674: Creating Sensible Options From Hard Decisions | Robert Linder, CFO, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar

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When CFO Robert Linder highlights what distinguishes the dining experience at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, it’s easy to imagine him as a friendly host escorting us across a lively dining area filled with spirited patrons.

“I love the hospitality industry, and I didn’t always know why—but I love to host and I love the interaction and taking care of someone and helping them to discover something new,” says Linder, whose words draw our attention to the universal splendor of dining out and its bitter absence from our lives during these past many months.

From the start, we knew that our discussion would become focused on the pandemic and its impact on Lazy Dog’s business, yet we couldn’t help but want to linger as Linder listed the popular menu items from the restaurant that currently serves customers at 39 locations in seven states.

In the end, we left it to Lazy Dog’s CFO to transport us back to earth with the not so enviable time of arrival being March 2020.

“It’s hard not to point to something in the past year, given all of what this industry has gone through,” says Linder, when asked to share a moment of strategic insight that he’s experienced during the course of his career.

Looking back, Linder recalls the first 48 hours when shelter-in-place orders were being issued in California and the full magnitude of the decisions that would need to be made began occupying the thoughts of Lazy Dog management.

“We knew that our cash burn rate would be significant, and the thinking was around how we could adjust our costs as quickly as possible in order to survive,” explains Linder, who observes that survival demanded a wide and aggressive workforce reduction but Lazy Dog management remained uncertain about its response and considered whether several waves of layoffs over a period of weeks might permit the business to “buy time” and allow management to revisit the question of layoffs again in the future.

“What we realized was that the outcome that would be most kind to our people was the one that would offer them a job when we came out of the other side of this thing,” comments Linder, who notes that management rejected having several waves of layoffs in favor of one large one.

“This was one of the best decisions that we made because from that time forward we have only delivered good news to our people and have been able to say, ‘Hey, we’re bringing some people back” or “Hey, we’re able to restore a portion of your compensation,’” reports Linder, who adds that Lazy Dog has continued to pay health insurance for those who have been laid off.

Says Linder: “For me, that 48-hour period showed why you can’t run away from a hard decision as a finance leader.” –Jack Sweeney

GET MORE: Order now The CFO Yearbook, 2021

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