'Restaurant Stakeout's' Willie Degel makes a career out of putting the customer first

Famed New York restaurateur Willie Degel of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse built his formidable reputation on a simple mantra: The customer is king.

That's an attitude we rarely run into these days, but Degel is helping to bring it back in "Restaurant Stakeout," which returns for its second season Wednesday, Aug. 29, on Food Network.

Using hidden cameras and covert surveillance, Degel casts his experienced eye over eateries of all types to help the owner identify and correct problems that may lead to customer dissatisfaction.

"I love Food Network, and I grew up watching this channel, ... but I always felt it needed to show people how to run the business end so people can be more successful and so many restaurants don't have to close their doors," Degel tells Zap2it. "A lot of people are running their restaurants and businesses, and they are so involved in the day to day that they don't get to see all the little things that they need to do better to get to the next level."

Degel says he's seen all kinds of inappropriate behavior on the part of some restaurant staffers.

"I've seen people fighting with customers, people eating some of the to-go items, people even throwing things at customers," he reveals. "Then there's inconsistency of service or not having anybody to greet the guests at the door, or how long it takes to get the food after you order or arrogant chefs coming out to tell the guest, 'What do you mean, you didn't like my dish? Do you know who I am?' "

He says his own customer-focused attitude is "just in my DNA," and he was using it doing jobs even as a kid.

"When I delivered pizza for a pizzeria, there was a grocery store nearby, so when you called for your pizza, I'd ask if you needed groceries, beer or cigarettes, anything like that, or something from the Chinese restaurant next door," Degel says. "I was making the trip anyway."
Photo/Video credit: Food Network