in place and truly lacking leadership. He mostly blames Melissa who tries to be a friend, and not a boss to her staff.
Melissa calls an emergency meeting in the morning and Willie walks in and gives them the lowdown on their actions and there is no denying a thing on the cameras. He then met with some individual staffers; Aimee is a fireball waitress and has picked up the slack for the ones who do not care. The bartender can no longer drink on the job. Daisy has to be quicker with her chit chat with customers and Willie asks her if she would rather be a hostess. The manager needs to be more of a manager and to truly manage the staff. Aimee is made the head waitress and is assigned to train the wait staff.
In six weeks, Willie returns to the restaurant and sees Daisy as the hostess, a better suit for her. The bartender is doing a better job and not ignoring customers or drinking on the job. Aimee is training waitresses and the head waitress is doing a wonderful job. Melissa and her daughter Taryn are enjoying the new atmosphere at the restaurant and this Restaurant Stakeout has been a huge success.
Photo of Staten Island North Shore: Wikimedia Commons Looking east down ramp of en:Livingston (Staten Island Railway station) on a sunny midday by Jim Henderson