Lessons in leadership and excellence from the managers of Parrot Key


Christmas in southwest Florida is the beginning of tourist season. While much of the rest of the country shovels snow, we enjoy moderate temperatures and sunny skies. On Friday evening, my wife and I decided to try out Parrot Key, an upper scale seafood eatery in a tropical Caribbean theme down at the beach..

At our table by the window we overlooked the marina and made our selection. Since we’d not been there before, and since we were not in any hurry, we took our time. The server came back to our table a few times, answered whatever questions we had, and made us feel like were her only customers.

The food was marvelous, the service attentive and proactive, and the setting lovely. Parrot Key is not a short drive from our house, but we will go back. As we finished the meal, we asked to see the manager. When the manager arrived a few minutes later, we congratulated her on a finely run restaurant and on the skill and competence of the server.

Since then I’ve thought about the experience and identified these lessons in leadership that I believe you will find enlightening, reassuring, and helpful.

  1. Experiences that turn out well for our customers is not accidental. It is the result of hiring the right people, careful training, detail-oriented management, and follow-through. It is obvious at Parrot Key that they do all four and do them well. I’ve been in a lot of beach joints in my life, love seafood and love the sea, but so many beach joints trade on their locale and on the fast turnover of a steady stream of tourists. Not many treat their customers like they needed them to come back. Parrot Key does.
  2. Exceptional service comes from people who can anticipate what is going to be needed and then make sure they supply it. In this case, Parrot key’s managers have done two things well. They have selected the right personnel who possess that oh-so-rare quality of foresight made manifest by a respect for the people they work for. I taught my children a secret when they began to enter the workforce. That secret is that they need to be able to intuit the anxiety index of their boss and make sure they never provoke it. Leaders need to do the same for those who work for them – anticipate what their employees will need, discern what makes them anxious, and do what we must to keep things calm. This means that the people who work with us look to us for certain things. We can do a great deal to even out the highs and lows of the job by thinking ahead. The Parrot Key people have obviously done that.
  3. Developing capable people means we as trainers, leaders, and managers know what those we train are going to need to know and when they are going to need to know it. We would like to hire people who already know that but hardly anyone does nor will they. Indeed, the essence of effective leadership is in the success e have in developing capable people under us. When we spoke with Parrot Key’s manager and complimented her on the service given us the manager said that they had made a good choice. Indeed, they had. I don’t know what method they use to select people but it works well. Hiring people is always a risk but it need not be a shot in the dark. Effective leaders develop methods of hiring, hone their people-picking skills over time, and learn to make good choices. Then, we make sure that the essentials are covered based on the requirements of the job and the values of the company. Effective restaurant managers understand that they are doing more than selling food. They understand that they are providing a certain dining experience that must meet the expectations of customers and satisfy the implied and expressed specifications of the company. Fast-food people must take and fulfill orders quickly. Dining establishments like Parrot Key have a different nature.
  4. It’s trite, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. Too many times we tend to look at averages. We tend to measure our business over a series of experiences. I’ll go back to Parrot Key, I’ve not been back to the others and don’t intend to. I visited a new car dealership nearby during one of the sales campaigns and was accosted, indeed almost assaulted by a sales person who came on so strongly that I had to fight him off. I have never been back, and were he the only car dealer in Florida, I would walk to Georgia to buy a car. We need to be committed to providing a stellar experience the very first time. Parrot Key made a good one.
  5. It is never enough to do one thing very well. We need to do many things better than our competitors. Success and excellence is the result of little touches, small steps that outpace others. That sets us apart and, more importantly, keeps us ahead.

Self-examination is sometimes difficult. So, why not consider an unrelated setting, like a Parrot Key? The principles that make for exceptional business are universal. You can make the application to your peculiar setting.


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