By Curt Yeomans
Bill Guenthner puts people and service before everything else, which allows people to get the highest quality of service possible at the T.G.I. Friday's on Concourse B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Guenthner, who has run the restaurant since 1997, received the General Manager of the Year award, and additional awards for outstanding employee retention, sales achievement and profit achievement during the T.G.I. Friday's Global Leadership Conference in late February in Las Vegas.
Guenthner was previously awarded the T.G.I. Friday's U.S.A. Franchise General Manager of the Year awards in 2003 and 2004. He also received employee retention and sales achievement honors in 2003.
While he's honored to receive the recognition, Guenthner said awards are not the most important thing to him. His management philosophy is "hire great people, treat them right and make sure they have all the tools they need to serve the guests.
"I just come in and do my job everyday," Guenthner said. "I don't think about the awards."
Guenthner worked for Bennigans restaurants in Florida and Georgia for 17 years before he moved over to T.G.I. Friday's 11 years ago. He began his career in the restaurant business as a server in college, and gradually worked his way up to a management position.
It was a friend and former Bennigans worker who lured him to T.G.I. Friday's. The friend had moved to the company, and convinced Guenthner he'd be better off working for T.G.I. Friday's.
The T.G.I. Friday's manager said he likes operating a restaurant in the airport, because "you never know who's going to come in." Some days, it is a business traveler heading out of town for work-related reasons. Some customers are in a rush, while others have several hours to kill between flights.
Other days, it is a family going on vacation, or someone headed to a funeral or visiting a sick relative. Some customers may be stuck in the airport because of a delayed or canceled flight.
"The anxiety is at a whole other level," Guenthner said. "I tell my employees when they start, that this is a different type of environment, but our customers expect the same T.G.I. Friday's experience. We still have to treat everyone equally."
Guenthner said he and his employees strive to tailor the customer experience to the person being served. It's a program T.G.I. Friday's across the country use, which is called the "guest experience." The concept is to have the server ask the customer some questions to find out why he or she came to the restaurant.
"It works out great for our location because our servers can ask the customers 'Where are you flying today?'" Guenthner said. "The customers may be a group of people flying to Mexico for vacation, so the server might suggest margaritas. A customer may be in a hurry, so we will try to rush things for that person. We tailor the experience to meet the customer's needs."
Guenthner's commitment to the "guest experience" program is why he won the general manager of the year award again this year.
Officials from Jackmont Hospitality, which owns several T.G.I. Friday's locations throughout the nation, including the Hartsfield-Jackson restaurant, decided to surprise the manager by having his father, Robert, flown to Las Vegas from Pensacola, Fla.
Guenthner said it was a total surprise, but he was glad to share the experience with his father, because the two are very close. The officials decided to bring Robert Guenthner to the conference because his son asked for a Rolex to give his father. Jackmont officials have given him a gift every time he's received the manager of the year award as a sign of appreciation for his dedication to his job.
"These accomplishments could not have been possible without the dedication and hard work that our entire team demonstrates every day," said Dan Halpern, president and chief executive officer of Jackmont Hospitality.