frog huddle

You can call it a server line up, pre-shift, huddle, an alley rally, etc but please do call it. Daily pre-shift meetings with your service staff are invaluable in so many ways.

Constant communication with your staff, regarding goals, standards, achievements, etc…, helps keep everyone on the same page. Without constant, daily reminders of what you expect and are trying to achieve, the staff can drift off course from your vision. These meetings are also a great way to be constantly training and improving your servers.  Also, since the service staff have direct contact and interaction with the guests; it is wise to secretly/overtly inspect their appearance, preparedness and condition before they go on the floor. Competence and confidence breed pride!

There are endless benefits of the server shift meeting. There are only two drawbacks: Time and Effort. When time and energy are short, it is easy to skip these meetings. However, lack of consistency damages the results and momentum of the meetings tremendously. Can we agree that successful teams meet regularly and often? Do your restaurant and yourself a favor and conduct a great meeting before every shift!

These meetings should be very brief (usually no longer than 10 minutes). You and your staff will enjoy these meetings a lot more if you can find a way to make them informative, interesting and funny. Shift meetings have better results when employees participate and are engaged. Also, if you listen closely to the servers you will learn new perspectives of the operation.

One good way to create a good, fun, and informative atmosphere is to have the kitchen prepare a menu item for everyone to taste and discuss. Talking about current challenges and praising good performance is a nice way to keep everyone in sync. And, of course this is the best time to get a sales contest going! You can have a lot of fun with your crew during these meetings. The sky is the limit on what you can achieve with them!

Good luck and good pre-shifts!

Zach

 

Nice female manager posing with the staff in a modern kitchen catering

 

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant turnover was 62.6% in 2013. Losing staff is an expensive and irritating fact of life in the restaurant industry. You can gripe about it, resist it, and/or be a victim of it. Or, you can embrace the fact and plan for it. I have tried both techniques and have found that the latter works best for me. Here are some good practices for mitigating restaurant turnover.

Scheduling:

Restaurant employees are very concerned about their schedules. Many are students or have second or third jobs that require their schedules to be precise. And if/when there are issues with employee schedules, staff members can become very disgruntled quickly. I recommend paying attention to your staff’s scheduling needs and abide. If you need people to work on Sundays-hire people who can work on Sundays. Also, create and utilize a written system that allows employees to make requests for days off. It is also very important to make sure the schedule is posted a week before it goes into effect. This gives staff adequate time to plan their personal and work lives. Too many restaurants post the schedule the day before it goes into effect. Restaurants that are late posting their schedules then enjoy the ensuing chaos of staff not showing up for their shifts. Another good practice is, as employees are getting ready to leave, say something like “Good job today! When do you work again?” Then physically walk over to the schedule with them. This ensures that they didn’t mis-read or forget to look at their schedule.

Training:

When it comes to your staff, you reap what you sow. So don’t skimp on this important investment. Training is the foundation new people use to grow into being great performers. If you don’t train well, your chances of creating great performers is very low.

Management/People Skills:

Obviously, one way to mitigate a high turnover rate is to treat your staff well. This doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards for them. Just don’t treat them poorly. Part of your job as a manager is to hire, train, develop, facilitate and cheer for your staff. Period. If you aren’t doing any of those things, you are failing.

Execute:

Nobody likes to play for a losing team. You can reduce turnover by simply doing a good job. The best performers will gravitate toward success.

Exit Interviews:

Finally, if good people give you notice to leave; find out why. It won’t always be your fault and there won’t always be anything that can be done about it. But that knowledge is powerful. Use it to your benefit.

 

If these steps are put in place, turnover will be as low as possible for the restaurant.

 

Good luck and good employee relations!!

 

Zach

Mechanism

 

Have you ever been to a busy, successful, well-run restaurant? Anytime I see a restaurant like that, I am very impressed because I know that greatness doesn’t happen on accident. It takes LOTS of hard work and many hours to achieve restaurant greatness. And guess what? Those restaurants do not skimp on training in the slightest. After all, it’s the staff that make it all happen. Managers and owners don’t seat all of the guests, wait on all of the tables, cook all of the food, etc. It’s the staff that does all of that. Just like the precise mechanisms of a swiss watch, each employee has an important role to perform. Therefore people are the greatest and best resource a restaurant has. So do yourself and your restaurant a huge favor and train your people to be the best! It takes a great deal of effort to train for greatness, but it is well worth it.

The daily grind of running a restaurant is hard enough without having to worry about trainees. That’s why many owners and managers simply turn “newbies” over to key employees to handle/oversee their training and then hope for the best. In some cases, new employees are treated like green soldiers that nobody wants to get to know; lest they don’t last very long. Training is a difficult process for both the trainer and the trainee.  But, here’s the thing… nobody is born into this world knowing how to work in your restaurant. If you want your restaurant to run well; it is crucial to have a well honed training program.

It is imperative to have a training schedule for new employees that lists the targeted amount of days for training and the material to be covered for each of those days. Try writing a list of everything you would like a new employee to know after training. Then use that list to create your training schedule.

Fire and forget is no way to run a training program. Using key employees to execute the training and provide mentorship is a great idea. However, results will be far better if top leadership also gets involved with some “follow up”. Make time to sit down with trainees before and after each of their training shifts to talk about their progress and/or frustrations. This follow up will also ensure that the key employees are on track with their training duties.

Well trained staff will not only make your life easier and less frustrating; they will also positively impact your bottom line by giving better service and cooking better food. They are also more productive; and they last longer. These skilled employees will increase sales and help create a great guest experience by executing on a higher level.

Good luck and good training!

Zach

 

 

Akelarre

 

Researchers at Cornell University and Michigan State University conducted a study of restaurants in three local markets over a 10-year period. Here is what they found regarding restaurant success rates: After the first year 27% of restaurants had closed; after three years, 50%; after five years, 60%; after 10 years, 70% of the restaurants had failed. There are a multitude of reasons for these numbers. One big reason restaurants fail is lack of sales due to poor execution. Offering your guests bad experiences will kill sales. If you look at the worst Yelp reviews, you will see many claim food poisoning. I never give a restaurant that poisons me a second chance.

According to a 2014 Consumer Reports survey, 66% of diners complain about incorrect temperatures of their food and drink. Improper food temperatures greatly increase the chances of food poisoning.

This is why it is imperative that restaurants conduct line checks. A restaurant “line check” is the process of evaluating all ingredients for quality, temperature, and inventory levels. Ideally, managers/owners do line checks before each meal service. Unfortunately, most restaurateurs don’t do line checks. If proper line checks were the rule and not the exception, many customer complaints would be diminished.

The best way to complete a line check is through a simple four step process:

  1. Create a list of all relevant ingredients found on the cook’s line and other heating/cooling units. It’s best to have a brief description after each item that describes what the product should be like. A good example is: Diced Tomatoes: red and delicious-not transparent or mushy.
  2. Get a couple of 1/6 or 1/9 pans (one with clean spoons; the other for dirty spoons), a thermometer and a scale.
  3. Start at one end of the cook’s line and systematically work through the entire line tasting, measuring temperatures, and spot checking portion and ladle sizes. You will likely be surprised at what you find.
  4. When you do find items that are sub par; be a hero and repair, reheat, throw them out, or set them aside for appropriate utilization. But get them off of your cook’s line!

After your line check is complete, you can go into the meal service with confidence knowing that all of your cook’s ingredients are up to par and with proper inventory levels. It’s a few less things to worry about!

Conducting line checks is also a great way to help “firm up” cook’s training by giving them your “eye” for quality. Many cooks don’t want to serve the ingredients that they have on their line. But they do so because they think they are supposed to. When cooks have excellent quality ingredients to work with they will take more pride in their work and produce better quality menu items. It’s that simple. I like to take new servers on line checks too. This gives them an opportunity to see the level of quality provided, and taste everything. Thus helping servers understand the menu better.

So what is the alternative to conducting line checks? Simple, you are inviting devastating chaos into your business. Without line checks you can expect very inconvenient surprises, often, and at the worst possible times! It’s like wearing a seatbelt, you don’t always need it, but when you do-you REALLY do.

There are two types of restaurateurs. Those who do line checks, and those who don’t. Which do you think are more successful?

 

Good Luck and Good Food!

-Zach

Open kitchen

 

With margins as tight as those found in the restaurant industry; owners and managers must be constantly vigilant when it comes to controllable costs. Labor is the highest controllable cost in most restaurants. Kitchen labor is the most expensive of all restaurant departments. So being smart about kitchen efficiency can make a big difference on your P&L statement. There are many ways operators go about using less work hours in their kitchens. This post offers five suggestions.

 

1. Plan to be within budget.

The first and most basic step to controlling labor in the kitchen is to write a schedule that is within the labor budget. The best way to achieve this is to know what your budget percentage is and what your projected sales are. As you write the schedule, add up the amount of hours you have scheduled for each shift, multiply that by the hourly rates of each employee. Then divide that dollar amount by the projected sales for that shift. Follow that logic for each shift, day and, finally the whole week. You will probably notice that some shifts simply can’t be within budget. But other shifts will be under budget. Many restaurants run higher labor percentages in the beginning of the week then make up for it towards the weekend. This is to be expected. But if the schedule is written out of budget to begin with, there isn’t much hope for achieving your labor goals.

 

2. Train and Cross Train

The best staff is well trained. Training should be treated as an investment that will improve your operation and decrease grey hair count. If you skimp on training, your results will show it.

Cross training is a must. On slower shifts move some of the crew to new areas. This will give you better schedule flexibility, and increase the value of your staff. In some cases, one well trained employee can run the whole line when it’s slow. This allows other employees to get ahead on prepping, cleaning etc.

 

3. Hire and Retain

Constantly hiring and training is expensive and inefficient. Do everyone a favor and hire great people! Once you have a great crew- work to keep them. Involve the kitchen in obtaining efficiency goals and hopefully reward them with raises when they deliver. This way they can be motivated into cutting their own hours.

 

4. Prep Smartly

If your menu is prep intensive, you must get creative in the way you write a prep list.

First, look at what items you can “batch” prep. In other words, look at which prep items have a longer shelf life and make larger batches of those items. It takes just as long to make 10 gallons of Texas chile as it does to make 5 gallons. Be careful, but don’t prep everything everyday.

Second, categorize your prep list. If one person is working with raw produce, they need to be near a prep sink. Therefore, let them do everything on the prep list that involves fruits and vegetables. Have another person do all the the dressings and sauces etc….

 

5. Be Ready for Your Staff

In many kitchens on many mornings, there is a scramble. And not just eggs. Very often, when cooks and prep cooks come into work, they spend the 1st 15-20 minutes getting ready to work. This is especially true of the morning shift. When they arrive, they have to find all of their utensils, track down a manager to give them aprons and towels, make coffee, and watch water boil. You can save a lot of hours by getting everything ready for their shift ahead of time. A great way to do this is to have the closing crew leave clean utensils on the corresponding work stations before they leave. In the morning, have the prep list written, ovens preheated, water already boiling, aprons and towels out, coffee made etc…, by the time the crew comes in. Then, have the crew from that shift pay it forward to the the next shift. The difference is a crew that comes to work and produces versus a crew that comes in and gets ready to work.

 

Hopefully these suggestions will inspire your own ideas to increase profitability.

Good Luck and Good Kitchen Labor!

earth

 

Going out to eat is a lot of fun! It’s an experience that fulfills a basic need. When diners form opinions of restaurants they think of the whole experience of eating out.  But what makes up the whole experience? It is the food, service, AND atmosphere.

The general “feel” you get from a restaurant, bar, hotel, etc… is the atmosphere. How much does the atmosphere matter? If you want to find out, simply remove the decor, turn off the music and turn on the house lights. What’s left is a cafeteria. There are plenty of cafeterias, diners, greasy spoons and the like that have excellent food and service but little to no atmosphere. They usually have a bargain menu and are known as great places to go for lunch.

Having a great atmosphere allows for higher pricing and generates more business to boot. It really is THAT important. Here’s a breakdown of what comprises atmosphere:

Music – Even grocery stores play music. Music adds fun, helps alleviate awkwardness and is crucial.

Lighting – Almost as important as music, lighting should be adequate yet cozy. Again, no music + bright lights = cafeteria.

Staff Morale – This one is often overlooked.  Unhappy or unprofessional service staff will be detected by the general public. Even if guests can’t quite put their finger on it, they will sense something is awry.

Decor – This one is fun and necessary, but less important than the previous three.

Having ambiance and having it yanked out from under you is much worse that having no atmosphere at all. Closing time is a prime example. Unless you’re running a bar or club, you will lop off a full third of a guests perceived value by purposely stopping the ambiance. Everyone wants to get out of work and go home at the end of a shift. However, turning on house lights, running the vacuum, and putting up chairs will offend late night guests. Remember, restaurants are dinner theaters. Don’t stop the performance until end of the final act.

It is easy to see that lots of money and effort goes into creating the right atmosphere.  And, when used properly, the ambiance will dramatically add to your guests’ experience. Atmosphere is part of your secret sauce that you don’t want to neglect. It helps add to the magic and the bottom line.

Good Luck and Good Atmosphere!

Zach

30-Minute-no-service

 

Here’s a question: Is your floor management active? I recently ate lunch at a busy national chain and noticed there wasn’t any management actively working the dining room.  Lunch took an hour to get to our table. An Hour!! The table next to us had a different server and it took even longer to get their food. I was a little astonished.

Because our service was pretty good, I surmised that only the kitchen was having problems. Then I saw a guest get up and refill his own soda from the server station. At that point, I realized that their table and many others were being neglected.

Many restaurant chains boast a 100% guest interaction with managers. Few to none actually succeed. With smaller independent restaurants, I see even less effort towards table checks by management. Too many restaurant managers don’t want to be active in the dining room, lest they have to deal with an unhappy guest. This is a very fundamental and basic mistake. How can managers and owners feel confident in the service they provide without personal verification?

Could a floor manager have made our food come out of the kitchen faster? Maybe. But probably not. However, adding poor service to long cook times will bring disaster to your establishment. A seasoned professional needs to be out and in the mix to see that guests are happy. I have stated in prior posts (Putting the Host in Hospitality & Make Your Problem An Opportunity) there are a lot of  opportunities to make a great outcome from a poor situation. In most cases servers don’t have the authority  to change a bad experience into a positive one.  Therefore, active floor supervision is a must.

Take a good look at what is at stake when it comes to service in your restaurant. Then take stock of the experience level of many restaurant staff. Scared yet? You should be. Get out there and herd some cats!!

Good Luck and Good Hospitality

Zach

South Boston, USA

 

Restaurant guests form opinions and expectations of a restaurant way before they sit down. Early opinions are formed based on the the restaurant’s name, parking lot, and the building itself. Opinions and thoughts continue to develop as patrons enter the restaurant. There is too much at stake when it comes to first and last impressions to not take full advantage of the host station. When a host staff is well trained and motivated they will positively impact sales.

Let’s dissect the host/hostesses role in a guests’ experience. Some host staff will open the door for people entering and leaving.  The hostesses at an Outback Restaurant will almost always open the door for their guests. This is called aggressive hospitality and it works. Even if the guest is bigger, stronger and better equipped to open the door for themselves, an Outback hostess will open it for them anyway. This tells guests that they are in good, well trained hands that care.  At this point, the guest’s expectation of opening the door for themselves is exceeded and value created before the guest has sat down.

Now let’s examine the dialogue of the host staff. The most common first question is: “How many in your party?” This question is redundant and unnecessary. If you have ever worked as a host, you will agree that if you see 4 people entering your restaurant; you have have a party of 4.  If there are more people joining that party, the group will always immediately explain, “We have more coming!”  But, in most cases, what you see, is what you get. Other unwelcoming questions for parties of 1 are: “Just you today?” or “Only you?” Those questions are inhospitable.

There is a better way. Let’s look at what could happen. First, as guests enter the restaurant, the door is opened for them. Second, the host staff greets the party with a smile and “Hello. Welcome to _____. Is this your first time here?” Or for regular guests, the door is opened and someone with a smile says “Hello” and uses the guest’s name.  That is hospitality!

While the party is entering, the host is already gathering the appropriate number of menus and already knows where to lead the party. “Right this way please”. If it is someone’s first visit, the hostess should then tell the server and the floor manager that valuable info. This is a golden opportunity to take advantage of the coveted first time guest.

Once seated, the guest’s interaction with the host staff is usually over until they are through with the meal and are leaving. This is the last chance to “Wow!” guests while they are still in the restaurant. On the way out, a host/hostess can thank guests for their patronage, ask “How was dinner?”, and open the door once again as they leave. If the host staff senses that a guest wasn’t happy with their experience, this is a very important last chance to show empathy and get a manager to resolve any issue with the disgruntled party.

Some restaurants actually hire models for their hostesses. Those operations will usually not provide pagers to their guests or use a microphone to summon parties when running a wait list for seating. Instead, the hostess will personally come find the party when their table is ready.  For a very small percentage of concepts that technique is appropriate and it works. Most restaurants can’t afford that kind of first impression. I use that example to demonstrate a level of thought and energy that can go into a host/hostess station.

What happens when guests enter your restaurant? Is your host station creating the best possible first and last impression?

Good Luck and Good Hospitality! 

Zach

 

 

 

Pleased To Wheat You

 

When it comes to building sales in a restaurant, nothing beats solid execution. By that, I mean delivering a quality product with great service and atmosphere is the best way forward. There are a lot of ideas managers and owners come up with to grow sales. I see it all the time. Businesses will use coupons, advertising, internet ad networks, etc. Some of those can be great and useful. But what good does it do to spend money on creating traffic if your operation is weak? It’s like paying for bad reviews.

If sales are down or not growing, look inside your four walls for the solution first. Ask:

  • Is your service top notch?
  • Are you serving a quality product in a timely manner?
  • Is hospitality a culture for your entire staff?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no” , “sometimes”, “I think so” or “mostly”; do not spend any money on bringing in new guests.  All that does is create expensive and poor reviews on Yelp and other social media sites. Instead, I truly recommend honing your operation towards service excellence.

If the answer to the questions above is “yes”! Here are a few other things to try before you spend your cold hard cash.

  1. Learn Customer Names And use them. Treat your guests like solid gold every time.
  2. First Time Guests Have your servers point out newcomers and do anything to “wow” them. Possibly give them something for free. Or at least acknowledge them and introduce yourself. Let them know you are hospitable and that you care.
  3. Server Contests Before you raise menu prices try some up-selling.  Give the server with the highest guest check average or most desserts/appetizers sold a spiff of some sort.
  4. Clean And Safe Everything your guests touch or come into contact with needs to be clean and crisp. This includes but is not limited to the bathroom, parking lot, table tops, and condiments. Safety is self explanatory.
  5. Create A Loss Leader I watched a small, out of the way, seafood shack ignite their sales by offering a dollar beer night.  I’m not suggesting to do exactly that. But you get the idea.

If you are doing everything above, NICE JOB!!  And now you are in a better place to profit from new traffic.

Good Luck and Good Hospitality!

Zach

 

Writing the prep list in the morning is a very important task. The morning prep list is a vehicle for which food and labor dollars are spent. In many cases, the person who writes the prep list is not an owner or a member of upper management. And, the opening manager will often take a lashing from customers, co-workers and supervisors when prep levels are out of whack.

If you don’t prep enough, you will run out of product and disappoint guests. One shouldn’t discount the impact on guest satisfaction and sales when menu items are not available.  When stock starts running out during the heat of the battle on a Friday night, the opening manager is wide open to ridicule.

On the other hand, if you over prep, you run the risk of spoilage, a poor food cost and/or poor food quality. And, high food cost isn’t the only casualty of over prepping (or ruining batches). You must take into consideration the labor it took to produce the item or items that are being tossed. When you throw away prepped food, you are throwing away the labor dollars spent to create those items as well as the food cost dollars.  Either scenario is a major impediment to a successful restaurant.

So what is the solution? When the boss starts asking why there is too much or not enough prep, do you say that you made your best guess? They might think that your best guess isn’t good enough. The best way to determine proper prep levels is to look at past sales. For example, if it is Monday and you want to know how many ribeyes are needed, look at the ribeye sales for the past four Mondays, average them out, and add 20%. Now you have your par or build-to amount. Most opening kitchen managers don’t have a crystal ball. So, this is the work around for not being psychic.

Obviously, this system will need some adjusting for special events (local tourist event or sporting event), holidays (Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Day) , and seasonality (Graduation Week, etc..).

This practice can be a little time consuming, but well worth it. When this system is used, the opening manager, and the restaurant is empowered with a true information. If menu items run out or are left over, at least you have peace of mind that you did your best without a crystal ball. And if the boss asks why prep seems off, you can explain your thought process with words that don’t include “best guess”. Good luck and good prepping!

Zach

P.S. You can look to Cloud Dine’s Restaurant Operating System software for help and quick data for prep pars.