Let’s be honest, the Hospitality industry has never been an industry that parents have actively encouraged their kids to go into. Despite…
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Hop Service Training
Ever been to a restaurant where everyone seems to be running their socks off, sweat pouring down their brows and steam rising from their team t-shirts, and yet the level of service is slow and messy? Or perhaps you've managed a shift like this (I know I’ve had a few in my time?) Restaurants are unpredictable beasts and we can all get caught out at times. Sudden spikes in trade for no apparent reason can cause havoc for anyone. But what about those shifts where the labour budget is not to blame, and for some reason, despite everyones best efforts it all goes a bit wrong? Welcome to the Hop Guide to Front of House Productivity.
So I want us to think about productivity in two ways. Firstly the productivity of the whole team. The group output from all the individuals combined. And secondly the individual productivity. How productive each team member is.
Now you may think, the more productive the individuals are, the more productive the team will be. Not quite, it’s a little more complicated. The key thing we’re looking for is ‘Equal Productivity’. If all your employees are equally productive and working at a similar rate (their work rate) then the overall productivity for the restaurant will be good. You can see the graph below.
Pretty obvious, right? Ok, but what happens if just one member of my team decides to slack off a bit. If you’ve got a good team they will usually pick up the slack. Their work rates go up, perhaps service suffers a little, but overall productivity of the restaurant goes down only slightly.
If this is just a one off it’s not such a big problem. However, if it starts to become a regular thing, the rest of the team will start to notice and the sense of cohesion and team work will start to erode, “Why should I help him if he doesn’t help me?” What you end up with is six individual servers only interested in their own sections. If it’s not busy, it’s not too noticeable, perhaps guests will pick up on the negative energy, but productivity isn’t affected too much.
However, once it get’s busy, disaster strikes. Because the team is divided and the servers have become used to working on their own, they can longer generate the Team Productivity needed for the volume of trade. Individual work rate soars but Team Productivity is low.
All because one person in the team started to slack off a bit. I hope you’re getting the point now. It is far more important for everyone to be working at the same rate, being equally productive, than it is for a few to be doing the majority of the leg work. It only takes one person to upset the balance.
Teams where individuals are working at different levels of productivity don’t last long. It’s the quickest way to upset employees and can be a nightmare, not to mention costly to fix. The key is spotting it early - that means even on quiet shifts. You need to notice the behaviour, then stop it, before it becomes habitual.
So remember, every time a server is not pulling their weight they are starting to create conflict within the team. If that carries on, it will divide the team, which in turn, will have a devastating effect on your business and your employees.
It’s a Tuesday evening in central London, the sun is slowly sinking behind the horizon, and I fancy going for dinner. Where should I go?
Let’s be honest, I have an overwhelming amount of options. The first step is working out what food I fancy...? OK got it. But that still leaves me quite a few places to choose from. The next, and defining step, is all about my memories of places. Think about a restaurant you’ve been to recently. Got one? Ok good. What did you think of it? Would you go there again? Would you recommend it to a friend? The thought process you’ve just been through is a pretty complex one. You will have conjured up images of the place, sound, textures and will now have an emotional response to it. And it is this emotional response, which is a mixture of all those senses stored in our memory, that influences our decision to return or not.
Our emotional attachment to a restaurant, both good and bad, is essentially a recollection of how we were made to feel. How you make your guests feel is the determining factor as to whether or not they return.
Make each of your guests feel valued and you will have a successful business. Part of that is the food, of course. That’s the foundation of any restaurant. People want to feel like they are getting value for their pounds. That doesn’t have to mean cheap. People will happily pay a lot for a plate of food, but they need to feel that the plate of food is worth it.
If your guests don’t feel that they’re getting their money’s worth they certainly won’t feel valued. If you don’t get this right you’ve fallen at the first hurdle.
But let’s say you do get this right. The next phase is all about your staff. Your staff need to make each and every guest feel valued. Your servers are your brand. They represent you, and you need to invest in them as such.
Easier said than done. Don’t forget every guest is different and they all want to be treated differently. What might make one guest feel valued might be over-the-top for another. Also don’t get complacent; regular guests can be in different moods on different days and will want different levels of service.
A good friend of mine is head waiter at an iconic London restaurant. His regulars will behave, and require, completely different styles of service depending on who they are with. If you really want to learn how to adjust service on-the-fly, book one of our courses, but in the mean time, here are the basics...
Listen to them. Actively listen to everything they say. Don’t be too keen to fix and interrupt them. Hosts do this all the time, in a rush to seat their guests, they forget to take the time to properly welcome them. I hear things like
“Good Evening. How are you? Table for two?”
Don't ask a question and then not wait for the answer! If you ask someone how they are at least have the courtesy to wait for the response. Running questions together with no concern for the answers comes across as scripted, generic, and soulless.
Always make your guests feel like you have time for them. No matter how busy you are. Whenever you are at a table your focus should just be on that table. Open body language, no tension, good eye contact - soft, gentle tone, and a good pace of speech at a good volume (your voice should be audible enough for the guest to easily hear but, not loud enough to push past them to any other tables).
Do not approach tables too often. There’s nothing more annoying then getting three check-backs during a meal, or being interrupted mid-conversation. This happens because the server is lacking awareness. You should never interrupt a table more than is absolutely necessary. Again, book on one of our courses to learn how to deliver great attentive service from afar.
Finally give a genuine goodbye. One of my massive bug bears is when three different people say goodbye and not one of them has meant it. Screaming goodbye at me, with no eye contact, means nothing.
A good goodbye, is soft, gentle, warm, and genuine. I only need one of those.
Managers you should value your staff as equally as you value your guests. Listen to them, have time for them, when you’re speaking to them, they should feel like they have your full attention. If you can make them feel valued they in turn will find it much easier to make your guests feel valued.
It’s all about making people feel good. If you make someone feel good, that makes you feel good. The more you can cultivate this win win scenario the more successful your business will be and the more likely I, and the rest of London, will be to pop in on a Tuesday night.
OK I admit it, at first glance the idea of finding time to be mindful, in a hectic restaurant may seem a little crazy. Taking fifteen minutes out to meditate on a Saturday lunch (although it would be wonderful) isn’t the most practical of ideas and certainly wouldn’t help your labour budget. But what if I suggested that there are ways to get a good dose of mindfulness even in the most hectic of shifts, and these moments of consciousness, aren’t just good for your mental well-being but are, in fact, vital to the growing success of your business? Even if you’re not sold on the idea of mindfulness and presence, read on, you may just find it useful.
So let’s imagine you’re a waiter, it’s a Saturday lunch, it’s busy, it’s hot, the bar are running a little behind on drinks and the host has just given you one too many tables. Just take a moment, imagine this situation (I get a little tense just thinking about it). Now, I want you to start thinking about your thought process at this point, the stream of consciousness inside your head. As the pressure grows that interior monologue gets quicker and quicker, louder and louder, “where are my drinks? "I told that host not to sit me any more tables!" "I hate this job? What am I doing here? Where’s the spinach for table 6?” Our heart rate increases, tension grows, and we start to become less and less present and more and more locked in our heads. Awareness decreases and stress increases.
This scenario is not uncommon, go into any busy restaurant on a Saturday night and you may just see it. But is it really that bad? Surely that’s just part of working in a restaurant isn’t it? Well yes and no. Yes it is bad, I’ll go into why in a second, and yes it is part of working in a restaurant.
So why is it bad? Firstly, for the waiter. Health wise, both physically and mentally that amount of stress is simply not good for you. It’s exhausting. I’ve just been reading The Art of the Restauranteur by Nicholas Lander. There are so many incredible people who have founded wonderful restaurants only to tragically die of a heart attack ten years in. Leaving their business partners to carry on alone. That’s the pay off for working with all that stress. Secondly, for the customer. The customer is on the receiving end of distracted service. Nothing frustrates a customer more than when they feel the waiter is not giving them their full attention. Thirdly, for you, the owner. As stress increases our ability to make rational decision decreases. There's proper scientific studies into this. The more distracted we become the more mistakes we make, the more wastage we create, the less productive we become. Not to mention the fact that your customers are now not having a great time either and might not be too keen to return.
That idea of mediating for fifteen minutes doesn’t quite seem so crazy now does it? I jest... But we do need to get present, and we need to be able to do it quickly. It can’t interrupt service and it has to be done on the floor. So here’s how we do it. Every time you go to a table it is an opportunity to be present. Think about that for a second. The waiters have to talk to the tables. So why not use this time to bring yourself into the present. To stop all that interior monologue. A three minute break from all the stress to enjoy being with your guests. When you’re at a table, you don’t have to run food or drink all you have to do is be present. Listen to them, speak to them, enjoy that human connection. If you find that connection you will become present. Simple.
On a busy shift you need to see tables as a gift, a gift to be present. Like a mini pit stop during service. So many waiters go over to a table so distracted and rushed they completely miss this golden opportunity.
Here at Hop there’s a little mantra we teach all of our students to remind them how to get present on busy shifts. Before they go over to a table they take a second, I literally mean one second. They take a breath and say the following in their heads. “Establish. Engage. Enjoy.” Now let me explain. Establish: they establish good body language, usually just letting go of tension. Engage: they genuinely try to engage their guests, great eye contact, good smile. Enjoy: now they have the engagement from the guest they can enjoy that connection, enjoy that human experience. That’s why we all do this job because, at the heart of it, we are social beings who enjoy connecting with other people.
Establish. Engage. Enjoy. At first waiters will say I haven’t got time for all that. But it only takes seconds. At first they will feel like they're spending longer at the table, because they are speaking at a more relaxed pace. But in reality the actual time at the table is the same.
Furthermore, whilst they’re at the table their stress will reduce, their awareness will increase, the guests will be getting a much more unique and genuine experience and you will have a happy restaurant with a better atmosphere.
That’s how to get a good dose of mindfulness in a busy shift. Joss sticks are optional.
One of the unique things about the restaurant industry in the UK is it’s workforce. Love it or hate it, the restaurant industry is a stop gap for many on a path to something else. Lawyers, Actors, Economists, Writers, Nurses, Teachers, Photographers, Athletes. These are just few of the professions I’ve come across moonlighting in the restaurant game. Personally, I think it’s something to be embraced, where else would you find such a diverse group of talented people all working in one place.
But, as with most things, there are drawbacks. Some people enter the industry with every intention of moving on but, like it so much they stay. They choose to go into management and push on from there. I can think of a few well known and highly successful company directors who ‘fell’ into the industry.
Then there are those who were always planning to leave but never quite did. They don’t want to go into management, they don’t really want to work in the restaurant, they don’t really know what they want to do. They become stuck, which leads to frustration, conflict with colleagues and most importantly poor service. There’s no joy in what they do anymore. All because they feel their life isn’t where it should be. The vision, if it was there in the first place, has gone and with it, their enthusiasm.
These people can be highly destructive to a team and managing them properly is key. You can’t just hope they will leave, or hope you can build up a big enough case against them for gross misconduct. By that time your whole floor team could be ruined.
So what are our options? One: we go in hard telling them that they aren’t performing to a high enough standard, they look miserable on the floor and are too negative. But how exactly do we break that down? Tell them they need to smile more? Say please and thank you more? Be kinder to their guests? Good luck with that. If anything you're gonna create a fake over-the-top cynical style of service which won’t last long and then you’re back to square one. You’re not addressing the root of the problem, just temporarily masking it.
So what else can we do? We need to remember these people are stuck. The vision of what they want from their career, their life has gone. You’re job is to help them find that vision again and guide them down a route to achieve it. Progress makes us happy. Moving towards a goal makes us happy. Would you prefer to be cruising down the motorway or gridlocked on the slip road.
Ok so here’s what to do. Ask them about what they want to achieve both at work and in their personal lives. If they’re not sure give them a few days and tell them to come back with something written down. You’re be surprised what they come back with. Even the most unmotivated will come up with brilliant ideas, when they commit it to paper. So now we have a vision. Now get them to break down these goals into sub goals, or steps along the way that they will need to achieve before reaching the big goal.
For example, Jon has worked in a site for four years, he hates working in the restaurant. A week after out initial chat he comes up with the idea that he wants to travel the world and teach English as a second language. Boom! We have a vision. So now we need to break that goal down into smaller goals. He needs to research courses, he needs to save money, he needs to improve his grammatical understanding of English (couldn’t we all). Jon keeps adding to this sub goal list over the next few days. Next I help Jon break down the goals into daily, weekly and monthly goals. I get him to develop his own planner. We have a vision and now we have clear steps of how to get there.
So yes, Jon might be leaving in a year now but all of a sudden he’s working with discipline, clarity and vision. He knows what he wants and therefore we’ve pulled him out of the well of negativity he was stuck in. Just Google ‘goal setting’ and there’s ton of resources on how to set plans. The Jon you hired four years ago is back and he’s delivering good service again.
You might think this is a lot to do and hasn’t got much to do with the restaurant but it’s worth the time invested. You’re making them make change. Change for them is good, it makes them more malleable and more manageable. It’s also incredibly satisfying, for you as a manager, to create that sort of change in another person. I’m not saying they will be perfect all the time but they will make a huge improvement, and the rest of the team, not to mention your guests, will thank you for it.
When it comes to building a successful restaurant, recruiting good mangers is a costly and time consuming process and it is essential you get it right. Recruiting the wrong people can be disastrous. The number one cause of people leaving their job, according to a recent Linkedin article, is poor relationships with management. One bad egg could ruin your entire team.
But before we even begin the recruitment process we’ve got to know the exact skill set we are looking for. What is a managers primary function and what skills do they need to fulfil that role.
The over-arching goal for any manager is to grow your business: reduce costs and drive sales, right? But how exactly do we go about that? Let’s start with Cost of Sales. The two biggest factors that managers can control are labour and ordering. Workforce and wastage are key when it comes to making a profit.
It’s no surprise that there are literally hundreds of computer programmes that help restaurants with these two factors. Programmes like FnB and Fourth are great because they make it super easy to manage costs that can ruin your bottom line. They also allow a lot of control from senior management and directors. These programmes are super simple to use, I could teach someone to extensively use both in a couple of weeks. Set your thousand pound pars and the rest is a little like painting by numbers. I’m not saying there is no skill here, but let’s be honest, technology has taken a lot of the skill out of it. As technology improves, which it will, that skill is going to become less and less important. The computers are going to do all that for us!
So what really is a managers primary function. It’s not to control labour but to manage it. I’m not just talking budgets here, I’m talking the actual individuals that work for you. These guys are your biggest asset, your biggest tool, your biggest expense. Managing and maintaining them so they can work to their full potential is key and that ladies and gentlemen is a managers primary function.
Look at this way, if you spent twenty grand on a new oven, you would expect that oven to be pretty well looked after. Daily cleaning, monthly maintenance, annual servicing, so it could do it’s job day after day, week in week out. If after a month that oven hadn’t been cleaned and looked after you would be pretty angry with your head chef right.
But your workforce costs way more than an oven and needs way more maintenance. Yet the oven usually gets looked after with far more care. We all know if you don’t care for your assets they will stop working and leave a big dent in your P & L - but your biggest asset is your staff.
A manager must keep their staff motivated and happy. Happy people sell well, happy people make customers feel good, happy people create great restaurants. Your managers must be able to create and maintain cohesive happy teams. They must be able to build trust, to be able to empathise, have great emotional awareness. This is the key: they must be able to manage the emotions of their team. Let me repeat that, their primary function is to manage the emotions of their teams. It's oven maintenance but for people. To keep them on a even keel so they can perform consistently. For any growing brand consistency is key.
A manager who can’t motivate and build trust has no place in a restaurant. A manager who has no emotional awareness has no place in a restaurant. A manager who doesn’t value his workforce as their biggest asset has no place in a restaurant.
So next time your recruiting ask the questions that matter. How do you motivate teams? How in the past have you built trust with a team? How have you helped employees grow? Talk to me about all the different personalities you have worked with and how you specifically managed them? In your opinion what’s the most important asset in a restaurant?
Great managers must be focused on other people not on themselves.
Recruiting great staff isn’t easy, but it’s insanity (and costly) to recruit a great team only to destroy it by introducing a manager with the wrong skill set.
What we learnt in Paris.
There’s so much to love in Paris. The food, the wine, the cheese, the bread, the level of customer service. Yes - the level of customer service. OK, perhaps Paris hasn’t always been famous for it’s customer service especially not to us Brits. I used to live in France and would often find Brits unable to speak French getting more and more frustrated with a waiter, who seemingly couldn’t speak English. The louder the guest asked “Do you have an English menu?’ The more the waiter would shut down and reply calmly “Je suis désolé monsieur, mais je ne comprend pas”. Ironically, the waiters could all speak English they just refused to, if they took a dislike to certain individuals. Amusing as these episodes were to watch I always thought pride was the key factor. A proud waiter would not be spoken down to by a tourist making no effort at all to speak Europe’s founding language.
On this trip I didn’t witness such instances, but I did feel a sense of pride coming from almost every person who served us. Pride in the restaurant they were working in, pride in the food they were serving, pride in helping us pick a wine, pride in taking away our empty plates, knowing we had enjoyed their food, essentially taking pride in making sure we had a good time.
One of my new favourite cocktail bars, The Mary Celeste, was packed when we visited, but the barman took his time to speak to us, ask us what we liked, and then made us something completely off spec just for us. He then spent time checking we liked it, he was making sure everyone in that bar felt valued. The energy of the bar was beautiful, bustling and busy, but fun and warm too. After the terrible attacks in Paris it’s service like this which is so important. It makes people feel safe and warm and valued and keeps people going out, and for me that really is something to take pride in. Next time your in Paris make sure you drop in, it’s at 1 Rue Commines. I guess that’s what we learnt in Paris, that pride in your work is key and sometimes making other people feel welcomed, valued and safe really is something to be proud of.
One of the things I love about our industry is the diversity of the people who work in it. I'm not just talking about where people are from or what language they speak, I'm talking about the skill set they have. In what other industry can you find a trainee lawyer, an architect and classical pianist in one room. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool.
Now, there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, these people probably aren’t going to be here that long and they’re not really interested in the job as a career so we’ll just let them get on with things. They’re not really valued as employees. Or we could look and say, “perhaps these people won’t be here forever, but hey, they’re living with purpose, they’re trying to achieve things, they could be a real asset while they’re here”. And this is they key: if you want to bring out the best in people, so they give your guests amazing customer service, you have to make your staff feel valued. How? Just speak and genuinely listen to them. I mean really listen, ask them about their lives, their dreams, they’re interests. It’s so easy to ignore the staff who we don’t see as ‘important’ or see as ‘transient’ but these guys are speaking to your guests every day. If you really value them, they will value your customer. Simple.
Now stop reading this, and go and add some value to your restaurant team. Customer service with heart is what every good restaurant should have and that comes from being valued.
Sometimes, what you see, isn’t always what you get. Don’t judge a book by its cover my dear old Gran used to say. And the same is true with people, as we found out at a training session last week.
We’re in a big new, beautiful restaurant a week before soft launch. We’re mid-session and a shy, nervous student gets in front of the rest of the class. She moves to the front of the room to see if she can put into action some of the things we have been talking about. She starts the mock scenario with our actors. To begin with, her style is cold at best, at worst a bit scary, intimidating, aggressive almost.
Now, at first glance you may have thought there is no way this person could provide gentle, empathetic and fluid service. She obviously hasn’t got ‘it’ and there’s no way she could learn ‘it’. ‘It’ being that elusive, effortless ability to make guests feel relaxed and welcome. Some people may have thought she’s never going to get ‘it’. Just let her get on with it and maybe she’ll leave eventually. Not us. We try a couple of things. She has a go at the scenario again. Not great but better. The girl has heart and determination. The pressure is building as the rest of the class watch on. The actors look a bit scared. We work on voice, body language, intention and then boom! I can’t do justice to the transformation; all of a sudden there is the most incredible smile, a warmth, a joy, a sense of humour. She has ‘it’ and not just a bit but she has ‘it’ in spades and all in under fifteen minutes.
I have no doubt this particular student will go onto to be a General Manager, the feedback from the management team has been incredible and this particular student has discovered a side of herself she didn’t know existed. Transformations like this are incredible and they create the most loyal and dedicated employees; but sometimes you have to get through the hardback cover to discover them. I just wish my Gran could have been there to see it.
Yesterday I went to a very high-end, swanky restaurant, famous in many quarters. Sadly, I ended up on the receiving end of the type of service I can’t stand. Robotic, generic and soulless. Nothing can suck the very being out of me quicker than fake generic service; it reminds me of the dementors from Harry Potter (apart from fact that I have to pay for this agonising privilege).
The food was great, the wine was great, plates laid down with sophistication but the atmosphere of the place was non-existent, no one smiling or laughing, not many people even talking. The staff slowly draining the life out of each and every guest.
I watch intently as our waiter goes around to each table, speaking in exactly the same rhythm and tone, lifeless and all one-way (clearly not listening). There was absolutely no attempt to connect with any of his guests. He was on autopilot, spitting out the same old drivel, locked in his own thoughts, with no regard for any of his guests. Not present, or enaged at all in what he was doing and the scary thing was he thought he was doing a great job! We ask to make an alteration to a dish, the waiter say "yes fine." The dish comes out unchanged; the table next to us have no mains as the waiter forgets to order them. The table to the other side get the wrong starters. Our side dishes are wrong. All because someone isn’t present in what they are doing.
Why does this happen? Because the joy has gone in what they do. There’s no heart or soul in what they do and they don’t know where to find it. Perhaps more worryingly they don’t even no they’ve lost it.
We all get distracted and caught up in our own thoughts from time to time, but to find joy in what you do you must connect with your guests. Whenever I’m distracted I make an extra effort to really listen to my guests, to really give them my full attention. To make them feel valued, and that will make them happy (well most of them) and if you are genuinely part of that experience that will make you happy. The joy of the job is found in the way we communicate with our guests and our colleagues. It defines the energy of a restaurant. Happiness is nothing unless shared.
Something that has always struck me is the amount of untapped potential that lies hidden within the service industry. So much gets overlooked, ignored and ultimately wasted. In the UK especially we seem to have this rather nonchalant attitude towards people who work in the restaurant industry. It seems to be woven into the fabric of it’s DNA. We just don’t take the careers of people who work there that seriously. Now I’m not talking about your General Managers, or your Head Chefs, I’m talking about your waitering staff, your bar staff, your hosts. How much time do we invest in these guys? In my experience not enough.
But these guys are the front-line of your business, the direct link between you and your customers. The represent your business, your brand and speak to way more of your customers over the course of a week, month or even a year than you. And yet, if we’re really honest, do we really train them well enough to represent the company, to be engaging, to make every single guest feel welcome, relaxed and uniquely valued? The answer in most cases is no. We train them adequately, so they can achieve a certain level of service. Sounds ok, right? But once they've achieved that level, work can become a little uninspiring and monotonous. Once we become proficient enough at something we tend to start to switch off a bit. “I can do this with my eyes closed I’ve been doing it so long”. Not perhaps the best way to engage your customers. I see so many Front of House teams lacking motivation and energy. Why? Because no one is investing in them, giving them new skills, unlocking their potential. If you want to change the energy of your team you must invest in them, value them and trust them.
There's heaps of potential in this industry and at HOP it’s all about unlocking it, motivating and inspiring teams through the acquisition of skill. Just even acknowledging that an individual has potential goes such a long way to changing their attitude to work. At HOP we teach teams how to become masterful in what they do. Practical, specific, skills that create change amongst the individual, team and business.